Are fresh fruits and veggies always best?

Updated:May 27,2014

Man and Woman Produce Shopping at Farmer's MarketWhen broccoli beckons or carrots call your name, do you head for the cans, the frozen bags or the produce aisle?

Nutritionally speaking, fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetable are nutritionally comparable in many cases. It’s important to remember that everything doesn’t have to be fresh-picked, said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., a registered dietitian who is professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

 “As much as you can, choose fresh fruits and vegetables. When you can’t, because of convenience or budget, choose frozen fruits or vegetables without added ingredients, or, canned ingredients in natural juice or water,” she said. Fresh, frozen or canned, they all count towards your daily requirements.

You can’t meet daily nutritional needs with processed vegetables and fruit, including juices, but they can be part of a healthy diet in moderation, Van Horn said. The American Heart Association recommends 4.5 cups, which is 8-10 servings, of fruits and vegetables a day. No more than one of those servings should be replaced with a processed food, she said.

Instead, aim for whole foods with as few added ingredients as possible — and “always keep an eye on the added sugars, sodium and calories,” she said.

Just what is a processed food?
A processed food is anything beyond the whole fruit or vegetable that has been taken from its natural state and had ingredients added to it, said Van Horn, an American Heart Association volunteer.

Pizza sauce is a prime example. “With the processing that goes on, by the time the tomato is translated to pizza sauce, it has added sodium and fat, while losing vitamins, fiber and minerals,” she said.

Not all processing is to that extreme. A bag of fresh raspberries, frozen without any additives, can be a healthy way to fill up on fruit.

“The preference is always fresh produce because of the nutrient advantage, but if you don’t have a choice, choose the can or package that contains just the fruit or vegetable, with as few added ingredients as possible,” Van Horn said.

Another tip: Rinse canned veggies under water before cooking to remove some sodium. And remember that most canned fruits are canned in juice or water. Choose the kind that has been packed in water without added sugar.

The Lowdown on Juice
Although one serving of 100 percent juice can replace a fruit serving, you may be guzzling added sugars and calories in some juices without even realizing it, Van Horn said. This can contribute to your risk of developing obesity and diabetes.
“If you eat an orange, you get potassium and fiber. If you drink juice, you might be getting a lot of calories and sugar without those nutrients,” Van Horn said. “While four ounces of juice could replace a fruit serving, the benefits are not the same as eating a piece of fresh fruit.”

In addition, you probably also won’t be as satisfied as you would be by eating the whole fruit. That may cause you to drink more juice – some people have several 8-ounce glasses a day.

“That’s excessive for most adults and definitely children,” Van Horn said. “Just one four-ounce daily serving is considered acceptable for kids.”

Your best bet is to cut back on juice and drink more water or non sugar-sweetened beverages.

Easier said than done? The next best thing is to choose small quantities of 100 percent fruit juice instead of sweetened juice or fruit-juice cocktails, Van Horn said.  And try taking four ounces of your favorite juice and stretching it by adding water.

Learn more:

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