When I sit down with my patients for nutritional counseling, they are so happy to show me all the fruits and vegetables they are getting in their diet. However, many do not realize that the form of your produce you are eating plays a huge part in the nutritional value and benefits. This time of year especially is a popular time to start canning and freezing fresh produce to use in the colder months, but the benefits can be compromised. Think of a house plant- you water it, give it sunshine, and watch it bloom and grow all year.

Now if you put that plant in a can with water and opened it 6 months later, do you think it would be as fresh as when it was hanging on your porch? Well of course not. This is the same for produce; nutrition is lost through the process of canning and freezing. Using these methods to get you through the winter and is definitely a better option than not eating fruits and vegetables at all and very convenient, but when possible try to eat fresh produce. With the average American diet, we are only eat a third of the recommended of the recommended amount of vegetables which is 9, so if you are in a bind a vegetable regardless of its form is better than no vegetable at all. Are you giving up nutrition for convenience?

B vitamins are found in a lot of produce, provide numerous health benefits, but unfortunately dissolve in water during the freezing process. When foods rich in these vitamins are boiled or soaked, some of the foods’ nutritional content ends up in the water instead.
When friuits and vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. If you are going to get frozen produce, choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. If you are eating frozen produce steaming is a better option rather than boiling. Steaming minimizes the loss of water-soluble vitamins.

The method used for canning produce can affect the nutritional content, as they tend to lose some of their vitamins in the high heating temperatures used during the process. With the canning technique, produce is picked at peak ripeness, blanched, and then canned which can increase nutrient loss. Salt is usually added to keep the flavor and prevent things from spoiling which increases the shelf life of the item. Preservatives usually contain a high amount of sodium which is the downside of eating canned foods.

It is estimated that much of the food consumed in the United States travels an average of 1500 miles from the farm to your kitchen table. This is a huge concern because of the depletion of fuel and local agricultural resources that could occur in the near future because of this. The best way to go is fresh and that might mean only eating produce that is in season in your area. There is a seasonal guide to local fresh produce, which is available on the Alabama Department of Agriculture. Summer and early fall is the best time of year to visit local farmers’ markets or your own garden for fresh produce. There are plenty of farmers markets all over the Tuscaloosa area. However, during the rest of the year, it is important to continue eating vegetables and fruits even if that means frozen of canned. Try to add produce into your diet daily to keep your body healthy and prevent diseases. Whether you pick them straight from your backyard garden, out of a can, or the freezer, we all need to be getting our recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

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