Fresh, frozen, canned, dried, steamed, raw…No matter how you eat them, fruits and vegetables pack a powerful nutritional punch and can fit into your diet in numerous ways.
Fruits and vegetables are brimming with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that may protect against cancer, heart disease, stroke and other health problems. Right now, grocery stores and markets still have the best of the fall harvest, but what about when fresh isn't available or convenient?
For peak flavor and good value, fresh produce in season is always a good choice. But frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, without added salt or sugar, are just as good for you as fresh, and can be more economical as well.
Eighty per cent of us may believe that fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier than frozen, but this isn't always the case if you are buying your goods from the supermarket. 'Fresh' produce loses vital nutrients and vitamins as soon as it's harvested and it can then take nearly two weeks to arrive on supermarket shelves. So by the time you buy it and eat it, the nutrient value of your fruit and vegetables may well have been lost.
In 1998, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that frozen fruits and vegetables provide the same essential nutrients and health benefits as fresh. Studies show that heat and light destroy nutrients; frozen fruits and vegetables get around this problem because they are flash frozen, right after picking. Further, frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak in terms of freshness and nutrition.
One particularly good frozen choice is frozen wild blueberries. Researchers at Cornell University tested 25 fruits for antioxidant activity and found that the sweet wild blueberries, which are smaller than their cousins found in grocery stores, packed the most absorbable antioxidants.
Most frozen fruits maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months, while most vegetables will maintain high quality for 12 to 24 months. Freezing fruits and vegetables for longer than recommended will decrease its quality.
To get the full benefit of frozen vegetables it is best to use them in dishes where they can retain their natural liquids.
Like frozen, vegetables and fruits are canned right after harvesting when their nutrient value is at its peak. And also like frozen, canned produce is often much more economical than fresh.
Canned fruit and vegetables have almost identical nutritional value fresh, and in some instances even more. Canned tomatoes, corn and carrot products provide higher amounts of some phytochemicals than their fresh counterparts as a result of the canning process.
Canned produce may be higher in sugars or sodium, so sure to get the low-sodium or "no salt added" varieties of vegetables and beans, and look for fruits canned in their own juice rather than "packed in syrup."
In most cases, canned produce has a shelf life of two years before nutritional values and taste start to decline.
The main nutritional difference between fresh and dried fruit is that taking out the water concentrates both nutrients and calories. The heat used in drying fruit also decreases the amount of some of the heat-sensitive nutrients, like vitamin C.
Freeze dried fruit is lightweight, doesn't need to be refrigerated, and takes up very little space. This makes it a great portable snack, especially for outdoor activities or long outings. It is also very calorie dense, so watch portion size. A half cup of dried fruit counts as a cup of fresh.
Perhaps the greatest advantage that freeze dried fruit has over fresh produce is its shelf life. Some fresh fruits, like berries, last only a few days in the fridge, which can make them an inconvenient part of your diet. When stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, freeze dried fruit can keep for up to a year.
• Buy fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. Not only are they cheaper but they are also more likely to be locally produced, meaning they were harvested nearer to you (therefore taking less time to get on the shelves and being more eco friendly) and will be higher in nutrients.
• Buy out-of-season produce from the frozen or canned department; this ensures you not only keep a good selection of fruit and vegetables in your diet, but you also reap the right nutritional benefits.
• To get a healthy variety, think color. Eating fruits and vegetables of different colors gives your body a wide range of valuable nutrients.
• Cook with little or no water to help retain water-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins B and C. For example, steam or microwave rather than boil. To limit exposure to heat when cooking this way, wait until the water is boiling before adding veggies.
• Chopped and prepared 'chilled' bags of mixed vegetables may lose much of their nutritional value due to the length of time it has taken to prepare and package them. If you're looking for variety and nutrients, opt for a frozen bag of mixed vegetables instead.
Here some easy ways to sneak more fresh and frozen fruits and veggies into your diet.
• Buy many kinds of fruits and vegetables when you shop: buy frozen, canned and dried, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables
• Experiment with new types of fruits and veggies
• Keep a fruit bowl, raisins or other dried fruit on the kitchen counter and in the office
• Keep a bowl of cut-up vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator for snacking
• Add fruit to breakfast by having fruit on cereal
• Choose fruit for dessert and use frozen fruits for smoothies
• Add fruits and vegetables to lunch by adding them in soup, salads, or cut-up raw
• Add extra varieties of frozen vegetables when you prepare soups, sauces, and casseroles
• Substitute veggies for meats in dishes, such as spinach or eggplant in lasagna, or beans in chili
• Remember, potatoes don't count because they are a starchy food.
No matter what you choose, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, the important thing is to eat a generous amount of fruits and vegetables daily as part of a healthy diet.
Even with all these steps, there are many days or periods of time when it just isn't possible to get anywhere close to the full recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. And most nutrients cannot be stored by your body and need to be replenished daily.
Basic Nutrient Support, with its Fruits and Greens Complex, Citrus Bioflavonoids Complex, Grape Seed and Grape Skin Extracts, Broccoli Flower, Cabbage Leaf, and Tomato Fruit, in addition to the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, can create a "hedge of protection" around your body, providing a convenient way to get these nutrients every day.