Freeze-Dried, Dehydrated, Fresh, Frozen or Canned? What is the best source of nutrition?

When choosing snacks, I always recommend fruits and vegetables as alternatives to the various refined carbohydrate crackers, cookies, “O” shaped cereals and the like. Offering your children (and yourselves!) nutrient-dense, fiber-filled fruits and veggies not only will provide antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but also reduce the consumption of refined carbohydrate snacks which ultimately break down to sugar, and provide little benefit. This excess of refined carbohydrates may be the reason for unnecessary weight gain and difficulties controlling blood glucose, which could result in type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Here’s a breakdown of the many forms of fruits and vegetables on our grocery shelves:

• Fresh
Fresh fruits and vegetables, eaten in their whole form, are superior forms of nutrition. Containing loads of fiber, fantastic texture and full of water, which will take time to chew, and will create space in your stomach, resulting in lower calorie intake.

• Freeze-Dried

Is it frozen, is it dried? It is kind of a combination. Freeze-drying is a process whereby fresh or cooked food is rapidly frozen and placed in a vacuum. Cell structure, nutrients, shape and color are all preserved in the freeze-drying process. The water is removed under low temperatures, thus cell structure is maintained, as is the fiber content.

Benefits to freeze-dried foods?
What more do you need than preservation of nutrient content!? Freeze-dried foods taste fresh and remain flavorful. Unlike dehydrated foods, which shrivel due to the high-temperature processing, freeze-dried foods maintain their original shape and texture. Freeze-dried foods also are amazingly portable, due to the water content being removed. The weight of freeze-dried foods is reduced by about 90%, thus making the perfect snack to throw in a diaper bag, purse or lunchbox. Want more? Freeze-dried foods also can be stored at room temperature, without the risk of spoilage, yet another reason to stock your pantry.

Freeze-dried products to choose:

Just Tomatoes! Despite the name, they don’t just produce tomatoes!
This is the best kid (and dietitian mom) approved snack I can find! Fantastic tasting options include both organic and conventional fruits such as blueberries, apples, cherries, mangos, peaches, strawberries, bananas and both organic and conventional veggies such as corn, peas, carrots and tomatoes.
Brothers All-Natural Brothers-All-Natural brand offers apple, banana, peach, pear, pineapple, strawberry (conventional and organic) and strawberry banana freeze-dried foods.

• Dehydrated
The word dehydrated literally means loss of water, leaving a preserved food that is compact and lighter in weight. The process of dehydrating foods starts with applying heat to the desired item and can be performed through different methods, including air drying, sun drying or with the use of a convection oven. Different than freeze-dried food, dehydrated food becomes more compact, which may lead to overconsumption. The more compact, the more we think we “are able” to eat. For example, one serving of raisins (dehydrated grapes) is about 2 Tbsp; one serving of fresh grapes is about 17 small grapes. Which seems more satisfying? Dehydrated foods many times have a chewy texture, which may be unappealing to some. As far as nutrient value, dehydrating does not change nutrient quality of the food. But, perhaps it may increase your nutrient intake, due to the fact that you may have the desire to eat more because of the small size.

Dehydrated products to choose:
Newman’s Own Organics Imported grapes top the “Dirty Dozen List” (click here to learn more), so when choosing raisins, it is important to buy organic. Don’t forget to watch your portions, but pack these as healthy treats on the go.

• Frozen
Many have a misconception of frozen foods; however, I am a huge fan. Quick and easy meal preparation short cuts are found in your grocer’s freezer. Diced butternut squash you can throw in a soup. Cauliflower florets are rich in folate (a water-soluble B vitamin), fiber and vitamin C and are easily tossed with some olive oil, quickly warmed and table ready. The possibilities are endless and you have no excuse for not having a healthy vegetable to pair with dinner. Frozen foods retain fresh flavor and nutritional value, and many times may be more nutrient dense than fresh vegetables, depending on how long you let them sit in your refrigerator.

Frozen products to choose:
Cascadian Farm Frozen Fruits and Vegetables which can be found in the organic section of your grocer’s freezer.
Woodstock Farms Fruits and Vegetables can be found locally at Peapod These brands have great choices for organic frozen options.

• Canned

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, canned choices are at the bottom of my list. Though convenient and can stay in your pantry for months, the nutrient content in canned fruits and vegetables is very poor. High temperature processing degrades nutrients and requires salt and/or sugar to be added in the process to ensure a shelf-stable product.

One exception to my “avoid the canned aisle” rule is beans. As a frequent proponent of bean consumption, canned beans is where it’s at! Don’t worry about taking time to soak and cook beans, try different varieties of canned beans available. Rinse your beans first to remove some of the sodium content, then add them to soups, sauces, pasta, or just serve as a quick protein-filled snack.

Canned products to choose:
Eden Organic has a great assortment of canned beans, also features BPA-free cans!

Most importantly! Regardless of the form, add fruits and vegetables to your diet. Don’t forget to include at least 5 servings total per day.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience planning healthy diets. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active and healthy boys and a love for testing new recipes in her kitchen.