In an article by Erin Yarnell for Eat This, Not That!, the following question is posed—are canned foods healthy? They certainly are convenient and inexpensive. They appear nutritional, as almost every kind of vegetable and fruit are available down an aisle at the grocery store. Though on the surface they may appear the same, canned foods are not all made the same. This is because some are made with additional salt and sugar for preservation. Therefore, you should be aware of what happens when you eat canned food.
Though canned foods can contain several nutrients, most contain extra sodium. According to Megan Byrd, RD of The Oregon Dietitian, many canned options are packed with extra sodium to preserve the contents during the canning process. This is where the negative impact on your health comes from, especially for those who already have high blood pressure or heart disease.
“Eating excess salt when you have heart conditions may make your symptoms and disease process worse,” Byrd says. “If you are trying to watch your salt intake and would prefer to eat canned vegetables and beans, the best option would be to rinse them thoroughly before you eat them. Doing so rids a lot of the salt away from the canned food, making them a little healthier.”
One thing that can help prevent this is rinsing the produce before consuming.
Picking “fresh” produce at the supermarket can be tricky. Often times, they’re picked before they are rip, to avoid spoiling before getting to the store. Other times, they sit at the store for too long, losing freshness by the time they get to you. The nice thing about canned food—it’s picked at its peak because there is less of a fear of spoilage, according to Dr. Rand McClain, the chief medical officer of LCR Health.
The biggest benefit of canned foods is also its down fall. Though its long lasting shelf live helps us avoid waste and adds convenience, it also means extra preservatives. Jay Cowin, a registered nutritionist and director of formulations at ASYSTEM, said that it’s important to check out which canned food items are healthier than others in terms of what they’re preserved in.
“Pick foods that have less sodium and no added sugars,” says Cowin. “Fruits should be packed in their own juices and not syrup, and canned tuna and chicken will be healthier for you if you choose options that do not contain oil.”
Another double edged sword of canned foods is the canning process itself. On one hand, it allows for food to be at their most nutritious state for several months. On the other, it involves some danger. Canning involves several stages and according to Reda Elmardi, a certified nutritionist and the CEO of StrongChap.com, one of the steps of canning involves bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used on the can’s inner lining.
“Traces of this chemical enter the food and expose the human body to dangerous diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and birth defects,” says Elmardi.
Since canned foods are kept in water, sometimes nutrients can be lost. One of those is Vitamin C, which is able to dissolve when kept in water. The hidden benefit, though, is that other nutrients, like lycopene, become more concentrated with the process. Lycopene is a nutrient with antioxidant properties and it found in tomatoes.
“Canned tomatoes have much more health-boosting lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and that’s good news because antioxidants help to lower your risk of cancer and heart disease,” says Dr. Stacie Stephenson, the founder and CEO of VibrantDoc.
Though it is slim, sometimes canned foods aren’t processed properly. This can cause Clostridium botulinum, a dangerous bacteria. More often than not, this happens in homemade canning.
“Consuming contaminated food can cause botulism, a serious illness that can lead to paralysis and death if left untreated,” says Shannon Henry, a registered dietitian at EZCare Clinic.
Every produce has its optimal time of year. For example, think of apples in the fall. One benefit of canning it that you don’t need to consider seasonality when choosing your produce.
“Because canned foods can last [more than a year], you can buy canned peaches in the dead of winter and they’ll have lots of sweet peach flavor,” says Rebecca Clyde, a registered dietitian and the owner of Nourish Nutrition Company. “While if you were to need fresh peaches they could be expensive, flavorless, or not as high quality as you’d get other times of the year.”
Learn how else you can keep your body healthy, while keeping your immune system in fighting shape.