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Frozen, canned, dried: Do you need fresh fruit for a healthy diet?

Peaches await cleaning and packing after being picked at Andrews Farm peach orchards in Beamsville, Ont., August 17, 2010.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

The question: Are frozen, canned and dried fruits as nutritious as fresh?

The answer: In the summer, locally grown fresh fruit provides maximum nutrition and taste. In the winter, though, the options are slim. When your choices are apples, oranges, grapefruit, bananas and more apples, adding a variety of fruit to your winter diet can be challenging.

Canned, frozen and dried fruits offer alternatives when the fresh stuff is out of season and, in many cases, convenience too. It's quick to add frozen strawberries to a protein shake or throw a single-serving container of unsweetened applesauce into your lunch bag.

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In general, canned and frozen fruit provide similar amounts of vitamins and minerals compared to their fresh equivalents. Fruits are usually frozen or canned very soon after harvesting, so the vitamin and mineral content is preserved. Canned fruit will have lower amounts of vitamin C compared to fresh fruit, since the canning process depletes some of the vitamin. However, vitamin C levels remain constant throughout the shelf life of canned fruit.

They can also have disadvantages. Canned peaches and pears are slightly lower in fibre than their fresh counterparts because their peels have been removed. And canned fruit packed in syrup has extra sugar and calories that most of us don't need. For instance, two peach halves canned in heavy syrup delivers 24 grams of added sugar (usually high-fructose corn syrup), or six teaspoons' worth.

You can drain the liquid from canned fruit to reduce the sugar content. Better yet, buy canned fruit that is unsweetened and canned in its own juices or water.

Like fresh fruit, dried fruit provides fibre, vitamins and minerals. However dried fruit delivers smaller amounts of vitamin C and folate than fresh fruit due to losses that occur during drying.

The main drawback to dried fruit is the fact it contains more calories per serving than fresh fruit. That's because most of its water – which gives fruit its bulk – has been removed. For example, one cup of grapes has 110 calories and 29 grams of naturally occurring sugar. The same serving of raisins (dried grapes) packs in 521 calories and 128 grams of sugar.

If you're watching your calorie intake, keep your serving size of dried fruit to one quarter-cup. And be sure to choose dried fruit with no sugar added; dried sweetened cranberries, for example, contain seven teaspoons of added sugar per one quarter-cup.

Dried fruit may also be preserved with sulphite, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some people, especially those with asthma. If you're sensitive to sulphites, read the label and avoid foods that contain them.

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Include a variety of fruit in your diet each day. Canada's Food Guide advises adults consume seven to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Children and teenagers need four to eight daily servings, depending on age and gender. Although there's no official guidance on how many of these daily servings should be fruit, I recommend that you eat at least four fruit servings (e.g. two cups of fresh fruit) per day.

One fruit serving is the equivalent of one medium-sized fresh fruit (e.g. an apple, orange or banana), half of a grapefruit, one quarter-cup of dried apricots (10 halves), one half-cup of berries or one quarter-cup raisins.

Leslie Beck, a Registered Dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.

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