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Does It Matter: Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Produce?

Published on Mar. 12, 2020

Healthy food Munson Healthcare

Do you find yourself always filling your cart with fresh fruits and veggies, even if it exceeds your grocery budget? Or perhaps you’re avoiding most fresh fruits and veggies altogether because they tend to add up in price so quickly. On the other hand, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits seem more doable for many budgets. But are they as good for you?

Let’s explore some common food myths. 


Myth #1: Fresh Foods Have the MOST Nutrients

Healthy food Munson Healthcare

This is a common misconception for many people. Sure, fresh fruits and vegetables may look like they would be more nutrient-dense compared to frozen food or canned food. And perhaps if you picked them right from a farm, washed them, and enjoyed them right away, you’d be right. But appearances can often be deceiving, even with food. This is mostly because of the way we receive so much of our produce, especially in the months where we rely on fruits and vegetables from non-local sources. 

Unless it’s specifically marked as local, most of the fruits and veggies found in the produce section at our local grocery stores had to survive a long journey to reach us – especially here in northern Michigan. By the time it even reaches our local stores, it has sat on trucks for days, if not weeks. 

But that’s not all. In order to weather the journey here, fresh produce is often picked before it reaches peak freshness, in an effort to prevent any spoilage en route to other countries, states, and regions. 

“The nutrients really start to die off right after harvest due to temperature changes, oxidation, and more,” shares Wellness Coordinator Brittany Miller, RD. “And as these foods are being transported, they lose even more of their nutrients. So you’re really not necessarily buying this produce at its peak freshness."

That brings us to another popular misconception. 


Myth #2: Frozen and Canned Foods are Inferior to Fresh Foods

Healthy Food Munson Healthcare

Frozen and canned foods are packaged – so they can’t possibly be as good or even better than fresh produce, right? Not exactly. 

Because frozen and canned foods have the luxury of being preserved in their current state before they’re packaged and shipped to local stores, these foods are almost always picked from farms at their freshest, most “prime” time. The freezing or canning process then locks in their freshness and nutrients. 

“Studies show that frozen and canned foods are not just comparable to fresh produce – they are sometimes even better because of their higher nutritional value,” Miller adds.

Other reasons to choose frozen or canned veggies and fruits:

  • They’re often much more budget-friendly as well as more readily available at local food pantries if you rely on these to shop.
  • They are pre-chopped and prepped – and sometimes cooked – making them convenient and ready to heat. Bonus - there’s less waste going into your garbage can or disposal!
  • If you like to purchase organic foods, particularly when it comes to the dirty dozen, fresh and canned foods also come in organic varieties.
  • If you choose to buy local, some local food producers offer canned foods. 
  • You don’t have to worry about them spoiling in your refrigerator like fresh produce might.

Myth #3: Canned Foods Are Loaded With Salt and Sugar

Healthy food Munson HealthcareBut what about the salt and sugar content of canned foods, you may ask? While it’s true that salt and heavy syrups can help keep canned food preserved in its freshest state, there are plenty of options for avoiding too much sodium and sugar with your conveniently canned foods. 

First, if you haven’t scoped out the canned produce aisle in a while, you may be surprised at the numerous options that have become more widely available. For example, many canned food companies offer low or no-sodium varieties. For fruits, do your best to avoid heavy and even light syrups and added sugars, opting for fruits canned in water instead. Remember to look for these labels as you shop. 

If you’re unable to avoid sodium and syrups, you still have options for avoiding these additives. A quick drain and rinse will flush out much of the added salt or syrup you’ll find inside of these cans.

“As with all areas of health and well-being, try to remember: it’s about progress, not perfection, Miller shares. “Focus on what you’re doing right, and give yourself a break when your choices aren’t perfect.”


Great Canned/Jarred Food Options to Consider as You Shop

  • Pumpkin
  • Green Beans and Peas
  • Canned Beans
  • Artichokes
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus
  • Pineapples (ideal for healthy baking)
  • Peaches (another great baking or snacking choice)
  • Apple Sauce
  • Frozen berries (great for smoothies)

A Happy “Can”clusion

Frozen and canned foods make excellent, nourishing additions to any healthy diet. True, they may lack the vivid color and superior taste of fresh foods – particularly locally-sourced produce – but these conveniently packaged, easy-storing, and wallet-friendly health foods can hold their own in the nutrients department. So the next time you feel yourself getting anxious about the preparation and higher-price that is typically associated with fresh produce, take a spin down the canned and frozen produce aisle and feel reassured that you are filling your body with the nutrients it really needs. 


A Note About Grocery Shopping During COVID-19 

Remember that groceries and the bags you use to transport them can carry viruses as well. Here are a few tips to reduce your chance of getting COVID-19 while handling your groceries:

  • Choose self-checkout lanes where you can scan and bag your own groceries. (Note that conveyer belts, barcode scanners, and touchscreens may still contain the virus).
  • Allow groceries you don't need to use or refrigerate right away (such as canned foods) to sit untouched for three days before putting away or using.
  • Using soap and water, wash your fresh foods and the surface of packaged foods you intend to refrigerate or eat within three days.
  • Practice frequent handwashing, including when you return home from the store and before you eat anything.