A Best Food Facts website reader tells us she NEVER eats food from cans (except beans and stewed tomatoes), because she believes "anything canned or processed is bad for you... and besides, canned food tastes horrible." We went to Brenda Roche Wolford, M.S., R.D., University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor for Los Angeles County, to get an expert opinion on the subject of fresh vs. frozen vs canned goods, and how they may or may not fit into a healthy diet. She told us there’s not a single best choice when it comes to choosing fruits and vegetables. "I think you need to consider all options... to have a healthy diet year round," said Roche Wolford.
Best Food Facts: What are your thoughts on this person’s concerns?
Roche Wolford: This person might have a personal preference against the taste or the texture of canned vegetables and that’s understandable. But in terms of the nutritional value of canned foods – there are certainly many benefits that are available in those foods.
There are concerns about processed foods being higher in sodium, fat and sugar and you want to be aware of that when consuming canned foods. But fruits and vegetables that are canned still have relatively the same amount of nutrients as fresh foods.
Best Food Facts: What role do canned foods play in a healthy diet?
Roche Wolford: Canned foods play an important role because fresh fruits and vegetables are not available to everybody year-round. I live in Southern California where fresh fruits and vegetables are available all the time, but if you live in the northern regions, for example, you must rely on canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. And fresh fruits and vegetables can be pretty expensive – especially if they are out of season. So, incorporating canned and frozen foods into meals is a great way to maintain a healthy diet year-round.
Best Food Facts: What are the pros and cons of fresh, frozen and canned foods?
Roche Wolford: When fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed in season they taste very good. The benefits of consuming canned or frozen vegetables is that they are affordable even when they are out of season and you’re going to get the same amount of nutrients. There might be a negligible loss of some of the vitamins due to the processing but for the most part you’re still going to benefit from the vitamins and minerals that are in processed foods.
Sometimes there are added sugar and salt in processed foods. Consumers should read the label and take a look at the amount of sodium that is in the product. These days there are a lot of manufacturers offering canned vegetables and beans that have no salt added or reduced sodium. You can also rinse your canned vegetables and beans to take away some of the sodium.
Canned fruits are often canned in heavy syrup that contains added sugar. You might want to choose something that is packed in water or its own juice.
The same holds true for frozen products. You typically want to purchase those that do not contain any added sugars or salt. But you can certainly find perfectly healthy canned and frozen vegetables.
Best Food Facts: When considering canned, fresh, frozen, or dehydrated foods, what’s the best choice?
Roche Wolford: I don’t think there’s a single best choice. To be a savvy consumer with a healthy diet you must take into consideration that fresh fruits and vegetables are not going to be available year round. You’re going to have to consider having canned or frozen vegetables when they’re not in season. Fresh fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good when you consume them out of season and they can be much more expensive. I think you need to consider all options – canned, dehydrated, frozen – to have a healthy diet year round. We’re lucky we have these products available to us and we can eat a variety of fruits and vegetables year round
Here in Los Angeles we are seeing a renewed interest in home preservation. During the times of year when there are a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables available at a low cost because they are in season – or maybe they are growing their own – canning or freeze them at home is an option so that you can enjoy them year round. And, if they are canned at the peak of their freshness they’re going to taste better.
If people are interested in canning, or freezing their own foods they can contact their local Cooperative Extension office. There are Master Food Preserver programs across the country and there are certain resources you can use through the USDA or the National Center for Home Food Preservation if you want to learn more. If you live in LA County, check out the Master Food Preserver Program
Best Food Facts: While we’re talking about canned foods, what are your thoughts on concerns some people have about bisphenol A (BPA) – an ingredient in hard plastics and used to coat metal cans.
Roche Wolford: BPA has been around for more than 40 years and over the years concerns have been raised about potential harm to humans – especially infants. Around a dozen states have passed laws requiring BPA be eliminated from products for infants or small children.
The Food and Drug Administration has said BPA is safe but research is being conducted to look into the issue more deeply.
If you are concerned about this issue, you can reduce exposure by purchasing products in glass as opposed to those that are in cans or plastic. You might want to use microwave safe ceramic or glass containers to heat foods. You may also want to examine plastic food storage containers that might have been scratched.
Click the audio icon to hear Brenda Roche Wolford talk about things consumer should keep in mind when choosing between fresh, frozen, canned, or dehydrated food products.
And speaking of fresh food... wouldn't it be great to have access to it year-round? Check out this idea: Freight Farms*.
*Best Food Facts is not affiliated with Freight Farms or its developers. We just think it could be a great way to help people have access to fresh foods, no matter the location or climate.