Fresh Food vs. Frozen and Canned Foods

Frozen Vegetables

Frozen VegetablesWhen you are at the grocery, looking for veggies and fruits, you are faced with three choices- going fresh, going frozen or going canned. Although all three have their own advantages, the ultimate goal here is to choose which one is the healthiest option when you want to follow a cleaner lifestyle.

Many people often wonder about eating fresh, frozen, or canned food.  Out of the three, your best bet would be to go for the fresh option, as long as it is organic, pesticide free, and non-GMO. Shopping at your local market can assure you of a farm to table process wherein there are no chemicals and hormones added to your meals. Fresh organic foods are closest to the natural process. When shopping at your grocery or at Whole Foods, look for produce with non-GMO labels to ensure that what you are getting is close to its original state. Organic produce is also more nutritious and has a better taste compared to their commercial counterparts. There are also some vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, leafy greens and sprouts that do not hold efficiently well when frozen and are best eaten fresh. Compared to most frozen and canned produce, fresh fruits and vegetables retain their highest nutritional content since they haven’t undergone pre-cooking and blanching.

The issue with buying organic food or fresh food is that you need to consume it immediately. The longer the produce stays in your fridge, the more it will lose its nutritional content. The same can be said when buying produce that is not in season. With fruits and vegetables traveling a long way before getting to your grocery, you are quite not sure if they are still fresh or are close to rotten. You also can’t be assured if they haven’t been contaminated during their transport.

As an alternative, you can choose frozen organic vegetables. This produce still has high nutritional content because it has been harvested when ripe. When a produce is frozen, the nutrients are also locked in, since it has not undergone the process of respiration. Aside from the nutrients, the taste and the sweetness is also still intact, especially among foods with high levels of antioxidants. While fruits with hard skin like apples and squash can still thrive longer after being plucked from their source, softer plant foods such as berries will not do well when it is not frozen.

Among the three, the least nutritious option is canned produce. Although fruits and vegetables are also harvested in their ripeness, the produce loses its nutritional content once it undergoes a canning process. The pasteurization of the can destroys the mineral and vitamin content of produce.  Most of the produce are added with chemicals to preserve their state while in the can. Vegetables are added with high sodium to retain their “freshness”. This can be a very unhealthy choice especially if you are trying to control your blood pressure or currently battling hypertension. When it comes to fruits, a lot of these are added to corn syrup or another form of sugar preservatives for the same reason as canned vegetables. These add-ons in your canned foods are those that you would want to avoid. Constant consumption of canned produce can add to the risk of developing health complications.

While you may say that you will just avoid those with sodium or artificial sweeteners, one thing that it is almost impossible to avoid among canned foods is BPA exposure. BPA or bisphenol A is a chemical used in the lining of food containers, particularly cans and plastics starting 1960s. Later on, it was found that exposure to BPA, such as the leaching of the chemicals from the container to food, led to various illnesses including infertility, cancer, and asthma, among others. It also contains endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can mimic and obstruct natural hormone functions in both men and women.

While there have been reports that BPA cans have been phased out in by manufacturers, a study published in 2016 shows otherwise. According to the data which took into account 200 different canned products including vegetables, chili beans, fruits and soups, it was found that 67 percent of canned products still use BPA. Campbell’s, Target’s, Del Monte, Dollar Tree’s and store brand cans are found to still use BPA in their cans.  However, most canned food with the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods brand do not have linings that contain BPA.

Selecting fresh food – especially produce – can be ultimately guided by your senses. Another thing that you should consider is if the produce is in season or if it has been imported from another country. If it’s the latter, you have to be wary of the possible contamination risks that it might have occurred during transport.

When buying vegetables, make sure to check the product before putting it in your basket. You would want for it to have a consistent color, texture, and firmness all throughout, especially when you are buying vegetables with hard, thick skin. Softness in some parts can be an indicator that the vegetable is already starting to rot or that it might have been bruised. Even when there are no visible signs of spoilage, it is best to be cautious.

For leafy greens, the leaves should still look firm, plump and crisp with consistent natural color all throughout. There might be some tears and a bit of brownness, which might have come from the handling. However, these should only be minor and the majority of the leaves should still be smooth, green and whole. The same principle applies when you are buying beans. You can also smell the vegetables to get a hint if it is still fresh or if it is starting to rot. Trust your senses and don’t buy it if it doesn’t smell or look right.

The same shopping guide applies to fruits, be it for those with hard or soft skins. When buying commercial apples and other produce that belong to the Environmental Working Groups “Dirty Dozen”, it is also best to peel the skin off as these types of produce are known to have the highest percentage of pesticide residue.

Use the comment box below to tell us what percentage of fresh food you eat vs. canned or frozen.

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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