According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a person needs anywhere between five and thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Since people come in different shapes and sizes, the exact amount that you need varies from person to person. However, one thing remains constant for everyone. You need plenty of fruits and vegetables to maintain good health.
But there are many different ways to get those fruit and vegetable servings. While we would all love to pick fresh veggies straight out of our gardens all year-round, winter weather prevents us from being able to do that. So, when vegetables aren’t in season, some people turn towards the canned or frozen varieties.
Once fresh veggies are off the table, questions start to get asked. Are canned and frozen vegetables as healthy as fresh vegetables? Are canned vegetables healthier than frozen vegetables or are frozen healthier than canned? Is there even a difference among all of the different types of vegetables?
Nothing beats a fresh veggie out of the garden. That’s pretty much as nutritious as vegetables get. However, that fresh produce at the grocery store isn’t as fresh as you might think. It was harvested, put on a truck, and shipped to the store, so those vegetables might be days old by the time they reach the shelves, let alone your doorstep. As produce ages, it loses nutrients, so sometimes fresh isn’t the best option.
Both canned and frozen vegetables are typically processed within hours of being harvested. This helps preserve the nutrients, so frozen and canned veggies can often be healthier than fresh vegetables. They’re also usually picked and processed at the height of ripeness, while fresh produce from the grocery store may have been picked at an unripe stage, before they have fully developed their vitamins and minerals.
Canned and frozen vegetables may start out equally nutritious, but the processing makes a difference. Frozen produce is blanched (cooked in hot water quickly) and that affects the nutritional value slightly. Canning requires a lot more processing. Aside from certain fruits like tomatoes and pumpkins, canned goods are likely to have less nutritional value than frozen. If you take the canned vegetable route, make sure that you avoid varieties with added sugars or sodium. Also, many of the nutrients from canned vegetables stay in the the liquid. If you remove canned vegetables and drain them, you’re missing out on a lot of the nutrients.
While vegetables can vary in nutrients depending on age, how they are processed, and how they are prepared, the most important thing is that you eat them. It’s recommended that you get at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day for a 2,000 calorie diet.