Which is Better: Canned or Frozen Vegetables?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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. Sure there are small health risks from pesticides, but those are easily dealt with by selecting organically certified produce. While fresh produce can be more costly and make them challenging for a tight budget, there are tips to make them more affordable. Fresh produce can require more time to peel, slice, dice, and chop, but pre-cut, pre-washed, and ready to serve options save time for a slightly higher cost.

When fresh vegetables are not available, practical, or economically feasible, canned and frozen provide another alternative. Both are convenient and readily available but which is better nutritionally?

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. A 1997 study by The University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition found that the canning process does not affect the fiber content allowing canned vegetables to maintain the same content as fresh or frozen. They also found that the heating process increases the solubility, which increases use by the body. This is important to note especially if you have problems with gas or bloating after consumption. The study also found that key vitamins such as vitamin A, carotenes, and Vitamin C hold up well under heat during canning and levels are retained in canned products.

Most vegetables are canned at their peak in quality to capture and maintain the taste and nutrition. 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. 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. When sodium chloride (salt) is added, it is for flavor and not for preservation. Calcium chloride may also be added especially to foods like canned tomatoes or other vegetables where maintaining shape is desirable. This can be a plus if you have a difficult time meeting your daily calcium needs. 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. The amount of loss can be over double that amount for some fresh produce before making it to your table. Frozen vegetables are the closest thing to fresh and sometimes even better.

The Bottom Line

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.

How are you doing with your daily vegetable intake? Do you use fresh most frequently or do you find convenience causes you to select frozen or canned?

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1CRAZYDOG 1/8/2020
Really miss my Farmer's Mkt., but in it's absence, I do love frozen veggies. I am grateful that we have a wonderful selection of veggies @ our supermarket. Report
When it comes to beans I prefer dry, but my veggies I prefer frozen over canned. Report
When I raised my children I canned or froze what ever I could get my hands on. We would go to the fields a pick our produce! I get mostly frozen now since kids have their own families! Report
I use frozen because of the sodium content, but I prefer fresh Report
I prefer fresh but canned works in a pinch. Report
yes, only fresh for me. yuckky mushy veggies. Report
Cans do last long, and are easy to store, but I'm looking forward to picking veggies (and herbs) from my own garden some day. Report
I like canned tomatoes. Don't forget that canned tomatoes are a better source of Lycopene than regular tomatoes and there are some no-salt-added varieties out. Also, my Cuban blood needs my canned Kirby Black Beans mailed from Florida. And of course, tuna! These are my canned-must-haves!

With my many salads, fresh is the best, but then...

Frozen is great for family dinners: Frozen peas mixed with a little mayo, garlic and tuna OR maybe stir fry veggies for dinner. Big variety, healthy and easy!

Canned, frozen and fresh are all great!!! Report
I too prefer fresh and frozen. We have an amazing farmer's market here that is open from March 1 until Christmas Eve, and they're open all day long rather than only early in the mornings. So they are my first choice when shopping for my veggies to juice. Frozen comes next as I can only find some things in frozen variety, such as edamame.

Despite what this article says, I try to stay away from canned veggies because of the sodium content. I rarely see low-sodium options on the shelf (either they're always sold out or not stocked at all). I also don't like the texture. Many of the canned options are soggy from sitting in water or juice for so long, and when you cook them they get soggier. They also tend to look overcooked according to the color in many (especially greens & spinach). So I stick to fresh & frozen when I can. Makes them easier for me to eat! Report
I prefer fresh and frozen when I can't get fresh. Canned has way too much sodium and preservatives for my likes. And the taste is always a little "metallic". Report
I prefer frozen or fresh over canned fruits or veggies. Over the past few years I have stopped using table salt and by reading the labels on canned food, it clearly shows the high sodium and other things that I choose to not eat or cook. Report
I struggle to get enough vegetables in my daily diet but i would choose frozen veggies if i were buying them to prepare nutritious meals. Thank you for the information you have provided i found it very informative.

Gayle Report
I believe that fresh vegetable are best, second would be frozen, third would be canned veggies. I try to eat what is in season. We live in Calgary, Alberta and grow a small, organic garden for ourselves - mostly tomatoes but we have been trying a "Spring Garden" for our climate - because our Summer is so short. A "Spring Garden" is when you plant spinach, lettus, onions in the fall and they come up in the spring time. We were eating spinach this spring in March! Give it a try - it's worth it. Lots of fun as well! Report
I grew up on canned veggies and I'm sure it was because my mother and father both worked full time and more in theri business and she just didn't have any time but, I also remember the big garden she had and she used to can lots of things. I eat frozen or fresh from the garden. Taste much better than store canned. Report
I love frozen veggies...not only are they full of flavor, but they also cost very little! Report
A good cook can make tasty dishes of any of the three types of vegetables and fruits. Price often enters into what people can buy and the season makes a difference. Report
I love fresh vegetables, but I tend to eat more frozen because I'm always on the go. The fresh veggies spoil in my refrigerator which makes me upset because I wasted money. Report
Fresh, definitely. The only exceptions are tomatoes (sauce, paste, crushed, diced, etc) when I'm using them in a sauce or soup, and beans (although I do want to start cooking dry beans instead). Also, I do use frozen berries in the wintertime, in yogurt and cereal. Report
Some veggies I prefer fresh; others frozen. I never, never, never eat canned veggies. I just can't get past the smell or the taste. I blame it on creamed corn served too often at the cafeteria in elementary school. And yes, I'm spoiled. Report
I use canned tomatoes all the time. They're wonderful. I like canned corn too. Tomatoes, beans and corn are the three canned veggies I eat on a regular basis. I do eat frozen veggies. I'll occasionally buy frozen peas or broccoli. Some veggies do well in cans.

I try to buy fresh when I can, but frozen or canned veggies work too.

Fresh and organic whenever possible. Frozen fruits and veggies on hand---just in case. Report
My first choice -- fresh
1nd choice -- frozen
3 rd choice == canned canned peas from the store are the worst! Report
I have a question. Someone on SparkPeople wrote that if you freeze bananas they have less nutrition than if you don't. Is that true? A lot of us freeze bananas we know will go bad before we can use them and put the frozen chunks in our fruit smoothies or such. (I peel mine, cut in chunks, freeze on a plate, and then put them in a baggie. Report
Good info to know! Report
For flavour and texture I prefer fresh but canned and frozen veg have a place in my kitchen. I used canned legumes for convenience. I actually prefer canned corn to frozen and I couldn't live without canned tomatoes. I always have frozen spinach and frozen petit pois in my freezer. Report
I prefer fresh vegetables but frozen is second best...except for tomatoes, beans and Pickles...my favorite is pickled beets! Fresh vegetables spoil faster than we eat them if we buy to much. that is why our food supply is so great...we have choices. Report
I would definitely prefer fresh produce. But as long as I use some vegetables whether its fresh, canned or frozen I am fine with it. Report
I home can my own green beans, tomatoes, blackberry jelly & sometimes even potatoes. Theres nothing better than home canned green beans w/ home canned red potatoes cooked w/ them. I freeze corn in the vacuum bags. Report
Fresh or frozen. If neither are available, I'll substitute an additional fruit over canned veggies. Report
I grew up eating only frozen or fresh vegs. I can't stand canned vegs - way too salty, and always overcooked. Only exceptions are canned tomatoes for making sauce, and canned beans. Report
Fresh when possible and freeze them too. Report
Farmer's Markets are NOT in all communities. Grow your own when you live in a under the ground 350 sq foot basesment isn't an option. Fresh veggies in the dead of winter is not an option. I usually have frozen because it's the closest to fresh and easy to steam. Usually have canned peas though, depends on sales. It's also pretty simple to freeze your own veggies, easier and cheaper than canning. Blanche and freeze. Report
I buy fresh when I can afford it, but mostly frozen for the convenience. I have been known to buy canned on occassion but I agree with Amber512 in that canned veggies taste a little "off." If I do buy canned, I drain the packed juices and cook them in regular water...that seems to help with the "off" taste a bit. Report
We eat frozen since my hubby's light heart attack. He is supposed to watch his salt intake. We enjoy fresh when we can - but it's usually frozen! Report
Generally frozen but right now fresh out of my little garden -- I just froze a bunch of beans from my garden too :-) Report
I eat at least 10 servings of veggies a day, and 2 fruit servings a day, but it's a mixture of fresh, canned, frozen, depending on the price when I go shopping. I don't turn up my nose at canned veggies, or non farmer's market veggies, can't afford to be so yuppie at this stage of our lives. Why are there so many food snobs around here?? The way our economy is heading, you will be happy to get canned or whatever at some point, I kid you not, not trying to be smart alecky either, just making a point. Report
Fresh when I can and frozen in the off season... Report
I love fresh produce, but I live on an island in Alaska which makes getting fresh both expensive and not nearly as good. Frozen and canned is the best way to go when unable to get good produce. Report
I try to use fresh vegetables when available since I live near the Farmers Market. When I cannot get fresh I always have frozen and canned on hand. If I use canned I try to get the unsalted variety. I cannot tell the difference between cooked asparagus and unsalted canned once they are both cooked. Report
Canned veggies always taste off to me. They always taste "canny", salty, and are too soggy. I prefer fresh for sandwiches and salads. And I prefer frozen to steam for side dishes. Report
My first choice is fresh, but I always keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand for those times when plans change or I'm short on prep time.

I usually keep some low-sodium fat-free chicken broth and some low-sodium, fat- free beef broth on hand along with a few cans of black beans and a few cans of white beans. That's about the only commercially canned goods I use anymore.

I can my own sauerkraut and veggie relishes which reduces the sodium content and make my own jelly and jam which reduces the sugar content.

Most of the stuff I put up during the summer and fall I freeze. I just wish I had more freezer space! LOL Report
We prefer fresh veggies for most things like broccoli, asparagus, carrots, etc. However, I love keeping cans of corn and tomatoes in my pantry for soups, salsas, etc. My kids will only eat canned green beans -- no fresh or frozen, not sure why??? Report
I love fresh, fresh, fresh. Report
We almost always use fresh produce. My husband doesn't like canned foods, other than soup and tomato paste/sauce. On rare occasions we'll make frozen corn or use a frozen stir-fry veggie mix. I try to get produce from the Farmer's Market when I can. Luckily, during half the year, we have several evening farmers markets to choose from. During the other half of the year, only the day-time weekend markets are held & we hardly ever get up early enough for those (we like to sleep in on weekends) Report
I much prefer fresh but I like to have frozen around especially in winter in case we cannot get out. For the same reason we do keep a little stash of cans so if power goes out we can still have vegetables for dinner. I guess having them always available is always a pleasure. Pat in Maine. Report
I go to our local farmers market but usually buy the frozen, steam in the bag veggies for convenience. Report
I prefer fresh and use it whenver I can get it...or grow it. Next, i prefer canned. I'll rinse the vegetables first or use low sodium. There are some frozen that I'll use but I find that it I do not use them fast enough they shrivel and that's just money down the drain. Report
We basically use fresh. Canned without salt tomato puree or sauce or chopped tomatoes. Canned black, white, or red kidney beans. When out of season, I buy frozen whole kernal corn or canned creamed corn; both are for special occasions to please a guest. Report
In case you are looking for BPA free cans, Eden organic canned products are BPA free! Report
Frozen for the nutrients, canned for the convenience Report