The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend five servings of fruit and vegetables a day as the optimal way to get the vitamins / nutrients your body needs. So what is the most nutritious source for your veggie-intake each day: fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables?
How Nutritious are Fresh Versus Canned Versus Frozen Veggies?
Vegetables contain proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, and other phytochemicals essential to optimal health. Whether you get them from a grocery store produce section, a freezer section, a shelf of cans, a farmers market, or your own garden, they all start off with the same high-nutrient content. Vegetables are at their peak nutritional value right after they are picked.
Typically, canned and frozen produce are processed and preserved immediately after harvesting so they are surprisingly high in nutritional value. Shipping and travel time are the key elements that rob fresh vegetables of nutrients. As produce sits, it loses the potency of its vitamin and mineral content. Canning and freezing protects the product from that problem and preserves the nutrition.
However, the savvy shopper needs to know that canned vegetables frequently have added sodium that is unhealthy. Become a label reader and choose the lower-salt or "no salt added" options. Frozen vegetables rarely have added salt.
How Do You Maintain the Nutrients When Cooking Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Veggies?
Another issue to consider is cooking. Even the most healthy produce, cooked improperly, can lose nutritional value exponentially. Many veggies contain water soluble vitamins (they dissolve in water) so they're easily lost with too much cooking. Vitamins like A,D, E and K are fat soluble and aren't easily lost with cooking.
To maintain their nutrients, frozen, fresh and canned veggies should be cooked in a small amount of water, at lower temperatures and only long enough to make them tender.
Do Veggies Lose Nutrients With Age?
Vegetables that you purchase fresh from the produce section of your local grocery store may very well be the least nutritious of the choices. Any veggies that aren't from local growers have travel-time that diminishes their nutrient value. In addition, most will then spend additional time in your own refrigerator, further losing value.
Produce from your local farmers market or your own garden are clearly a fresher choice, but it's important to remember to only pick/purchase what you can use in a short amount of time. If it does not seem reasonable to shop for veggies more than once a week, it is worth considering adding canned and frozen options to your pantry and freezer to make sure you're getting the most nutrition from your purchases. The canning/freezing process is also a quick way to stop the veggie-aging process!
Are Supplements a Better Way to Go?
With such complicated options available, you might be tempted to just go for a dietary supplement to ensure you're getting the recommended daily amounts of all the nutrients your body needs (instead of trying to rely on your diet). However, vitamins and minerals you get from your diet are better protectants against many diseases.
Consider adding wheat germ to your diet as a topping on vegetables or in sauces. The extra fiber, protein, and vitamins are an excellent dietary way to bump up the your daily nutritional intake. In addition, some micronutrients like A, D, E, and K that are stored in the liver and fatty tissue and can become toxic if you take more than the small amounts needed. Many of the micro-nutrients your body requires can be found in that healthy serving of fish you add to your diet anyway!
Remember, some vitamins and minerals are only safe in small doses so consult your physician before adding dietary supplements to your routine.