Fresh, frozen or tinned – which is healthier?

Fresh, frozen or tinned – we take a look at which is healthier for you and your child.

Fresh, frozen or tinned - which is healthier?

Fruit and vegetables are a key component of a healthy diet, yet getting children to eat their vegetables is clearly a struggle for many parents. In fact, according to The Australia’s Health 2018 report, 99 percent of children don’t eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables.

That’s a pretty scary statistic! Ideally, you would pick your vegetables straight out of the garden when they are ripe. But that’s not reality for most people. Instead, you take a trip to your local supermarket, green grocer or farmer’s market to pick up your fresh produce. You may even receive a box delivered straight to your door.  

As a society, we’ve also become accustomed to having out of season produce available all year round. This means we’re relying on produce that is frozen or tinned or fresh produce that has been transported from all over the world and stored.

Comparing fresh, frozen and tinned veggies  

Fresh vegetables

There are many factors that determine how nutrient dense your produce is. Is it seasonally and locally grown? Has it been grown in nutrient-rich soil? What were the farming methods used to grow the crop? Is it vine-ripened or ripened post-harvest? How long has it been stored for? 

Some nutrients, such as vitamin C, rapidly degraded once the produce has been harvested. The nutrients of vitamin C and others such as B group vitamins continue to deplete when they been stored and during cooking due to their sensitivity to heat and light.

Frozen vegetables

Frozen produce is typically snap frozen immediately after being picked. Some frozen produce undergoes minimal processing of blanching.

Freezing can reduce the loss of nutrients but this will be heavily influenced on the vegetable and the methods to freeze. Where storage temperature is well maintained, the nutrient content of frozen vegetables remains relatively stable.

When comparing the antioxidant levels of fresh and frozen produce, vegetables which have been frozen can be higher than fresh. In some cases, frozen produce can be more nutritious than fresh. 

Tinned vegetables

Tinned vegetables are typically vine-ripened which can enhance their nutritional value, however, they do typically undergo more processing.

Canning vegetables often exposes the produce to high temperatures, which can degrade many nutrients including vitamin C. In addition, canned vegetables (and fruits) are often peeled which can remove their polyphenolic compounds and fibre. On the other hand, the fibre in canned legumes is considered more soluble and beneficial than dried.

It’s also not uncommon for additives, salt and syrup to be added, which will compromise the nutritional value of the vegetables.

An additional factor to consider when choosing between fresh, frozen or tinned vegetables is the lining of cans. Many cans are lined with the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) which has been linked with the increased risk of cancer. Even some of the organic brands use BPA lining. You can look for BPA-free cans, however, the safety of these alternatives is also under question.

Storage and preparation plays a large role 

Fresh, frozen or tinned - which is healthier?

The way you store your vegetables and the cooking methods used may play a bigger role than whether you choose fresh, frozen or tinned produce.

Improper refrigeration of fresh produce will result in a loss of nutrients. Consuming fresh produce as quickly as possible is advised. Steaming your vegetables (fresh or frozen) for a short time helps to retain more nutrients than boiling.

So which is more nutritious fresh, frozen or tinned?

There is no black and white answer! The farming methods, processing and type of produce all affect the nutrient content of the veggies.

Fresh vegetables often taste better and have a nicer texture than frozen or canned produced. This makes them more suitable to eat raw. If they’ve been seasonally grown in fertile soil and eaten straight from the garden, they’re likely to be nutrient dense.

Frozen vegetables can be convenient and the nutrient ‘locked in’ if snap frozen. It also gives you the versatility to enjoy out of season product.

Canned vegetables free of additives can be a handy and affordable addition to a meal, but you need to way up the benefits with the intake of chemicals such as BPA. My advice is to use canned vegetables as an emergency.

Tips when choosing fresh, frozen or tinned vegetables

  • Opt for seasonally, grown produce when choosing fresh vegetables.

  • Store the produce appropriately to preserve the nutrient content.

  • Avoid frozen vegetables with sauces. These typically contain additives, sugar and salt.

  • When choosing frozen fruit, check the label and avoid added sugars or sweeteners choosing plain produce.

  • Avoid tinned produce in syrup or with additives and check the sodium content.

  • Consume tinned produce soon after opening.