Fresh, Frozen, CannedAt the speed of life, convenience is often the utmost importance. We even sacrifice taste, nutrition and budget for the sake of time and ease. But what if convenience caused a health issue? Would you stop and take notice? Would you change your habits? Plan ahead more? Shop for smaller amounts more often? Buy an extra freezer? Make things from scratch? Or do you say forget about it, I’ll just do what I have always done since no one has gotten sick yet…or maybe all those colds are a symptom of the problem. Who knows for sure, except you? The onslaught of information both good and bad can be overwhelming so let’s break it down.
1.) Is fresh truly best? Well that depends: Did you get it from a local farmer or grow it yourself? Was it grown free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers? The truth is, fresh is not always the best. Most people think of fresh as the produce they purchase at the local supermarket. Those vegetables have often been on a truck for a week or two before they got to the shelf. The Vitamin C in most veggies starts to oxidize the moment it is picked. Some experts say that 80% of the vitamin C can be lost from the time it is picked to the time it gets to the store. That’s a lot! However, vitamin C can be destroyed when you cook it anyway, so is that really an important data point. This information is only applicable if you are eating it raw and think you are getting vitamin C as a result. Then the answer is no, not as much as you think you were.
However, fresh is best for getting the most micronutrients out of your produce. All nutrients are lost during oxidation, the longer it takes from farm to table, the less nutritious it is. If you want to know where your food comes from, check the label, it should say where it was grown and who distribute it. If it is more than 30 miles from your store, chances are it was picked several days before it hit the shelves.
Since the average American does not even get the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables, which is only five, the CDC (Center of Disease Control) promotes getting them anyway you can: fresh, frozen, canned, bagged, dried, pureed. They just want Americans to eat better. Let’s face it with the obesity level going up, and the diseases associated with it, who can blame them. America, eat more fruits and vegetables!
2.) Next on my list for my favorite types of vegetables and even some fruits is, frozen. The vegetables are picked, cleaned, prepped and flash frozen all in the same day. This seals in the nutrients and preserves them until cooking time. I love this because with my busy schedule having prepped vegetables on hand makes meal time a breeze. I am concerned about the carbon foot print, so again I check the labels and make sure they are coming from a pretty local company. To save a few cents, I wait until the grocery store runs a special on the vegetable my family likes and then by a bunch. I especially like the 10 for $10 sales. Keep in mind just because they are frozen they do not last forever. Use them or lose the nutrients. Only keep frozen veggies for a max of 3 months. I especially like getting peas, corn, fancy green beans and the thematic mixed selections, and of course berries. I don’t make this our main staple, just my best convenient type of produce.
3.) Canned is a whole other story and there is a ton of debate on the subject. I am the first to admit that canned black beans and canned tomatoes are a staple on my shelf. They are so versatile and convenient and quite frankly highly nutritious pre-cooked in the can. The rest of the vegetables and fruits I have a bit of a problem with. (a.) They often have salt and or sugars added, and sometimes even more things to keep their color preserved. (b.) They are mushy and taste nothing like the actual vegetable.
But the thing that I learned recently that disturbs me the most is the container itself. Aluminum is one of those metals that can leech into the food we eat, especially if they are heated or if the produce is acidic…think canned tomatoes. All canned foods are heated in the can to kill the bacteria. The canning companies realized this and started lining the cans with a plastic liner that is now heated with the can and the produce. Do I need to get into the research about plastics and BPA and our food? So while in theory my canned tomatoes and beans are more nutritious because they have been cooked before use, what and how they were cooked causes me more concern. I am working through it and looking for better solutions.
4.) Glass jars. I cannot find anything wrong with glass jars and our food. YEAH!! They are clean, re-useable and clear. They are also heavy, and they can break, and food in them is a bit more expensive; however, if I need convenience I am going to try to stick with glass.
As for my plan…well I bought dried beans and cooked them overnight in the stock pot. I grow my own lettuce, arugula and spinach; it is super easy you can even do it in a pot. I like the farmers market for some things and I am looking into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for others. I do shop a lot at Costco. I check the origin of my fruits and veggies (it is right on the box) and only buy from local sources and organic when I can. Trader Joe’s also has good prices on organic produce in small quantities. Items I won’t use right away, I blanch and freeze.
Like you I do the best I can with what I’ve got. We are a large family on a budget and I cannot afford to be wasteful, but at the same time want my family to be healthy. The most important thing is that my family eats a lot of fruits and vegetables in many different forms and colors. Fresh, frozen, cooked, dried, and in soups and stews. While the RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) is five servings, in this household the ODA (Optimal Daily Amount) is 9(+) servings/day. Today that includes pineapple and pomegranate seeds with breakfast; clementine’s, apples, and sugar snap peas with AM snacks and lunch; PM snack will have celery and raisins in it; and dinner will consist of mixed green salad and green beans and carrots.
Check out the data base at Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to see where your favorite fruits and veggies come from and the carbon foot print they leave.
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