Canned, Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Offer Advantages

What we know: Fruits and vegetables are one of the healthiest aspects of any diet pattern.

What we also know: Most of us don’t eat enough of them.

We know why: We’re in the habit of reaching for an easy snack and habits are hard to change. Fruits and vegetables can be more expensive than other foods. And sometimes, they’re just boring.

Dr. Alison Duncan, registered dietitian and professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph, Ontario, gave us some useful ideas to get more of these foods in our diet. First, a look at the benefits.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential nutrients and phytochemicals that can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  There is no downside to consuming fruits and vegetables and the good news is there are so many choices, so many forms and they make your diet so interesting and colourful,” Dr. Duncan said.

That’s more than enough motivation to achieve the daily goals of fruits and veggies. Canada’s Food Guide recommends 7 to 10 servings per day; USDA My Plate recommends four to five cups. A common phrase says, “fresh is best,” however, fresh produce spoils relatively quickly and is often more expensive. We asked Dr. Duncan how frozen or canned products compare.

“Fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed as either fresh, frozen or canned with all of their nutritional value.  In fact, fruits and vegetables are often frozen or canned when they are at their peak in quality,” she said. “Dietary fibre content does not change in processing, storage and cooking of fruits and vegetables and so is similar among fresh, frozen and canned.”

She noted that dietary fibre content can decrease when the peel is removed in processing.

Not only do frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have the same nutrients, they also offer some advantages.

“The number one advantage of consuming frozen or canned produce is convenience.  You can easily store them at home and have them on hand at all times,” Dr. Duncan said. “Another advantage is cost.  You can often get frozen or canned produce on sale and since they are frozen or canned, you can buy them in larger quantities and store them so you do have them available.  A third advantage is that it means you are consuming fruits and vegetables, and this is the best advantage of all since it benefits your personal health.”

During the summer, it seems easy to get those fruits and vegetables in our diet. But other times of the year, it is more of a challenge. We asked Dr. Duncan to share some good ways to achieve the goal.

“Absolutely take advantage of the frozen and canned options!  There are so many options to choose from, we are so lucky.  For example, you can enjoy frozen Canadian wild blueberries in the winter and frozen butternut squash in the spring,” she said. “There are no excuses to not consuming fruits and vegetables all year round, they are affordable, accessible and delicious!”

Dr. Duncan shared two of her favorite recipes.

“For a delicious breakfast or snack, I love using frozen berries mixed into yogurt with granola.  My favourite vegetable is sweet potato, simply washed then pierced with a fork a few times, wrapped in a damp paper towel and microwaved 6 minutes, turn over, another 6 minutes.  Then cool for a bit and cut in half and eat as is. Delicious!”

She also offered some advice for getting out of the vegetable rut, where we eat the same standby foods so often they get boring.

“The frozen aisle is now full of interesting fruits and vegetables.  Try frozen mango, cherries or peaches.  Or add some canned sliced pineapple to your next meal.  For vegetables, include some frozen cubed butternut squash, or try enjoying some canned beets!” she said.

Reading labels is important when shopping. Dr. Duncan said in the freezer section, choose fruit without added sugar and frozen vegetables without added salt or sauces. In the canned goods aisle, choose fruit canned in fruit juice rather than syrup. Look for vegetables with low sodium. Another option is to rinse the food before consuming to reduce sodium.

“We are extremely fortunate to have access to fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables, and we should consider all of these options as part of a healthy diet,” Dr. Duncan said.