There’s nothing better than biting into a fresh-picked peach that is so sweet and ripe the juice just runs down your arm. It’s definitely an experience in nutrition in good taste.
However, that doesn’t mean that if fresh isn’t available, you shouldn’t eat your fruits and veggies. Frozen, canned, juiced and dried forms can serve up a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, too.
Research compiled by the Produce for Better Health Foundation in Hockessin, Del., shows that produce in these processed forms are the nutritional equivalent -- or in some cases superior -- to cooked or raw fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, most fat-soluble nutrients including carotenoids, vitamin A and vitamin E are higher in frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. This is because of the mild heat treatment in processing that allows for greater bioavailability of lipid-soluble nutrients.
Frozen. Fruits and vegetables destined for the freezer are frozen within hours of harvest. This means that their peak flavor and nutritional value are preserved. In fact, freezing is a great way to preserve a surplus of “peak of the season” fresh produce to enjoy later in the year.
Look for bags where the frozen produce is still in individual pieces. If they’ve become a solid block, this indicates some thawing and refreezing has taken place, which can lower quality.
Cook frozen vegetables according to the package directions. They are blanched prior to freezing and this minimal heat treatment isn’t enough to kill pathogens.
Canned. Like frozen, canned fruits and vegetables are also processed right after picking so their nutritional content is preserved. Two big concerns related to canned foods are sugar and salt.
When it comes to sugar, canned fruit actually contributes less than two percent of the added sugar in most American diets. By comparison, according to National Cancer Institute data, soda, energy drinks and sports drinks contribute 35.7 percent of our daily sugar intake.
Look for canned fruit without syrup, canned fruit packed in its own juice, and 100 percent fruit juices with no added sugars.
As for salt, canned vegetables provide less than 1 percent of sodium in the diet. Breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats are the ones that serve up the whopping amount of sodium for most Americans.
Draining canned vegetables can reduce sodium by 36 percent and draining followed by rinsing can lower sodium by 41 percent. You can also purchase “low-sodium” or “no salt added” canned vegetables at the supermarket.
There has been consumer concern over the use of bisphenol-A (BPA), an organic compound found in the lining of canned food containers that has the potential to mimic estrogen and cause health problems. Many manufacturers have discontinued use of BPA in response to consumer outcry.
Juice. The important point about vegetable or fruit juice is to look for and drink 100 percent juice. Don’t be swayed to buy “juice drinks”, no matter what the flashy label or lingo on the packaging says. About 20 percent of the average American’s fruit intake is in the form of juice.
Drinking this much 100 percent juice has been linked through research to a higher intake of fruits and vegetables overall – and the health benefits this offers – by children and adults.
Dried. The process of drying does concentrate the calories and sugars in dried fruits. That means to eat a moderate portion so as not to pack on the weight. (And you might consider brushing your teeth after eating a dried fruit snack.)
However, this process of concentration applies to nutrients, too. Most dried fruits are an excellent source of dietary fiber while many are also rich in iron, potassium and selenium, nutrients that can keep heart, blood and muscles strong.
So, if you’re trying to eat more healthfully by consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables each day, remember that all forms can fit in a nutritious diet.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.