Are tinned and frozen fruits and vegetables less nutritious than fresh versions? Most would say yes, but is that really always the case?
Since around March of 2020, shoppers have been stocking up on food that lasts. With this, sales of canned and frozen food have surged, even stand alone freezers are seeing sales on the up and up. Traditionally, we have been taught that when it comes to fruit and vegetables, nothing is as nutritious as fresh produce. “Food is most nutritious at the point of harvest,” says Fatima Hachem, Senior Nutrition Officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Fresh produce starts degrading as soon as it’s picked from the ground or tree, because that ground or tree is its source of nutrients and energy. “Vegetables destined for cooking fresh might lose some of their nutritional value if they stay for long on the shelves,” Hachem says.
Refrigerating produce however, slows down the process of nutrition degradation. The rate at which nutritional value is lost varies from one product to the next. Freezing pauses the process of oxidisation, which is one reason that produce can start to turn brown after being harvested. Freezing produce on a mass scale is a relatively new innovation for the food industry – Meet the speed freeze.
Today, the pea can be harvested, transported to a factory, washed, blanched and frozen in just over two hours. In the 1970s, it would have taken days. Speed is crucial in the frozen food industry: as soon as produce is taken from the ground, it’s a nutritional race against time. Technological innovation has shortened the process of freezing foods over the last few decades, including peas, which are individually quick frozen.
What about canned foods? The aforementioned nutritional loss pales in comparison to the amount of heat that produce is exposed to when its tinned. The more intense heat treatment used on food that’s destined for a metal can shows a greater reduction in nutrients than frozen food. While there’s no reason to be worried about using frozen or canned food, there is a preference for frozen because of the amount of added salt (in canned), as well as some canned fruits have much added sugar.
What do you think? Should we Aussies eat fruit and vegetables whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned, or dried or fermented? Wouldn’t any one of these would likely be more nutritious than most processed packaged foods, you know, the ones found in the middle isles of the grocery.
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