We live in a world of conveniences, we only have to drive up to a restaurant to get a full fledged meal.
But at home; the average cook has some choices to make. Is it worth the risks to store food longer to save some effort?
Fresh fruits and vegetables serve as a nutritional powerhouse for most healthy diets. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, they also help protect against disease. Are you giving up nutrition for convenience?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2005, we should consume 2 cups of fruit and 21/2 cups of veggies each day (based on the intake of 2,000 calories a day). That’s equivalent to the five to nine daily servings recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Fruits and veggies are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals that help lower your risk for many illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, vision loss from macular degeneration or cataracts, and certain cancers. But 75 percent of Americans still fail to meet the minimum five-a-day recommendation.
In a better world, we’d all grow our own produce, harvest it first thing in the morning and dine on delicious fruits and veggies all day. In the current world, most folks are doing well just to consume the daily minimum recommended serving of 2 cups of fruit and 21/2 cups of vegetables. Many of us have to work and plan to meet our recommended vegetable servings each day. Most of us need more of them in our diets. Fresh organically grown vegetables that come right from the garden to your table are the most nutritious choice. If you have not yet planted your own garden, consider visiting a farmer’s market to get the most nutritious produce.
Frozen vegetables are the next best thing to fresh when it comes to nutrition for those times you are in need of convenience or have trouble finding fresh organic options. Steaming or microwaving frozen vegetables is the best way to retain key nutrients. Since nutrients are leached out in water when boiled, be sure to drink the water to get all the nutrients that have been lost when boiling is necessary.
Sometimes canned vegetables are all that are available. Eating canned vegetables is better than selecting other processed foods in their place. Canned vegetables are also safe as well as nutritious, especially when low sodium or sodium-free choices are made. Since BPA can be found in cans, it is best to limit their use when possible. If you find that consuming canned beans and legumes lead to gas, bloating and discomfort, rinse and drain them first. Or consider soaking dry sources for several hours before eating or use in recipes to decrease those negative side effects.
- Most vegetables are canned at their peak in quality to capture and maintain the taste and nutrition.
- When fresh produce is processed directly for canning, it is quickly heated to destroy microorganisms that cause food spoilage or food borne illness.
- Since the food is uniformly heated in the can, no preservatives are needed and the taste, texture, and nutritional value is retained.
- Fresh produce shipped in instead of coming from a local farmer’s market may spend several weeks on the road or in the supermarket before they make it to your table.
- They also may have been treated with chemicals to help slow the spoilage process and to enhance color for quick sale.
- The FDA deemed frozen vegetables equal to fresh related to essential nutrients and health benefits in a 1998 report.
- Since vegetables are picked at their peak, blanched then flash frozen, nutrients are quickly locked in. Normally, nutrients begin being lost as soon as produce is picked.
- Frozen vegetables processed quickly after harvest only lose about twenty percent of their nutrition
Canning is a process that extends the shelf life of perishable foods. The first American canning factory was established in New York City in 1812 for preserving oysters, meats, fruits, and vegetables. While the process has changed over the years, the benefit of convenience has not. Today, canned vegetables make it possible to enjoy many favorites all year long instead of just during the growing season.
Toxins in Canned Foods
Bisphenol-A is an industrial chemical coating on the inside of cans that acts as a barrier, preventing direct contact between the food and the metal can. While BPA has been used in food cans since the 1960s, it does have known estrogenic properties. Furthermore, as late as 2010 the FDA reported concerns about BPA’s potential effects on the brains, behavior and prostate glands of the very young.
Recently, researchers from the University of Antwerp in Belgium tested the Bisphenol-A content of 21 canned foods. Canned salmon, anchovies and tomatoes all contained BPA levels that were less than half the average. Canned tuna fish had the highest BPA level, and it was still only one sixth the limit set by the European Commission in 2004.
The specific health effects of BPA are unknown, but certain companies have started canning their foods without using BPA. Next time you’re picking up canned goods at the grocery store, look for those with labels that say “BPA-free.”
Home canning in glass jars has been popular in the U.S. since the late 1850s, when John L. Mason invented the first reusable jar with a screw-on lid. Canning technology gradually improved and in 1915, Alexander H. Kerr developed the two-part canning lid that we still use today. In the last 60+ years, as food production became heavily industrialized and the full-service grocery store became the norm, home canning experienced a drastic drop-off in popularity. It went from being a seasonal necessity (how else would you preserve the bounty of your kitchen garden and fruit trees?) to a neglected art, still practiced in more rural areas, but nearly abandoned by city dwellers.
Freeze-Drying is a process that preserves food by removing 98 percent of its water content. This prevents food from spoiling, while still maintaining most of its flavor, color, texture, and nutritional value. Some freeze-dried food can last for several years! Just remember that if you’re eating a lot of freeze-dried foods, you want to stay extra hydrated to make up for their lack of water.
Fortunately, canning and freezing don’t require chemical additives. So you shouldn’t see long lists of impossible-to-pronounce ingredients on processed fruits and veggies. The not-so-bad ingredients that you can expect to see on processed produce include ascorbic acid and citric acid (found naturally in fruits such as lemons and limes), which are sometimes added to canned fruit to preserve its color.
Which should you choose: Jarred, Canned,Frozen, or Fresh? Making that decision in the supermarket isn’t as important as choosing, five to nine times a day, to pull the produce off your pantry shelf or out of your refrigerator and put it onto your kitchen table. So make a list of your favorite fruits and veggies, squeeze that shopping trip into your schedule, and load up on produce that you can eat on your timeline.