To Your Health
June, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 06)
The nutrients in produce remain largely intact regardless of how they are processed. The lycopene in tomatoes, for example, can be found in fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and frozen pizza sauce.
An analysis of canned, fresh, and frozen fruits and vegetables, conducted in 1995 by the University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, confirmed encouraging findings about canned foods, including the following:
- Fiber content is as high in canned products as in their fresh counterparts.
- Folate (folic acid, an essential B vitamin), vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, thiamin and carotenoids all hold up well during canning. In some cases (pumpkins, for example), vitamin A levels are actually higher in the canned versus fresh product. Some analyses also show that the nutrient value of lycopene is increased when consumed after it is heated or canned.
- The nutrient value of meats and other proteins also are unaltered by the
- The canning process actually may increase calcium levels in fish as compared to the freshly cooked variety.
Judging from research, a healthy five fruits and/or vegetables a day shouldn't be hard to come by with the convenience of frozen and canned options. These items are available year-round, regardless of season, and are very reasonably priced. If you're still concerned about additives to canned or frozen foods, take the time compare brands: Some may add less sugar and sodium to their products than others. Just check the label!
THE ART OF CAUTIOUS COOKING. After the harvesting, processing, transportation and purchase, the final step before produce arrives at your table often involves cooking. You may have heard of boiling the vitamins right out of your vegetables. But does simply cooking a vegetable really thwart your good efforts completely? There is some truth to this concept; however, nutrient loss easily can be minimized.
Health experts classify vitamins into two major groups: those vitamins which dissolve in fat (i.e., fat-soluble vitamins) and those which dissolve in water (i.e., water-soluble vitamins). When exposed to hot water in cooking, those vitamins most susceptible to damage or depletion are water-soluble B and C. These vitamins can be absorbed into the water, so if you are going to be consuming the water, as in the case of soup or a sauce, by all means, boil away. But if you are not going to be consuming the cooking water, there are several methods that preserve nutrients better than submerging produce in boiling water.
Something to remember: Any cooking that minimizes the time, temperature and amount of water needed will help to preserve nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, microwave cooking is one of the best ways to preserve nutrients because it uses minimal water and heat, and the cooking time is very short. Try microwaving vegetables in a microwave-safe container with a tablespoon of water at the base of the container. Steaming achieves a similar effect, minimizing cooking time and requiring little water.
What it really boils down to is that while raw is ideal, canned and frozen vegetables still provide the fiber and other nutrients that make vegetables good for you in the first place. For anyone on-the-go, particularly busy parents trying to ensure their children eat right, that's comforting news. Just remember, it's all in the preparation.
Julie Engebretson is a freelance writer for To Your Health. She currently resides in New York City.