Fresh Isn't Necessarily Best

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shutterstock_153667229If you're reading popular media on the topic, you might well be convinced that when it comes to eating produce — fruit and vegetables, that is — fresh is the only way to go. Some advisors suggest that any processing must lead to a lessening of nutritional quality. But that's just not true.

Sure, fresh, perfectly ripe produce is great — chock full of those vitamins and minerals we're always told to eat — but only if it's really fresh. Produce that's been hanging around for a while can lose nutrient content and not provide what we think it should. But there are good substitutes, and they can provide what we need. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that a diet that includes canned produce can be healthy.

Drs. Marjorie R. Freedman from San Jose State University and Victor L. Fulgoni from Nutrition Impact, LLC, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Surveys (NHANES) from 2001 through 2010. In particular, they examined data from over 17,000 children and nearly 25,000 adults to establish consumption of canned vegetables (CV) and canned fruit (CF), as well as total dietary intake.

They then used the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) to evaluate the quality of those who did or did not consumed CV and/or CF. HEI measures a population's diet quality by comparing diets to that recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans .

The investigators found that about 11 percent of those surveyed reported consuming CV and CF on a particular day. And when their diets were compared to those of non- consumers, they observed that CV + CF consumers (both children and adults) ate more energy, energy-adjusted fiber, sugar, and potassium, but less fat and saturated fat. The children who ate CV + CF also ate more energy adjusted protein, vitamin A, calcium and magnesium. Both groups consumed  similar energy-adjusted sodium and added sugar.

The HEI was significantly higher for both child and adult CV + CF consumers than for the respective non-consumers. Importantly, body weight, waist circumference and blood pressure (all of which are measured in NHANES surveys) as well as BMIs were comparable in both groups of children and adults.

With the usual caveat that these data about food consumption are self-reported, and thus may be subject to bias, they indicate that consumption of CF + CV certainly do not impair diet quality, nor are they particularly associated with either obesity or high blood pressure. Since fresh produce may have a high price compared to canned items, the latter is a way to get essential nutrition at a more affordable price.