It is the beginning of National Nutrition Month, and the focus on health eating reflects the new MyPlate from the USDA.
For sure, the nutrition experts will agree that filling half of one’s plate with fruits and vegetables seems like a no-brainer. The challenge for many people is if it’s not fresh and organic, should you eat it?
Research conducted by UC Davis, published in the Journal of Science and Agriculture found there may be more loss of nutrients in fresh produce, whereas freezing and canning may preserve nutrient value.
Waste Not Want Not
Often consumers complain that fresh produce can be too expensive, and in some instances, it may be – especially when purchasing a fruit or vegetable that is not in season in one’s region. However, it becomes costly when it merely rots in the crisper drawer and ends up in the garbage. Packed produce also ensures 100 percent edible parts of the plants – no waste.
“It is much easier to get people to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables using canned or frozen produce for many reasons: cost, less plant waste, consistency of taste, already cut, and ease of cooking,” according to Elizabeth Pivonka, a registered dietitian and president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
Pivonka’s viewpoint is that people need to eat more fruits and vegetables – and if eating frozen or canned fruits and vegetables is an easier fit for their lifestyle, they should go for it.
Frozen and Canned
Clarence Birdseye is known as the founder of frozen food – and he learned from watching Eskimos fast freeze, which reduced damage to cell wall structures. While you might think of the brand for frozen vegetables, Clarence really got started freezing fish. The nice aspect of frozen foods is that they are often frozen within hours of being picked, near the fields where they are grown.
Unlike fresh produce, the calories and nutrition facts panel are on the bags, boxes or cans, for the consumer to read. Don’t forget explicit cooking instructions. Winter isn’t the only time to stock up on canned or frozen produce.
According to the Canned Food Alliance, reasons to keep canned food in your home or office are because they are “accessible, convenient, affordable and flavorful.” Contrary to popular belief, canned and frozen foods do not require or need preservatives for food safety because of the manner in which they are packaged.
“In some low income communities where fresh produce is not available, people feel disenfranchised when they can’t eat fresh and give up the notion of eating produce,” Pivonka noted. “The great thing about canned and frozen produce options is that it can fit into any budget.”
Dried and Freeze-Dried
Dried produce has been around for centuries – mostly seen in fruits – in the form of raisins, figs, dates and prunes. Sometimes they are found with sulfites and added sugar. Sundried tomatoes and dried mushrooms have also been a staple in many kitchens. In the last two decades, there has been an emergence of freeze dried produce. Traditional drying removes water, but still leaves the food “chewy,” whereas freeze drying removes the moisture from a frozen state.
Nothing but the Fruit….
The advantages to freeze-drying are taste and nutrient profile to the original product, color, shape and the texture is often crunchy. Nothing needs to be added to preserve these foods, just keeping them stored in an air-tight container. Dried or freeze-dried products can be added to many recipes and reconstituted (somewhat) in water.
When it comes to getting your daily dose of fruits and veggies, convenience is as important as taste. When shopping on a budget, shelf life is key. Perhaps we’ll see more dried and freeze- dried produce in vending machines. From a food safety perspective, you have many safe options – just eat it.
Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM is a doctorally trained registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, TV personality and expert consultant in disease prevention, wellness and healthy living. She is the author of "Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great." She hosted TLC's ground-breaking series "Honey We're Killing the Kids!" Become a fan of Felicia on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or visit her website FeliciaStoler.com