Many of us are turning to tins and frozen food to keep us fed in this period of coronavirus “lockdown”.
But can frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables be as good for us as the fresh stuff we usually pick up easily at the supermarket?
Well, yes, yes they can.
Sure, it makes sense that fresh fruit and veg should always be best – but actually that isn’t always the case.
Fresh vs frozen
“Is fresh always best? That’s a question on many people’s mind right now, with potentially limited availability and access to food,” says Georgina Camfield, associate nutritionist and physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare.
“It really depends on how fresh the produce actually is. Much [fresh] fruit and veg is shipped from around the world, meaning it can be several days from the time that food was harvested until it arrives on the shelves. And that’s before it’s even made its way to your home!”
Read more: The foods you can and can't freeze
In contrast, frozen fruit and vegetables are often frozen very soon after harvesting, locking the nutrients in place.
“One study even found that antioxidant levels can be higher in frozen fruit and veg than in fresh produce!” she says. “However, this does vary depending on the fruit/vegetable.”
Nutrition expert Jenny Tschiesche from lunchboxdoctor.com says studies have shown that in most cases there is no nutritional difference between frozen and fresh vegetables and fruit.
“In fact, in frozen corn, green beans and blueberries the levels of vitamin C are even greater than in fresh, whilst frozen broccoli contains more riboflavin (Vitamin B2) than fresh,” she says.
Freezing doesn’t affect the fibre levels of veg either, Camfield says.
What about tinned fruit and vegetables?
Tinned veg and fruit is slightly different.
“During the preserving process some vitamins can be lost,” says Camfield. “Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins are sensitive to heat and air so they can be found in reduced levels in tinned vegetables and fruit.”
But that doesn’t mean they’re not an equally nutritious option right now.
“The tinning process can in fact increase the nutrient value of some vegetables and fruits,” Tschiesche says. “For example, tomatoes and sweetcorn release more antioxidants when heated and tinned.”
One thing to look out for particularly with canned fruit or veg is if they come in a sauce or syrup, as these can contain added sugar and salt. Instead, Camfield suggests trying to find fruit and vegetables in water or natural juices.
How we cook our food can also affect its nutritional value in both a positive and negative way.
“What we mustn't forget is that cooking can increase the bioavailability of some nutrients,” says Tschiesche.
“Remember to try to maximise nutrient intake by cooking carrots, tomatoes and mushrooms, which will all release more nutrients when cooked.”
Camfield says knowing how to cook your veg will help you reap the most nutrients and benefits.
“Over-boiling vegetables can allow some of the vitamins to escape, therefore make sure to use as little water as possible, or ideally steam cook,” she advises.
And we can also ramp up our nutrient intake by combining the right foods together.
“It's easier for our bodies to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) if we eat them with fats,” Tschiesche says.
“Other combinations include vitamin C and iron-rich foods, tomatoes and olive oil, and Vitamin D and calcium-rich foods.”
So there you have it. If you can’t get fresh produce for love nor money, you may be able to get an equally good hit from the fruit and veg you have languishing in your freezer or cupboard.
Desperate times and all that.