CORONAVIRUS has elevated a lot of things to hero status: Captain Tom, Joe Wicks – and the humble tin of food.
Anyone with a large family or a tight budget will already know the power of a value-packed can, but panic-buying showed the rest of us the benefit of anything non-perishable.
As well as being a thrifty shopper’s choice, tinned veg, pulses and fruit can offer great value when it comes to your health, along with frozen or dried varieties of your fave foods.
Not least because, often, “fresh” ingredients are actually anything but.
“After fresh food is transported and stored, the antioxidants and vitamins have depleted enormously,” says nutritionist Rosie Letts.
Plus, with Brits binning more than seven million tonnes of food each year, longer-life options are a great alternative if you often end up wasting food.
We’ve looked at the latest science to reveal which are the superheroes of the long-life foodie world.
Tins for the win
A US study found that, when compared to fresh food, frozen, dried and tinned varieties were almost always the most affordable and convenient way to get essential nutrients.*
The main thing to be aware of when choosing tins, though, are the added extras.
“Tinned fruit and veg are great as long as you don’t buy ones with added sugar or too much salt. Opt for ‘in water’ rather than syrup with fruits,” says Daniel O’Shaughnessy, director at the British National Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. You can always rinse produce to remove excess salt, too.
There can also be unexpected upsides from convenience foods. Canned tomatoes contain more lycopene – a carotenoid type of antioxidant that may help lower the risk of prostate and breast cancer by protecting cells from free radical damage.**
“When food is flash-frozen from the source, it locks in the vast majority of vitamins and antioxidants,” says Rosie.
Studies have shown that frozen veg, including corn, broccoli, spinach and carrots, are just as good for you as fresh-bought produce.*** They could even be better, because we often leave fresh veg in the fridge for a few days before tucking in.
When it comes to levels of magnesium, calcium, iron and fibre, researchers found no difference between eight varieties of frozen and fresh fruit or veg. In fact, frozen broccoli was higher in B vitamin riboflavin, which helps the body break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy and is needed for growth.†
In fruit, levels of antioxidants known as anthocyanins in blueberries’ skins, were unaffected by the process of freezing.††
Seeing fresh fruit in a bowl makes it seem more accessible, but frozen fruit is just as snackable. “It can be thawed before eating or used in smoothies,” says Daniel.
“Berries pack a punch nutritionally and are cheaper than fresh.” Double win! Tropical fruit, like pineapple or mango, is also likely to be more nutritious, having been frozen at source before being transported, resulting in less time for vitamins to break down over a long journey.
On the pulse
Adding fibre-rich legumes, including lentils, chickpeas and beans, to your diet at least three times a week can help to reduce your risk of colon cancer, according to researchers at Loma Linda University, California. Buy in tins or save even more with dried varieties that you have to soak.
“Add pulses to mince dishes – they’re a great way to make the meat go further and add healthy protein without spending much,” says Rosie. And consume dried fruit three times a week to boost your gut health. In fact, dried prunes in particular are a health hero, with studies suggesting 10 a day can significantly improve your bone density and help prevent osteoporosis, and help with weight loss by making you feel fuller.†††
That said, opt for fresh or frozen for the majority of the time. “Dried fruit is high in sugar and preservatives. Plus, you tend to eat more than one dried apricot compared to fresh,” says Daniel.
Find out how to give up your lockdown vices in four steps at
Where to splash
But if you’re going to splurge on fresh ingredients, make it these ones
“Vegetables that are in season and local may be more nutritious [as some nutrients decline when stored for long periods]. Buying seasonal asparagus may mean you can make sure it is from the UK, rather than buying frozen,” says Daniel. Seasonal produce should also be more affordable.
Raw potatoes are completely changed by freezing, and can even go black when then cooked. They’re cheap to buy fresh, just store ideally in a dark, cool cupboard.
“Meat can be rubbery in texture when canned, and it could be lower quality and more processed,” says Daniel. Try to buy fresh if you can.
*Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
**Journal of the National Cancer Institute
†University of California
††South Dakota State University
†††Florida State University and University of Liverpool
Visit Rosielettsnutrition.com, Bant.org.uk
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