Canned, fresh or frozen food: Which is better for you?

If you’re a stickler for the 5-a-day rule for fruits and vegetables, you’ll know that the NHS says either fresh, frozen or canned varieties all count towards your daily count. However, there is a still a lot of stigma that persists around frozen and canned produce, regarded as ‘less nutritious’ than fresh types.

But are frozen and canned foods really less healthy than fresh? And which should you be buying in your weekly shop to ensure you’re getting all those valuable nutrients? Read on for all you need to know.

Is fresh food healthier than frozen?

When fruits and vegetables are frozen, it essentially pauses the oxidisation process that naturally occurs in fresh varieties over time. This is done by blanching the produce (heating for a few minutes at high temperatures) and, in doing so, inactivates bad enzymes that would cause degradation.

Blanching minimally reduces the nutrient content of a food, so frozen food is slightly less healthy than fresh food. However, if food waste is your priority, frozen food is your best option as the nutrition loss is negligible.

Is canned food healthier than frozen?

Where frozen food is blanched to preserve it, canned food is similarly heated and then vacuum sealed in a sterile environment (the can). The heating treatment helps to kill any harmful bacteria before it is packaged up and the can stops any new bacteria growing.

Again, as with frozen food, any heat treatment on a food will reduce the nutrient content of its produce. When it is destined for a can, there is more of a reduction in nutrients than in frozen foods as the produce can react to the metal container.

In this regard, frozen food is largely more nutritious canned food. But as with anything, it all depends on what you’re buying. Frozen chicken nuggets are not more nutritious than tinned chickpeas, for instance.

You have to also consider that some canned foods have added sugar or added salt to enhance preservation. Take this into account when buying canned, as well as any food, by checking the ingredients beforehand.

Is fresh food healthier than canned?

As we have learned, canning involves intense heating to make it a stable, well-preserved method of storing food. This does reduce the nutrient content, in a way that fresh food needn’t concern itself with as no heating treatment has been applied.

Certain vitamins and minerals are also more likely to be present in fresh foods; vitamin C, for instance, is highly sensitive to heat so you’ll find more of that in fresh foods than canned.

Should I freeze fresh food?

If you’re not going to use your fresh food before it degrades completely, then yes, absolutely. Everyone should be trying their best to throw away minimal, if not all, produce.

Of course, this is only possible if you have a large enough freezer; buying quality storage containers that easily stack and fit snugly into your freezer are ideal, especially if you have limited space.

The emphasis, however, is always on how much has your fresh food degraded before you decide to freeze it? If it has passed its Use By date or has started to smell/show signs of mould/has a skin, for instance, it’s no good to anyone, fresh, frozen or otherwise.

To get maximum benefits from freezing fresh food, always blanch and freeze within its expiration date and well before it starts to look off.

If you are looking to save money, a good tip is to raid Clearance shelves in the supermarket (only buying what you know you will eventually eat at some point) and immediately blanch and freeze when you get home.

Shops won’t sell fully gone off produce; Clearance stuff is usually produce that is just about to turn and of which will be useless for tomorrow’s trade. Excellent for your freezer though. Just be sure to use immediately once defrosted.

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