February is Canned Food Month, created in 1987 as a way to clear up misconceptions about canned food, including whether or not it is good for you. Is canned food actually healthy and safe? Let’s look at what is fact and what is fiction.
Fiction: Canned Foods Are Not Nutritious
A common misconception about canned food is that it is less nutritious than fresh food. The canning process, however, preserves most of a food’s nutrients. Research has shown that protein, carbs, fat, minerals, and vitamins A, K, D and E all remain intact throughout the canning process. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin B, are often damaged during canning though, because the food has to be cooked at a high heat before it can be canned.
And certain foods, like tomatoes and corn, actually release more antioxidants when cooked at high temperatures, which make canned versions of those foods a better source of antioxidants than eating them raw. In many cases, canned foods retain a comparable amount of nutrients as their fresh counterparts.
Fact: Some Canned Foods Are Healthier Than Others
As with any other food, when it comes to canned foods, you have to make informed decisions to pick the healthiest options. Canned fruit can be especially deceiving, as a “healthy” canned fruit snack can come packed in sugar-laden syrup, and canned veggies can be preserved with unwanted sodium.
It’s important to look at nutrition labels when making choices about which canned foods to buy so you can ensure that you are buying the healthiest choice. Look for fruit that is canned in water or its own juice (“100% juice” on the label). And if you are purchasing canned vegetables, reach for the cans that boast “no added salt” or “low sodium.” You can also make your canned fruits and vegetables a bit healthier by rinsing them off in water before eating them, which can wash away any excess sugar or salt that was used to preserve the foods.
Fiction: The Canning Process Is Unsafe
The canning process starts by washing, peeling and chopping fresh fruits and vegetables. Some types of fruits and vegetables might be blanched beforehand; otherwise, the foods are placed in the cans along with water or juice and seasoned accordingly. Then the lid is put on top of the can and sealed shut. The last step in the process is to quickly heat the entire can at a precise temperature to kill any harmful bacteria and prevent the food from spoiling. After being heated, the can is quickly cooled and then is ready to hit the shelves of your grocery store!
Canning at home, however, can leave room for error and expose food to bacteria that leads to botulism. But if done properly, the canning process makes anything inside the can safe for human consumption.
Although it is rare for commercially canned food products to be bacteria-laden, you should inspect cans to see if they are dented, cracked or leaking, which are all signs that the sterile environment of the can has been corrupted and could be exposed to bacteria that will make you sick.
Fact: You Can Make Healthy Meals With Canned Foods
Canned foods can be a great way to make healthy meals. To get the most nutritional value out of meals that use canned foods, nutritionists recommend using canned foods with no or low sugar and sodium, as well as finding cans that are marked as “BPA-free.” Some can linings contain an industrial chemical called BPA, which affects the body the same way as estrogen, leading to increased risk of obesity and lower fertility, and impacting both the nervous and immune systems. There are many canned goods these days that are marked as BPA-free in order to avoid this potentially harmful chemical.
If you’re looking for ways to try whipping up some healthy meals at home using canned foods, you can try:
- Quick Mexican Bean Soup
This tasty soup is a hearty choice for a cold evening, as it is packed with healthy canned ingredients like butter beans, navy beans, diced tomatoes and green chilies.
- Italian Tuna and Corn Salad
A healthy but delicious option, this salad uses canned tuna, canned corn and canned olives to put an Italian spin on a French classic.
- Mediterranean Pasta
This healthy pasta dish only takes 15 minutes to prepare and uses canned artichokes, sundried tomatoes and olives.