When I go to the grocery store, I typically stick to the perimeter of the store. The perimeter is where you’ll usually find the freshest, most nutritious items. Fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meats, whole grains, and dairy products are almost always kept along the store’s perimeter. In the aisles, you’ll find the refined, processed, bagged, canned, and packaged foods and snacks.
But that doesn’t mean all the items in those aisles must be avoided if you want to make a healthy trip to the grocery store. The truth is, canned fruit and veggies are just as healthy for you as fresh ones. They’re more convenient because they don’t have to be consumed instantly, and sometimes they’re cheaper. They can even be more nutritious, on occasion.
Canned fruits and vegetables are picked and packed upon peak ripeness and shipped to local facilities where they’re adequately washed and prepared to eat. They aren’t pumped full of preservatives like one might think. The preparation and packing process includes heating the product and sealing the can, allowing the natural nutrients to remain intact, and act as a preservative. Ultimately, this keeps the contents inside fresh and delicious. In certain cases, the nutrition of the item actually increases when the veggies are heated and sealed. This is true for most fruits and vegetables high in carotenoid antioxidants.
What about added sugars and sodium? It seems like these concerns are overblown. Typically, canned fruits and vegetables contain less than one percent of the typical sodium intake for the average American diet. Now, remember to read the label, of course, because there are always exceptions. If the sodium is a concern, simply drain and rinse to remove even more. And, of course, select low sodium or no sodium options when available. In terms of added sugar, you can avoid it by picking fruits that are packed in water or their own natural juices. Avoid picking the ones that are packed with syrup because they’ll have a higher sugar content. You can also drain and rinse the fruit to get off any excess sugar.
Because the nutrition inside the can is left intact, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s as healthy. The plastic liner often used for canned goods contains trace amounts of BPA (bisphenol A) that can contaminate the contents. BPAs have been linked to genetic problems, increased fat tissue inflammation (which can lead to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity), birth defects, and prostate cancer. Suffice it to say, BPAs should be avoided when possible. You can buy BPA-free cans and plastic containers to ensure you’re not ingesting these harmful chemicals. As well, fresh fruits and veggies are always a good option too, although you might want to keep some canned vegetables on hand for occasional consumption. For example, last week I made a salad with pineapple chunks. I didn’t have the time or energy to purchase a fresh pineapple, so I purchased canned pineapple chunks. I’m not worried about the BPA from the can affecting me because I rarely, if ever, use canned products. They are for the few times when I find myself in a bind and am looking for a cheap, quick, and easy alternative (if I were to eat more canned foods, then I’d try to purchase BPA-free cans).
You never know when you might need some fruits and vegetables and having a few cans in your cupboard isn’t a bad idea. They won’t sabotage your diet and the nutritional value of them is just as high as their fresh counterparts on the perimeter of the store. Like anything else, be careful and conscious and you’ll be off to a healthy start.
“About the Buzz: Are Canned Fruit and Vegetables Nutritious?” Fruits and Veggies More Matters web site, February 5, 2014; http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/are-canned-fruit-and-vegetables-nutritious, last accessed February 10, 2014.