Healthier Convenience Options: Canned Foods

by in Healthy Tips, February 4, 2009

Inexpensive and convenient, canned food often gets panned for its high sodium content (which is true), but there are healthier options available. Here’s what to keep in mind when stocking your pantry.

Fruits and Veggies
Canned fruit comes in handy for tossing on salads or as a snack. Choose fruits packed in their own juices, water or 100% fruit juice. Even light syrup has tons of sugar — so avoid it. Typically canned veggies contain about 15% of your daily sodium needs. Look for “no salt added” versions, which contain less than 1% of your daily sodium needs. Canned veggies work well in soups, stews or chili without much fuss — or just microwave them for a quick side dish.

Beans and Other Legumes
Beans, peas and lentils can be a savior on a busy weekday night. Versions come with no added sodium — just check the labels. Before using, dump your beans in a strainer and rinse them thoroughly. Toss beans into a salad, soup or mix with rice for a side.

Meats and Fish
When you think of canned meat, Spam probably comes to mind first. Meat in a can may sound tempting (for ease, if not flavor), but with 33% of your daily sodium intake in a single two-ounce serving, it’s best to steer clear. Canned tuna or white meat chicken are better options. Look for chunk light packed in water (not oil). Many other fish products contain the American Heart Association symbol, which makes choosing the healthier versions easier. Canned chicken works well in an easy, mayo-free chicken salad or other wrap filling.

Other Canned Foods
Many soups now come in lower sodium options such as Campbell’s, Amy’s and Healthy Choice. They’re not entirely sodium-free — a serving is still about 20% of your daily need; the regular versions typically contain more than 50%. The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists the healthiest soup choices.

Handle With Care
Avoid “can-can” deals that sell dented, leaking, rusted or swollen cans. Botulism, a food-borne illness related to canned foods, is deadly. Discard canned products that are foamy or foul smelling when opened.

Unopened canned products should be stored in a cool, dry place. They can last for up to two years in your pantry unless the “use by” date says sooner. Use a clean and non-rusty can opener and wipe the top of a can before opening. Don’t store food in opened cans — they weren’t designed for refrigeration and can cause the food to taste “tinny.” Instead, transfer unused contents to a safe storage container and place immediately in the refrigerator for up to four days.

The Bottom Line
Use these products to help make things easier, but don’t get too can happy. Beyond sodium, many canned foods also contain preservatives, chemicals and sometimes added sugar (that dreaded high-fructose corn syrup even). Used in conjunction with fresh meats and produce, select canned food can be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.

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