Is canned or frozen produce bad for me?

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Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important to help prevent non-communicable diseases. Unfortunately, eating healthy food is often seen as a luxury, as fresh produce, fruit high in antioxidants, such as berries, and quality protein sources, such as lean beef and seafood, can be expensive.

There is a myth that fruit and vegetables that are preserved through canning and freezing are not as healthy as fresh, organic produce.

Many South Africans are not privy to exclusive fresh produce purchased at organic markets and quality supermarkets. Cheaper, processed meats and sources of refined starch are often more affordable and stretch further to feed an entire family on a low budget.

But canned or frozen produce can form part of a healthy diet, studies suggest. An analysis by researchers at the Michigan State University recently showed that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. These findings were published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

In fact, this research found that the level of B vitamins, vitamin E and carotenoids increase in canned tomatoes. As for canned beans and legumes, the fibre become more soluble through the canning process as compared to beans that are cooked from scratch.

It will last you longer

Canned and frozen produce can be stored for far longer than fresh produce, which eliminates wasting food and money. The price of off-season fruit and vegetables will fluctuate during the year while the cost of frozen produce will remain mostly stable. You are also able to buy in bulk and store this produce, which can work out cheaper in the long run.

Choose wisely

Adults should include a wide variety of vegetables, including greens, red and orange vegetables, legumes and starchy vegetables in their diet to get an optimum range of nutrients. Ensure that you buy different groups of these vegetables. A bag of mixed vegetables may contain green beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, which is a good variety of vegetables to include with your meal.

As for tinned fruits and vegetables, you need to think a bit more strategic – as some varieties are packed in syrups and sauces with high amounts of sugar and sodium.

The bottom line is that it's often a more budget-friendly option to purchase frozen or canned produce, which is better than no produce whatsoever.

Here are a couple of handy tips for budget-friendly healthy meals:

  • Rinse canned fruits, vegetables and legumes to reduce the sugar and salt content.
  • Look out for low-sodium or low-salt varieties if you can afford it.
  • Stretch your budget by shopping for no-name or store-brands.
  • Use canned tomatoes as a base for pasta sauces.
  • Replace starchy, sugary desserts with canned fruit cocktail (drain and rinse to eliminate the sugary syrup, or buy a variety with no added sugar). Serve this with a low-fat, plain yoghurt for added protein and creaminess.
  • Canned peaches and pineapples served with cottage cheese are delicious and offer fibre, vitamins and protein.
  • Replace the meat in soups and stews with lentils and beans – this will stretch the meal further and you will pay less.
  • When cooking mince, add soy, lentils, beans, oat bran and/or vegetables to bulk it up. You can also add beans, lentils, potatoes and other veggies to stews, casseroles and curries.

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