Are canned foods healthy?
One thing I hear from my clients all the time is, “Klara, I am a very healthy eater, I make sure to avoid all canned foods.”
While certain canned products can be higher in sodium and fat, and should be used in moderation in a balanced diet, some canned foods are not given enough credit. Canned foods can provide a convenient and shelf stable option for fruits, veggies and even some protein.
They can actually be a good way to spare some change on groceries and even get a lot of the nutrients we need. While it is true some foods lose nutrients in the canning process, some nutrients are actually increased during canning.
So how are foods canned?
Fruits and veggies are picked at the peak of ripeness, so they are the rich in nutrients. Most canning facilities are close to the farms, so not many nutrients are lost. Depending on the type of produce, the fruit and veggies will be trimmed, peeled, diced or cooked before being canned.
Some of the more acidic produce needs to be sterilized before being canned.
Certain meat and seafood products will have to be cooked and deboned before being packed in a can. After being packed with food, the can is heated to a temperature that is known to kill all microorganisms, which helps us ensure that the food remains safe for consumption.
However, canned food can be source of the food borne illness, botulism. It is a very deadly disease, so be aware of cans that have dents in them, as they can be source of the organism.
What are the benefits?
1. Cost Effective
Canned fruits and vegetables are also a great buy-ahead food. You can purchase these foods in bulk and save them for whenever you need them (just make sure to check the expiration date on them before eating)!
They are great to stock up on when they are on sale, and a real money saver when the budget is a little tight. For example, researchers found that canned corn delivers the same amount of fiber as fresh corn at 25% cheaper!
- can be a great way to get foods that aren’t in season.
- is normally picked and canned at its peak so the majority of the nutrients actually stick around.
- are much easier to use than the fresh alternatives. Beans, for example, are a great way to add fiber and protein to meals; and they are also very flavorful! However, buying fresh beans requires soaking and cooking before being able to use them in a dish, which isn’t the most effective if you are on a time crunch. By using canned beans, you can get the same great benefits, in a fraction of the time. We do recommend that you opt for the lower sodium canned beans, or make sure to rinse the beans before using.
As fall approaches, another popular canned product is pumpkin! Pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A, and can be used in so many different dishes! To make your own puree would require a lot of work, especially when the puree is so convenient!
Try adding a can of pureed pumpkin to your favorite chili recipe to make a delicious pumpkin chili!
3. Great for Putting Together Last Minute Meals
We have all been there. Hectic weekend, no time for meal prep, and what am I going to make for dinner? Canned food products can make excellent last minute meals! Try this beef chili or this chicken tortilla soup which can come together quickly (and also be made in the slow cooker, so totally hands off!)
4. Some Nutrients Actually Increase During Canning
I know, this may seem counterintuitive. Yes, it is true that the canning process can cause veggies to lose some of their nutrients. But, at the same time, canning vegetables and legumes often requires heating, which causes certain raw vegetables to release antioxidants, making them more available to us.
For example, canned tomatoes are preserved by heating raw tomatoes before canning can begin. This releases a carotenoid called lycopene, that may help prevent prostate and breast cancer.
5. You Can Still Control The Sodium
One concern with canned products is that they can be high in sodium. Sodium is a preservative, which can help foods stay fresher longer. However, when using canned products, you can still control how much sodium is in our dish.
One way to decrease sodium is by using low sodium or no sodium canned products. Another way is to rinse your veggies before eating which can remove up to 35% of the sodium content. Finally, when incorporating canned products, consider decreasing the amount of salt that add to season your dish. Try using herbs and spices to flavor your dish instead!
For more nutrition tips, make an appointment with one of our dietitians by calling 301-474-2499 or clicking here.
-Blog reviewed and updated by Rebecca Bitzer MS RD LD September 16 2021
Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.