by Jacquelyn J. Core JD PhD

Fresh is best. Right? Not exactly. Or at least it’s not that simple. What if you don’t have access to fresh or frozen produce? When buying whole foods it is often hard to make choices as to how to get the best nutrition. Here is some guidance to help demystify the choices.

Fresh v. Frozen…

Fresh produce in the north in winter… well, it’s certainly not the Farmer’s Market. Sometimes the choices are slim, and the quality is poor. There are some great options, but that often involves eating seasonally. ( Link to prior article? ) While I love eating seasonally, even I can get bored. When what’s in the market is lackluster, I often go to frozen produce. Frozen, you say? Indeed. Quality frozen produce is often picked at the height of ripeness and frozen immediately. The nutrient value will be retained better than that of produce left on the shelves for a week. If it is fresh, and it looks wilted, it probably lack nutrients. Frozen foods can be a great option to provide variety and give a fresher option, particularly when your cookbook draws you away from seasonal eating.

Try grocery stores where produce turns over quickly. I love Aldi for that reason. I have never been in there when someone was not restocking produce. Not only will you get fresh, whole food at a fraction of the price, with a fairly generous organic section, you stand a chance to get fresher food, because a lot is purchased.

Organic v. conventional…

Organic, non-GMO foods are the staple in our house, but they are sometimes costly, and, because of the high price, the corresponding low demand also means that sometimes they look worse for the wear. So, is buying organic really always necessary? I would argue no. I do try to live by the clean 15 and the dirty dozen which the Environmental Working Group, a group made up of scientists and researchers, put together to help us decide when to spend the extra cash on organic. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/health/the-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-of-produce/616/ However, as a confessed lover of the Honeycrisp apple (if you have never had one, please go buy one today), if I have to choose between organic Gala and conventionally grown honeycrisp I take my pesticide chances. Give yourself some grace for doing the best you can in your situation.

You can eat from a can…

Speaking of what you can and cannot do, you can eat veggies and fruit from a can. We often buy organic beans canned, in particular. The same goes for canned tomatoes in our house. Beans are very cheap when you buy them dry… and they are also a pain to cook and requiring soaking and almost always more time than I have. Do rinse what you get in a can, because you can reduce the sodium content of canned foods with a good rinsing. Being shelf stable, sometimes a can is all you have. Sometimes you just cannot access a store with fresh produce, or even frozen. If canned is your only option, opt for whole canned foods rather than processed foods for the healthiest bet. Even canned fruit can be a great option (again rinsing will help, with fruit by reducing the sugar content).

Whole foods should always be your priority. As between fresh, frozen, and canned, and as between organic and conventional, those are individual choices driven by our budgets and our situation when we are buying, as well as by the time of year. In winter, especially, focus more on whole foods and stress less on the choices you make surrounding them. Be proud to leave the processed boxes behind… whole foods are a HUGE step in the right direction.

Here’s to your good health!