Food/Nutrition Columnist
Canned Foods - Can This Be Good For Me?
Jan 2, 2010 - 9:59:36 AM

( - Most of us give little thought to the rows of canned foods found in supermarkets. But, did you know that the availability of safe, canned foods happened just a little over 100 years ago? Canned foods are often thought of as stepchildren; less favorable choices than fresh or frozen. Is that really the case?

Did you know that the canning process locks in nutrients and freshness making canned fruits, vegetables and meats nutritious and safe for extended periods of time? You probably don’t think about that often, but most of us have cans of soup and a can of tuna in our cupboard for those times when we need a meal in a pinch. Canning removes oxygen, the prime source of spoilage, giving foods a safer and longer shelf-life.

Did you know in some cases canned foods actually have more nutrients than fresh or frozen? The heat treatment in commercial canning releases the availability of important nutrients. Canned blueberries have more anthocyanins, a powerful group of antioxidants, than fresh or frozen blueberries. A half cup of canned tomatoes has almost 12 milligrams of lycopene, compared to approximately 4 milligrams in 1 medium fresh tomato.

Canning carrots and spinach makes carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, more available. The absorption of lutein in corn, an antioxidant that may reduce cataracts and macular degeneration, is enhanced by canning. Canned pumpkin has more beta carotene, which protects you against some cancers and heart disease, than fresh pumpkin.

There are some foods we might eat less often if they were not available canned -- tuna, ketchup, pumpkin, mustard and beans. Though some of these foods, like ketchup, are packaged in plastic or glass, the canning process is similar to that for foods packaged in metal cans.

Did you know that canning does not reduce the fiber in foods? Beans, peanut butter, split pea soup and pureed pumpkin, all contain the same amount of fiber as their fresh counterparts. Heating and pureeing are mechanical changes that do not reduce the amount of fiber in a serving of food.

Did you know that commercially canned fruit and vegetables have never been linked to a single case of food borne illness? Canned foods are both shelf-stable and safe. It is sensible to use canned items by their use-by date to insure the taste and quality of the food, but keeping a canned food beyond the date is still safe to eat.

Did you realize that canned foods – in metal, plastic or glass – are packaged in recyclable containers? Most steel food cans contain a percentage of recycled content making cans a planet-friendly, green choice.
Are there any consumer cautions to consider when purchasing canned foods?
Don’t buy dented, rusted or bulging cans.
Look for canned vegetables in no salt added, low sodium or no sodium packing.
Buy canned fruits packed in fruit juice or light syrup.
Rinse canned beans to reduce the sodium content by 40%.
Use canned foods by the use-by date.
Every time you shop, move the older canned foods to the front of your cabinet.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with 12 current titles and sales in excess of 7.5 million books. The books are widely available at your local or on-line bookseller.
Current titles include:
The Calories Counter, 4th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2009
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
The Diabetes Carbohydrate and Calorie Counter, 3rd Ed., 2007
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to The Nutrition Experts

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