11 Processed Foods That Are Just As Good For You As Fresh If Not Better

Chances are you’ve noticed your grocery shopping has surged in the past month or two as the impact of COVID and extreme weather pushes up the price of fresh food.

While the phrase “fresh is best” usually applies, unless you grow your own produce or shop at local farmers markets, the fresh food you buy isn’t always as fresh as you’d hope.

In terms of nutritional value, this means that the vitamin and mineral content of the products is affected, because as soon as fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to heat, light and air, sensitive nutrients decrease.

As surprising as it may sound, produce frozen or canned within hours of harvest may contain more nutrients than the fresh stuff.

So, if you’re concerned about getting the most important nutrients you need while keeping your budget on track, here are some of the fresh foods that might be even better for you in a processed but much more convenient form.

Beetroot

The bright color of beetroot is an indication of its high nutrient content. Beets are a rich source of B-group vitamin folate, along with dietary fiber, potassium and a number of cancer-fighting molecules.

Beetroot is extremely rich in nitrate, which the body converts into nitric oxide. It has been linked to lowered blood pressure and inflammation.

Buying beets in cans or jars is a ready source of the vegetable, and because the beets are processed relatively quickly after harvesting, they retain their nutritional value.

Cucumber

One of the salad vegetables that has been hit hard by price increases, cucumber provides plenty of dietary fiber and water body, although they lack the amount of nutrients that other brightly colored vegetables contain.

On the other hand, pickled cucumbers or pickles sell for only half the price of fresh cucumbers. They are high in fiber, low in calories, and varieties that are fermented rather than pickled in vinegar also provide several good bacteria thought to aid digestion.

Kale

Extraordinarily rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and beta-carotene, kale often tops the list of superfoods.

While extremely nutritious, the vitamins in kale are also particularly vulnerable to heat and light, meaning kale quickly frozen can be a smart way to enjoy this striking green vegetable on a regular basis while retaining as many natural nutrients as possible.

Spinach

Dull, wilted spinach leaves offer much less nutritional value than frozen varieties, which are packaged shortly after being picked.

Frozen spinach is a convenient way to add vegetables to smoothies, soups and stir-fries.

As with fresh spinach and its good friend kale, the key to preserving as much nutrition as possible is to minimize cooking time.

tomatoes

The prices of tomatoes vary greatly throughout the year, as does the quality and taste of the tomatoes we find in the supermarket.

While canned tomatoes are not useful for salads, they are great for any dish that calls for cooked tomatoes. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which has powerful anti-cancer properties.

When heat is applied to the fruit, the lycopene content actually increases, making canned tomatoes a lycopene-rich addition to pastas, soups and stews.

Broccoli

Another green superfood that is sensitive to significant price fluctuations. Opting for frozen broccoli will not only save you money, it will also provide you with mostly florets, so you’re not paying for the heavy, stringy stalk that many throw in the trash.

Like all green vegetables, the key to maximizing nutritional quality is to enjoy raw or lightly blanched broccoli.

Green beans

When fresh, green beans are a delicious, crunchy vegetable with lots of vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber.

But it’s hard to justify adding soggy, expensive green beans to the weekly store.

Then frozen green beans come into their own. They are already topped and tailed, and as long as they are not overcooked, they are likely to have a higher nutrient content than their fresh counterparts.

Garlic and onions

How many times have you gone to make a dish at home only to find that you are missing onion and garlic for the base?

Alliums, as well as frozen herbs and spices, retain their nutritional value in the freezer and minimize food waste.

So it makes sense from both a nutritional and a budget standpoint to keep a stash of basic recipes on ice. The best way to freeze these staples is to chop them and store them in an airtight bag, or use the pre-cut varieties available in the freezer section of the supermarket.

legumes

Whether you choose chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans or lentils, canned legumes are a cost-effective and convenient way to add more legumes to the weekly meal plan.

Few Aussies eat nutrient-dense legumes, but regular consumption is associated with a number of positive health outcomes, including a reduced risk of heart disease and developing some types of cancer.

A simple swap of legumes in your favorite ground beef dish, or adding a portion to soups or salads is an easy way to increase your weekly intake for just a dollar or two.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower, rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber, belongs to the cabbage family of vegetables, which appear to protect against certain types of cancer thanks to their glucosinolate content.

Aside from florets, there’s a growing array of frozen vegetable “rice” options available in the supermarket’s freezer, making it a cost-effective way to add cauli to your favorite stir-fry or alongside a curry.

Peas

Peas are the poster child for vegetables that are better frozen than fresh. And they can be sprinkled into most dinner dishes at the last minute for extra nutrition.

They are a good source of vitamins C and E, zinc and other antioxidants that boost our immune system.

Other nutrients, such as vitamins A and B, are associated with a reduced risk of chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

Susie Burrell is an accredited dietitian and nutritionist with a master’s degree in coaching psychology.


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