Canning food to preserve it has been around since 1809. It was originally created to help preserve food for the French army and navy. Back in those days, people ate food that was in season and did without during the long winters. Canned food filled a need. It allowed people to preserve some of the summer’s bounty for the winter.
Now, fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round as they can be flown from half way around the world to our local stores. Once, on a single trip to the store, I purchased bell peppers that were grown in Israel, and grapes that were grown in Chile before being harvested and delivered to my grocery store in Southern California. Times have changed, so why am I talking about canned foods?
Should I buy canned foods?
While fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round, they can cost more during the off seasons. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables start with more vitamins and nutrients, but these nutrients degrade during shipping. In addition, produce sold in many markets often sits on shelves, or in storage, for days before it reaches shoppers. Fresh fruits and vegetables lose as much as 30% of their nutrients within the first three days of being harvested. For some, the nutrient loss is more. Canned fruits and vegetables are often canned within hours of being harvested which helps to preserve nutrients.
Are canned fruits and vegetables good for you?
I have friends who claim that they never eat canned fruits or vegetables “because they’re so unhealthy,” but when I snoop in their kitchen cabinets, I find canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned soup, jarred marinara sauce, canned corn, and canned pineapple. Apparently, there are exceptions to their rule about those “unhealthy” canned foods.
Are canned foods unhealthy?
This is something I hear frequently regarding canned foods. Usually, people cite five different reasons why they don’t eat canned foods and why they aren’t healthy.
- There aren’t any vitamins in canned food.
- They are loaded with BPA.
- There’s way too much salt in canned food.
- Canned Fruit has way too much sugar.
- I only eat organic.
Let’s look at each of these individually.
Are there really no vitamins in canned food?
The short answer is “No.” The longer answer is this. Because the canning process uses heat, canned foods may have less water soluble vitamins such as the B vitamins and vitamin C; however, the protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals, and fat soluble vitamins remain unchanged. Since fruits and vegetables are canned within hours of being harvested, they may contain more nutrients than the fresh vegetables that traveled for days to get to the store. Some fruits and vegetables actually have an increase in certain nutrients as a result of the heating that occurs during the canning process. Remember those Israeli bell peppers and the grapes from Chile I mentioned at the beginning of the post. I’m sure that they had suffered some significant nutrient loss before they arrived at my local store.
There’s BPA in the cans.
BPA, also known as Bisphenol A, is found in polycarbonate plastics used to make clear plastic bottles and food storage containers. It’s also used to make epoxy resins. BPA has been on the market since the 1960’s. Many cans are lined with BPA to keep the food from taking on a metallic taste. There is concern that BPA can leach into the food in these containers. The US Food and Drug Administration has stated that BPA is safe in the small quantities that occur in food, but there are those who believe it poses health risks.
If you’re concerned about BPA in your food, look for cans, and bottles, that say BPA free on the label, or somewhere on the can. There are many canned products on the market that meet these criteria. It’s interesting how the same friends who say they won’t eat canned vegetables or fruit because of BPA buy juice in plastic bottles without checking to see if that bottle is listed as BPA free. Just for everyone’s information, plastics marked with the recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made from plastics containing BPA.
Canned foods are loaded with salt.
It’s true that many canned foods contain added salt. Salt is, after all, a preservative. It helps to retard microbial growth in preserved foods. Salt is also a flavor enhancer. A can of green beans can contain as much as 486 milligrams of sodium per cup. Raw green beans contain only about 7 milligrams of sodium per cup, so this is a significant increase in sodium if you eat canned, but there are canned foods that have no added salt, and most of the time, there’s no price difference when you buy the salt free versions.
Before you decide that you’ll just prepare your beans from dry, so you can control the salt in them, remember that a single teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Pink Himalayan salt is only slightly better. It has about 1700 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. It’s easy to turn a pot of homemade beans into something that contains more salt than the canned version if you’re not careful.
There’s too much sugar in canned fuit.
It’s true that sugar is often added to canned fruits. There are several reasons for this. Sugar, when added during the canning process, increases the shelf life of fruit. When fruit is canned without sugar, it can become softer and lose some of its texture. The colors can also change when fruit is canned without sugar, and when it looks less attractive, people may be less willing to eat it. Nevertheless, canned fruit can be a valuable addition to your pantry.
Stores sell fruit that’s canned in both heavy and light syrups. The light syrup contains less sugar. Some fruits are canned in their own, or other fruit, juices. Technically, fruit juice is still a “sugar” but the amount of sugar is decreased in these instances. Recently, I have even seen canned fruit on the store shelves that are canned in water, so it is possible to purchase canned fruit with even less added sugar.
I only eat organics, and canned foods aren’t organic.
Every grocery store in my community carries canned fruits and vegetables that are certified organic. The term organic refers to the methods that are used to grow, and process, the produce. It doesn’t mean that they have to be eaten raw or only purchased fresh. Eating only organic foods doesn’t mean that you have to deprive yourself of the convenience of having canned foods on hand. I encourage you to take a walk down the canned fruit and vegetable aisles the next time you’re at the grocery store and see what’s available in your area. Unlike the lower salt and lower sugar versions though, cans of organic fruits and vegetables tend to cost more, but if you’re committed to eating only organic, consider adding some convenience to your pantry.
What’s the truth about canned food?
Canned food can be a valuable addition to your pantry. While canned fruits and vegetables don’t have the same nutritional content as those that are freshly picked from your backyard garden, they still may contain more nutrients that fruit that’s been in cold storage for a year before it ends up in your local grocery store. Canned fruits and vegetables allow you to have foods available out of season without paying a premium price for them, and since there are so many options available in the stores, you don’t need to worry about ingesting excess salt or sugar, unless you like your fruit in heavy syrup.
The convenience of having shelf stable fruits and vegetables makes canned products a great addition to your pantry. They can help to provide a varied diet when it’s difficult to get to the store, and with the right spices, you can transform simple canned vegetables into a culinary delight. Canned fruit can be eaten straight from the can, or it can be transformed into a cobbler. If you only eat organic, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the convenience of canned food. There are several brands that provide a large selection of organic produce in cans.
This post has primarily focused on canned fruits and vegetables, but there are other useful food items for your pantry that are available in canned form. In addition to fruits and vegetables, there are several canned meats that make great additions to your pantry. Almost everyone has canned tuna in their pantry, but there are other meats that are versatile pantry staples, too. Unfortunately, that’s a topic for another blog post.
What are your opinions about canned foods? Do you use them? Which ones are your favorites? We love to hear from our readers, so let us know by leaving a comment below.
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