Nutrition experts are constantly urging Americans to eat healthier — that usually means including more fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. But fresh foods are expensive and often difficult to obtain for many families, which is why researchers from Ketchum Global Health and Wellness asked the question, Is fresh food really always best?
“There is increasing conversation around ‘fresh’ foods, especially fruits and vegetables, as being more nutritious. Yet, this supposition had not been supported by evidence,” says study author Cathy Kapica, who is also an adjunct professor of nutrition at Tufts University.
Given that canned foods are cheaper than fresh and usually quicker to prepare, Kapica and her team wanted to know whether they could be an equally nutritious but more affordable alternative. The researchers conducted a market-basket study comparing the total cost of getting nutrients from canned, fresh, frozen and dried varieties of common foods.
The conclusion: when price, waste and preparation time were factored in, canned foods won out as the most convenient and affordable source of nutrients. For instance, canned pinto beans cost $1 less per serving as a source of protein and fiber than dried beans. That’s because it takes about six minutes to prepare a can of pinto beans, compared to 2½ hours for dried beans, after soaking and cooking. (The researchers calculated meal prep and cooking time at $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage in New Jersey where the research was conducted.)
“While all forms of the foods — canned, frozen, fresh and dried — were nutritious, when you added the cost of the inedible portions and the cost of the time to prepare to the price, in most cases the canned versions delivered nutrients at a lower total cost,” says Kapica.