Food comes to us in many ways. Discovering the way that is right for you works best when you have all the facts about fresh, frozen, dried & canned.
We’re very lucky to have so many choices available to us. Our ancestors had to eat what was in season or what they were able to preserve. Winters were a scary time of year. Now we live in a time of abundance where we have fresh, frozen, dried & canned options. We can now actually decide what foods might be best for us rather than taking what is available. But what is the best for us?
Fresh is almost always the best way to eat your fruits and vegetables. Fresh, raw food contains the highest nutritional values, complete with valuable antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and many phytonutrients we are just beginning to understand. Organic foods are your best bet to avoid pesticides, but you can also lean on the less “dirty” fruits and vegetables that don’t rely on a ton of pesticides, like onions, pineapple, avocado, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms. You should still wash all your produce well before eating any of it. There is an obvious problem with fresh foods though; they have a very short shelf life.
Many fresh foods spoil quickly which puts strains on meal planning, makes for multiple trips to buy more produce each week, or leads to wasting food. Choose fresh foods that will get eaten in time, seal them thoroughly when placing them in the fridge, and keep ones that do not need to be refrigerated away from direct sunlight in cool, dry locations.
Eating only fresh food isn’t always the easiest option, especially for those just starting out. You will most likely need to rely on preserved foods for things you want on hand, but may not use immediately.
Frozen is the next best way to eat your fruits and vegetables. Freezing preserves most of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Freezing does break down the cellular walls that provide structure for plants resulting in a noticeable difference in texture, but that also releases the locked in nutrients, making them more accessible to your body. Freezing also lets you preserve ripe, organic foods at the peak of freshness.
Frozen fruits make the perfect addition to smoothies. Berries, cherries, and peaches freeze well. So do green beans, okra, onion, peas, bell pepper, and broccoli. Seal foods well, without air pockets that contribute to freezer burn. Also, be sure not to overcook any frozen fruits or vegetables as they will get mushy faster than fresh food.
Drying removes the water content and some nutrients, mainly from any heat used, but drying also concentrates and preserves some nutrients. Dried vegetables make an easy addition to soups. Dried beans and brown rice are rich in complex carbohydrates along with many vitamins and minerals. They also keep for a very long time, making them an excellent and less expensive long-term food supply.
Dried fruit make great snacks, but you do have to watch how much you eat. Removing the water content concentrates the sugars, making dried fruits much higher in calories than their fresh alternatives. Dried foods do have some downsides. They may cost less, but they often take much longer to prepare.
Canned foods come in last. Canned foods are super convenient and take very little time to prepare. They are also more processed, using high temperatures that denature enzymes and destroy many heat sensitive vitamins and nutrients. They also contain a large amount of sodium and most canned foods contain Bisphenol A or BPA, a known toxin that has properties similar to hormones. BPA can lead to weight gain, obesity, and endocrine problems. BPA free cans aren’t much better as those that use BPS, a similar bisphenol molecule that has not been as well studied.
Canned foods can have their place if you use them sparingly and avoid highly acidic canned foods, like tomatoes. Acid tends to leach more of the BPA out of the can lining and into the food. You can often find foods “canned” in glass jars and bottles. These are your best choice, especially for tomato products. Canned foods are usually less expensive than fresh, frozen, or even some dried options, and they are a quick, easy way to add fruits and vegetables to recipes, but go easy on them.
Canning food from your own garden or from the grocery store when in season is a good way to preserve fruits and vegetables when you are unable to eat them all fresh. This lets you make sure they are healthy, clean, and ripe when they are canned, not to mention BPA free.