Dropping temperatures means a drop in the availability of fresh vegetables. Fortunately we have other options, but are they as healthy? How canned and frozen veggies hold up to fresh.
Baby it is cold outside, but does that mean we should expect the same of our veggies?
In many cases, yes. Winter weather limits the availability of many fresh veggies and oftentimes makes those that are on offer more expensive. With the exception of growing veggies in a hotbox, the alternative, for most of us, is frozen or canned vegetables. But are we compromising our kids’ nutrition when we opt for ice-cold convenience?
Not necessarily. In fact, some veggies can be more nutritious in the frozen, or even canned, form. This is because veggies begin losing their nutrients the moment they are picked, and the passage from field to truck to supermarket can take days. Along the way nutritional essentials fade like roses in the fall. Further, many vegetables are picked early, so they have less time to fully develop their vitamin and mineral benefits to begin with.
“Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when – as a general rule – they are most nutrient-packed,” according to Eating Well.
Which vegetables are we talking here? Following are a few that hold up just as well as, or even better than, fresh.
Spinach: The flash-freezing process spinach undergoes, usually within hours of leaving the soil, enables it to retain more of its vitamin C content. It also contains higher concentrations of folate, vitamins E, A and K and calcium. From a practical standpoint, frozen or even canned forms of spinach pack more volume than fresh. A 10-ounce box of frozen spinach is the equivalent of one full bag of fresh.
Tomatoes: The taste of a fresh garden tomato is, for many of us, a taste of summer. When winter comes, we simply need to switch the delivery system from vine to can. Canned tomatoes undergo a heating process that releases lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent various forms of cancer. Canned tomatoes also are higher in beta-carotene. Healthy tip: Seek cans that are free of the chemical BPA (bisphenol A), or look for fresh tomatoes in jars or boxes.
Broccoli: One of the veggie world’s most nutritious members holds on to its super-food power even on ice. Research conducted for WebMD concluded that frozen broccoli florets contain a dash more vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C and folic acid than the fresh florets.
Carrots: Because they are high in fat-soluble vitamin A, carrots maintain more stability during the freezing process. This is super good news for our eyes and skin, which benefit from vitamin A. Vitamin E is also fat soluble, so leafy greens, squash and (as mentioned) broccoli hold up well to a freezing.
Peas: The natural sugars in peas begin turning into starch the moment they are picked. When frozen, however, peas are at the peak of ripeness and therefore will taste better to you and, importantly, the kids. Also, frozen peas may contain more vitamin C, essential for fighting colds.
What’s better fresh?
Veggies in the brassica family – cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower — are generally better fresh because they retain more antioxidants that have been shown to prevent certain cancers. But if you can’t find them fresh, the frozen version is still healthier than chips.
When summer comes, you should happily buy fresh produce if you prefer. The best bet for optimum nutrition is to buy local and in season. If you choose canned or frozen veggies, look for “clean veggies,” or those without added salt or sugar. We might not be able to control the seasons, but we can manage our seasoning at home!