Your first thought is, of course, that they are! Yes, that would be true if you are picking them from your own garden or buying at a farmer’s market where they were picked that morning. Unfortunately, the fresh produce we buy at our local supermarket today is at best picked three days or more before reaching our table. As soon as it is selected, produce starts using its own nutrients to keep the cells alive. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are the first to diminish with age.
Enter flash frozen. This produce is frozen within hours of picking. That has to be the best, right? Not quite. Before flash freezing, produce needs to be blanched. This is the process of heating the produce briefly at high temperatures. This is necessary to neutralize enzymes to keep color and texture. But, of course, there is some nutrient loss.
Then there are canned fruit and vegetables. As they are processed using high heat, there is a more significant loss of nutrients. Fortunately, in some canned vegetables like tomatoes and carrots, one nutrient. Lycopene is made more potent in processing. Lycopene is said to protect the body from environmental toxins and may even protect against chronic disease.
So to recap, quickly consumed fresh vegetables and fruits are best, especially organic. Take advantage of farmer’s markets in season and grow some of your own if possible. Your next best bet is frozen produce. Frozen veggies can be a side dish as well as added to soups and casseroles. Frozen fruits are great for blending smoothies. As far as canned vegetables, it’s best to stick to tomatoes and beans. But do get your five servings a day whichever way you can.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO