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Is fresh produce better than tinned and frozen fruit and veg? Not always, these experts say

By Dannielle Maguire
Experts say opting for the cheaper items at the supermarket doesn't have to mean compromising on nutrition.   (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

As inflation drives prices up, many Australians are looking to cut costs at the supermarket. 

Experts say opting for cheaper tinned or frozen items can be just as healthy as pricey fresh produce — and in some cases, even healthier.

Frozen can be better than fresh

Accredited practising dietician from Nutrition Australia Leanne Elliston says that, from a health perspective, frozen food can sometimes be better for you than some products sold as "fresh" on supermarket shelves. 

That's particularly true for food that's not in season, because those items are sometimes transported a long way and the nutrients inside them can break down during that long travel time. 

Ms Elliston says water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C are particularly bad for this. 

So you may get a "fresh" orange, but because of the long time between that piece of fruit being picked and you eating it, it might have lost some of its nutritional benefits. 

The oranges that travelled a long way to end up on your supermarket shelves will have lost some of their nutrients along the way.  (Pexels: Anna Shvets)

But Ms Elliston said frozen produce didn't have this problem. 

"The nutrients are locked in that frozen state and they don't degrade like fresh produce," she says. 

Accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians Australia Anika Rouf said most of the frozen fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets is snap-frozen. 

"They're frozen as soon as they’re picked," Dr Rouf said. 

"So their nutrient density is a lot better than getting something that has been sitting in the supermarket for a week."

What about canned goods?

Tinned fruit and veggies often get a bad rap, but Ms Elliston said there can be a lot of nutritional goodness in those cans.

She's a big fan of tinned corn and tinned tomatoes as quick and convenient ways to up the fibre content of dishes like soups, casseroles, and curries. 

And she says tinned legumes like chickpeas and lentils can help bulk out meat dishes — think spaghetti bolognese — to spread them out to more meals. 

However, she says, you just have to be mindful of the additives. 

Tinned fruit

What to look for: Fruit in juice

Sometimes canned fruit is in the juice of a different fruit, often apple or pear juice, but the juice is less likely to have added sugar than other tinned fruits. 

What to avoid: Fruit in syrup

"That's just going to be sugar and water," Ms Elliston said. 

She points out that, just because the fruit comes in syrup or juice, you don't need to consume it — you can drain it out and just eat the fruit inside. 

Opt for tinned fruit in juice instead of syrup.  (ABC News: Dannielle Maguire)

Tinned vegetables

What to look for: Reduced salt 

What to avoid:  Added salt 

"Pick up a couple of cans, look at the nutritional information panel and look at sodium," Ms Elliston said. 

"Chose the one that has the lowest amount per 100 grams." 

Pick the option with the lowest salt content when you're choosing between types of tinned veggies.  (ABC News: Dannielle Maguire)

Check the star rating

If you're trying to choose between different types of the same tinned veggies, checking the Health Star Rating can take the confusion out of reading the nutritional information panels. 

"The Health Star Rating averages the pros versus the cons of the product, " Dr Rouf said. 

So the pros of tinned fruit might be the fibre and nutrient content, which would push its rating up. 

But a con might be added sugar, which would pull the rating down. 

Not all products have a Health Star Rating, however, as it's a voluntary labelling feature. 

What range to go for: Aim for 3.5 stars and higher

It's best to have a variety

Whatever you chose, remember that any serving of fruit or vegetables is better than none

Dr Rouf pointed to a Bureau of Statistics survey that found less than 7 per cent of Australians were eating the recommended five serves of vegetables per day. 

"What matters at the end of the day is that everyone's finding a way [to eat vegetables], " she said. 

Ms Elliston recommended mixing it up with frozen, fresh and tinned produce.

"Some nutrients and vitamins will break down when they're cooked," she said. 

"Other nutrients become more available to the body when cooked.

"So the more variety, the better."

Tinned food can be very nutritious, but keep an eye on the additives.  (ABC News: Dannielle Maguire)

She gives an example using the humble tomato. 

When tomatoes are cooked, the lycopene becomes much easier for your body to absorb. 

But fresh tomatoes have more vitamin C. 

"It’s good to have a mixture," she said. 

Dr Rouf also said to keep this in mind when going with frozen vegetables.

She said a bag of mixed frozen vegetables was a smart choice. 

"Variety is really important, rather than eating the same food all the time," she said. 

"Different colours have different nutrients.

"It's best to aim for two to three colours on your plate."

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