Debunking the myths of canned food

Published 7:01 am Sunday, February 14, 2016

February is Heart Month, and contrary to popular belief, canned foods can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

Canned foods are often labeled as “processed foods.”  However, the term processed applies to food that has been altered from its natural state in any way. Canning is a form of processing, or changing food, which comes with many benefits, but unfortunately, there are still some myths about the quality of canned foods.

Myth: Canned foods are not as healthy as fresh. Once produce is harvested, its vitamin and mineral content decreases daily. Canned foods are often harvested and processed on the same day, which locks in the vitamins and nutrients for many months. Sometimes the process of canning increases the nutrients in the food. For example, canned tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.  Lycopene is an antioxidant that may help prevent certain cancers. Canned beans have more soluble fiber, which may lower cholesterol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 33 percent of adults are consuming daily recommended amounts of fruits, and only 27 percent of vegetables. Increasing produce consumption in any form is encouraged.  The only caveat: Choose options without added sugar, and no or low-sodium options.

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Myth: Canned foods are high in sodium. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that identified the top 10 food categories that contribute to high sodium diets, and canned vegetables was not one of them.  Topping the list were bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, and pizza. To reduce sodium intake even further, choose foods that are offered with low or no sodium. You can also drain your canned foods to reduce the sodium by 36 percent, or drain and rinse to reduce sodium by 41 percent.

Canned vegetables, fruit, beans and lean meat are not only nutritious and safe, they are economical, convenient and sustainable. An analysis done by Michigan State University found canned fruits and vegetables cost about 50 percent less than frozen, and 20 percent less than fresh.  Canned foods can be a time-saving way to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. Eating canned tuna, chicken and beans are great ways to add filling protein to your diet.

It is estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of food is wasted. But, canned foods, which have a much longer shelf life with the same nutrition, are a healthy and environmentally friendly addition to your shopping list.  Try this macaroni with sausage and ricotta using canned no-salt tomatoes.

Macaroni with Sausage and Ricotta

Serves 6 (1 1/3 cups each)

 All you need

•2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Macaroni with Sausage and Ricotta

Macaroni with Sausage and Ricotta

•6 tbsp finely chopped yellow onion

•6 oz mild pork sausage, casings removed

•1 (14 oz) can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

•1/4 tsp ground pepper

•1/8 tsp salt plus 1 tablespoon, divided

•12 oz thin tube-shaped pasta, such as pasta al ceppo

•6 tbsp part-skim ricotta cheese

•10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

•1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

 All you do

1. Put 2 quarts of water on to boil in a large pot.

Meanwhile, combine oil, onion and sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and crumbling the sausage with a spoon, until the onion is golden, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook until the tomatoes have reduced and separated from the oil, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon salt to the boiling water, stir in pasta and cook according to package instructions until just tender.

4. Just before the pasta is done, return the sauce to medium-low heat. Add ricotta and basil and stir until combined. When the pasta is done, drain well and toss with the sauce and Parmigiano. Serve at once.


The information is not intended as medical advice.   Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.