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 practicing dietitian 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.
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 practicing 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 wrap, 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 fiber 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.
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.
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.
“Choose the one that has the lowest amount per 100 grams.”
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 fiber 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 labeling 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.”
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 colors have different nutrients.
“It’s best to aim for two to three colors on your plate.”