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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Comments (17)

  1. daisy mae says:

    Also, be sure to check the labels for added sugar. I have found it in canned beans and peas. Quite a shock! I was feeding the peas to my infant and hadn’t planned on giving him refined sugar until age two. I never expected to find sugar in those items.

  2. Mike says:

    Many food banks are in dire need of canned food donations. However, too many folks give donations of their canned food that’s been sitting in their pantry for too long. Please, check the date before donating.

  3. sylvia says:

    i was always told to keep plenty of canned goods in your kitchen / pantry. everyone experiences bad weather and what goes along with it. since can goods keep the longest what exactly does the expiration date mean?? how long after the expired date the item(s) should not be consumed?? i was also told not to buy bent canned goods but thr grocery stores are filled with them. what’s up with that???

  4. A.C. says:

    Shoppers Drug Mart has a line of canned soups which are low in fat and much lower in sodium than most canned soups.

  5. Jo says:

    Rinse everything fruit,veggies, whatever.Save yourself the empty calories and sodium.Be mindful of serving sizes when you read what your food item contains, you could think it’s a standard one serving per container but it could really be meant for 2 1/2 servings per container. Your best bet make it yourself to control sugar and sodium.

  6. novagirl says:

    I started canning my own garden grown veggies last summer! I made, and even sold some pickles I canned from just growing cucumbers! Very very easy! Also, canned whole tomatos, beets and squash! Try this…it saves money and you KNOW what is in there! Make a few bucks too if you can hook up with a street side veggie vendor or farmers market in your area! Good luck, gardeners!!

  7. soogee says:

    why did you not mention the plastic lining in almost all canned food products and boxed liquids—plastic which migrates to the food which we then ingest? as far as i know only eden products do not use this lining. hopefully a fix will soon be found.

  8. Sharon D says:

    Please provide more info on canned foods. I have been especially interested in what the last comment mentioned about the cans lined with plastic or other material that can contaminate with chemicals.

  9. Toby Amidor says:

    Hi Sharon,
    Stayed tuned for an upcoming post about that exact topic…

  10. Jen says:

    I used to buy canned veggies and fruit ALL the time. But since changing eating habits a few years back, I now buy frozen veggies (mostly organic) and fresh fruits when they are in season. I couldn’t imagine opening a can of corn and heat & serve it now.

    I do buy canned tuna and chicken as the article suggested. A quick solution to lunch. I do stock up on canned tomatoes and sauce and such, I haven’t ventured out so much as to canning my own tomatoes. I do buy canned beans on occasion, I don’t usually do too much with those unless I make chili or something.

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