You’ve been told a trillion times not to buy produce out of season. But that doesn’t mean you have to skip the fruits you love this time of year. It’s just a matter of knowing which version is the healthiest and tastiest.
"In the winter, frozen or dried options may have a leg up over fresh when it comes to flavor and nutrition," says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way Sexy. In other cases, fresh is still the way to go.
Frozen blueberries are typically the petite wild version, which have been found by scientists to contain more disease-thwarting antioxidants than their traditionally cultivated counterparts (the type you’remost likely to find fresh right now).
Also, fresh blueberries are pricey in winter and, if trucked in from afar, can go moldy fast.
Apples are a top-notch source of quercetin, an antioxidant shown to slash the risk for certain cancers. And quercetin levels in a fresh apple hold up even if it was picked months ago and put into cold storage until the winter, aNutrition Journal study suggests.
Nearly all of the fruit’s quercetin and half its fiber is found in the peel—which you’ll get with fresh apples but usually not with dried.
Opt for certified organic, if possible, to avoid pesticides on the fruit’s exterior.
When it comes to juicy goodness, winter peaches from South America are mere shadows of the fresh, locally sourced summer version. They’re also about twice the price.
They’re not as good for you, either: "Peaches can lose a considerable amount of their nutrients, including potassium, during multi-country shipping," says Cynthia Sass, RD, author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.
Frozen peaches, on the other hand, are harvested at peak ripeness and quickly flash-frozen to lock in vitamins, antioxidants, and flavor.
Fresh or frozen, strawberries are a leading source of vitamin C, but let’s face it: The texture of frozen strawberries leaves something to be desired. What’s more, compared to other berries, fresh strawberries remain reasonably priced throughout the winter.
Consider splurging on organic, though, since conventionally grown strawberries contain some of the highest pesticide levels of any fruit, according to the Environmental Working Group.
By the time winter plums find their way to the U.S. (from as far away as South America) and potentially sit on store shelves for days, they often have yucky soft spots.
Meanwhile, ounce for ounce, dried plums (you know them as prunes) pack five times the fiber and vitamin K—a nutrient necessary for proper blood clotting—as the fresh kind. Eating prunes can also bolster bone strength, researchers at Florida State University have found.
Sweet Bing cherries are highly susceptible to bruising during international winter shipping, and your wallet may be bruised by their high winter price. They also lag behind tart cherries—the version most often found dried—in levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene.
"Beta-carotene is a building block for vitamin A, so it helps maintain healthy skin, bones, and immunity," Somer says. Removing the moisture also makes dried tart cherries particularly concentrated in anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants, she adds. Just be sure to seek out unsweetened versions so you don’t get too much sugar.