Canned fruits and vegetables have been a kitchen staple for decades, valued for their convenience, affordability and long shelf life. However, some people question how healthy canned produce really is compared to fresh. This article will examine the nutritional value, sodium content, BPA exposure risk and other factors to consider when including canned fruits and veggies in your diet.
Nutritional Value of Canned vs. Fresh Produce
Studies comparing the nutrient content of canned fruits and vegetables versus their fresh counterparts have found that canned varieties are nutritionally comparable, and in some cases even more nutritious.
Canning locks in nutrients by processing produce at peak ripeness. The canning process involves heating the produce which deactivates enzymes that can deplete vitamins over time. This means nutrients like vitamins C and A, potassium, folate and antioxidants are often higher in canned produce since it was picked and preserved at prime freshness.
One study by researchers at the University of California Davis compared 14 nutrients in canned and frozen fruits and vegetables to fresh. They found no significant differences in 13 of the 14 nutrients. In some cases, processed fruits and vegetables contained more nutrients than fresh. For example, canned tomatoes had more lycopene and beta-carotene than fresh tomatoes.
Another study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked at nutrient retention in canned beans. They found canned beans retained more calcium, iron and zinc compared to dried beans prepared from scratch. The canning process made these minerals more bioavailable.
While fresh produce starts losing nutrients from the moment it’s harvested, the canning process locks in nutrients. However, nutrient levels do depend on the specific fruit or vegetable, processing method and length of storage time. Over long storage times, some vitamin C loss can occur.
Overall, research suggests canned produce is nutritionally on par with fresh and may even enhance the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. Just be sure to choose options without added salt or preservatives.
Sodium Content of Canned Fruits and Vegetables
One of the biggest concerns with canned produce is its sodium content. Salt is added during the canning process as a preservative and flavor enhancer.
According to the American Heart Association, Americans consume on average 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – significantly higher than the recommended limit of 2,300 mg. High sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
However, sodium content varies widely among canned items based on a few factors:
- Fruits vs. vegetables – Fruits are naturally lower in sodium because they contain less innate sodium. Canned fruits like peaches, pears and pineapple often have less than 5 mg sodium per serving.
- Salt added vs. low sodium – Standard canned veggies can contain 200-300mg sodium per serving. Opting for low-sodium or no salt added versions brings it down to 35mg or less.
- Canned in juice vs. water – Vegetables canned in salty brines have more sodium than those canned in water.
- Rinsing – Draining and rinsing canned goods can reduce the sodium by up to 40%.
To put it into perspective, here’s how the sodium in different canned produce compares:
|Canned Food||Sodium (mg)|
|Carrots, no salt added, drained||35|
|Green beans, no salt added, drained||3|
|Corn, no salt added, drained||0|
|Peaches, juice packed||10|
|Mixed vegetables, regular||290|
|Tomato sauce, regular||650|
|Beef stew, regular||770|
As you can see, sodium can vary tenfold between plain canned veggies and prepared meals. Choosing no salt added, rinsing thoroughly and opting for fruit packed in juice are good ways to minimize sodium from canned goods. Compare labels and aim for under 140mg sodium per serving.
BPA Risks of Canned Foods
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the lining of some metal cans and plastic containers. Small amounts of BPA can migrate into the food, raising potential health concerns.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor that can mimic estrogen in the body. Animal studies link BPA exposure to infertility, early puberty, prostate and breast cancer and numerous other health problems.
While human research is limited, some studies have associated higher BPA levels with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. The FDA banned BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula packaging due to potential developmental risks.
To avoid BPA exposure from canned goods:
- Choose Eden Organic and other brands that use BPA-free cans lined with oleoresin.
- Buy pouched, tetrapak or jarred fruits and vegetables when possible.
- Look for cans labeled “BPA-free” – but be aware this doesn’t guarantee safety as some labels are misleading.
- Limit consumption of canned foods during pregnancy and early childhood when vulnerability is greatest.
Glass jars, pouches and cardboard containers offer reliably BPA-free alternatives. However, due to the convenience and affordability of traditional cans, completely avoiding BPA may be unrealistic for most households. The FDA maintains that low-level BPA exposure from canned foods is safe, but recommends handling with caution for sensitive groups like pregnant women.
Tips for Choosing Healthy Canned Produce
Here are some best practices for selecting nutritious and safe canned fruits and veggies:
- Read labels – Seek low or no sodium options. Avoid ingredients like sugars, preservatives and additives.
- Rinse well before use – Drain and rinse canned goods to remove up to 40% of sodium.
- Rein in prepared meals – Opt for plain fruits and vegetables instead of canned meals high in sodium.
- Enjoy canned fruit in own juices – Fruits packed in syrup have added sugar.
- Compare brands for BPA-free – Not all companies use BPA-free cans; look for those that do.
- Use within 1 year – Nutrient levels can degrade with prolonged storage.
- Buy in glass or pouches when possible – Further reduces any risks of BPA or metal exposure.
With a little label reading and some easy preparation steps, canned produce can be a nutritious pantry staple. Canned goods make fruits and veggies accessible year-round at a budget-friendly price.
Healthiest Canned Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables provide valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber. However, some canned options are nutrition superstars. Here are some of the healthiest canned produce picks and ways to enjoy them:
Canned tomatoes are one of the most versatile items to keep on hand. They’re ideal for making homemade sauces, soups, stews and shakshuka. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene which research suggests may protect against cancer and heart disease. Look for no salt added or diced varieties packed in their own juice.
Pumpkin is high in vitamin A (over 100% DV per serving), potassium and fiber. It makes a great base for soups and stews or can be used in breakfast dishes like oatmeal and pancakes. Opt for 100% canned pumpkin rather than sugary pie filling.
Beans of all varieties arepacked with plant-based protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and folate. They have a low glycemic load for steady energy. Low-sodium or no salt added beans can be used in salads, tacos, soups, dips and more.
Canned beets provide vitamins C and K, potassium and valuable phytonutrients called betalains which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Try adding sliced beets to salads or blending them into smoothies for a nutritional boost.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
Canned salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s EPA and DHA essential for brain and heart health. It also provides protein and an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Use it in salmon patties, sandwiches and pasta dishes.
Pineapple and Mandarin Oranges
These canned fruits packed in their own juice provide vitamin C and manganese. Pineapples also contain bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties. Enjoy them as a light dessert, snack or addition to yogurt and oatmeal.
Homemade Canned Goods
Aside from buying pre-made canned goods, some people prefer to can their own garden produce to control ingredients. The basic process involves:
- Washing and chopping produce
- Blanching in hot water or steam to preserve color and texture
- Packing tightly into sterilized jars
- Processing jars in a water bath or pressure canner
- Testing jar seals and storing
For high-acid foods like fruits, tomatoes and pickles, the boiling water bath method is safe. Low-acid vegetables require pressure canning to destroy botulism spores.
Improper home canning can allow deadly botulism bacteria to grow. Strictly follow evidence-based USDA guidelines on pressure and processing times.
With careful technique, homemade canned goods retain flavor and nutrients from garden to table. However, it requires significant time and effort compared to store-bought alternatives.
Canned fruits and vegetables can be a nutritious addition to your pantry when chosen wisely. Select options with no added sodium that are low in sugar and preservatives. Rinsing canned goods helps reduce sodium by up to 40%.
While there are potential health risks from the BPA linings in some cans, these appear minimal for most healthy adults eating a varied diet. Glass jars and pouches help further minimize any concerns.
Enjoy a variety of both fresh and canned produce to obtain an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Proper storage and use ensures canned goods remain nutritious for months after harvesting.
So don’t be afraid to stock up on canned produce – just be selective. With so many healthy, low-sodium options available, canned fruits and vegetables can play a wholesome role in everyday meals.