Cheering on Canned Foods

Fresh is not the only game in town; learn about the benefits of canned foods.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD

Canned foods are convenience foods — nutritious, available year round and economical yet surveys show people often misunderstand them and don’t think they are healthful choices.

Think again, research shows good nutrition may come in a can and contribute to healthy, well-balanced diets. They contain the same important nutrients and may help meet recommendations for more fruits, vegetables, fiber and seafood at a lower cost.

All forms of food, including canned, fresh, frozen and dried may help provide nutrients needed for a healthy diet.

Benefits of Canned Foods

Canned foods are nutritionally comparable with fresh and frozen foods, while in some cases they may be even better.

Fresh produce can lose nutrients more rapidly than canned or frozen products. Some fresh vegetables, such as spinach and green beans, lose up to 75 percent of their vitamin C within 7 days of harvest. Frozen foods are generally high in nutrients because they are frozen at peak freshness.

Canned foods are also packed at peak ripeness to deliver the same consistent taste year round. The canning process locks in nutrients at ultimate freshness and due to the lack of oxygen during storage, canned foods remain relatively stable up until the time they are consumed, giving them a longer shelf-life.

Using canned foods saves preparation time by skipping the cleaning, chopping, cooking time while reducing spoilage waste. Historically, canning was developed to extend food availability all year long and prevent seasonal starvation.

“Fresh produce can lose lots of nutrients, especially during the winter when it travels hundreds or thousands of miles to get to your grocer, where it then sits on the shelf until you buy it,” said registered dietitian and author of My Plate for Moms, Elizabeth Ward.

Fresh, local produce is impossible to come by in many parts of the country during winter so relying on canned foods is a practical solution to have nutritious products year-round.

Canned Foods May Improve Diets

A 2012 study showed canned foods may provide important essential nutrients, often at a lower cost-per-nutrient than fresh, frozen or dried forms.

Another study showed that canned fruits and vegetables may help improve a children’s overall diet quality. Children who ate canned fruits and vegetables ate 22 percent more vegetables, 14 percent more fruit, had better diet quality and increased nutrient intake according to researchers.

While canned foods can be high in sodium, the leading sources of sodium in the American diet are not from canned foods. You can avoid extra sodium in canned foods by choosing ones labelled “no-salt” and “lower sodium.” Rinsing can also help reduce salt content.

Maximizing Canned Foods

Canned foods are perfect additions to your favorite recipes that can increase yield and add more fruits, vegetables, fiber and protein to your diet. Whip up healthy meals in minutes by tossing together a few cans of your favorite foods or toss in an additional can or two to help stretch recipes and feed more people, at a reduced cost.

As an added bonus, canned foods are environmentally friendly and are the most recycled containers in the United States.

But remember, nothing lasts forever, even canned foods in your pantry. Check the “best by” or “use by” date, most canned foods are good for about one year.