Canned food, lifesavers in a pinch! BUT, are they a can of goodness or not? Luckily for us, not all canned food is created equal, which means that some can be part of a nutritious diet and others we need to avoid. There are just a few things we need to keep in mind and look out for before we purchase…
Is Canned Food Healthy?
By now, we all know that there are some serious problems with the masses of shelf-stable, highly processed food available to us. Unfortunately, the process of getting our food so durable and long-standing on our shelves requires that a lot of what makes it good and nutrition is processed out of it. Added to that, there are a lot – and I mean A LOT – of preservatives, stabilizers and chemicals used, which counterbalance the convenience.
A noble effort for sure, but at what cost? That’s a discussion for another day, though; the question is really – does canned food fall under the same category as processed food? As usual, the answer is ambiguous, making it a firm yes and no. Frustrating, I know, and I will try to explain in the shortest way possible.
Here’s what’s great about canned food
- In the absence of a steady supply of fresh foods, canned food is an excellent alternative.
- Often canned foods are cheaper than their fresh or frozen counterparts.
- Canned food helps a great deal if you have limited time to cook and prepare.
- You can keep them for what seems like forever.
- Some canned foods are healthier due to the heating processes used before canning. (While the cooking process may destroy some nutrients, other phytochemicals become more available according to this study)
You may want to read this article where Sharan Kafoa, Hormone Health Coach, talks about her journey with raw vs cooked foods.
What’s not great about canned food
- Not all canned food is equal; many have a ton of additives that make them as bad as their highly processed and preserved shelf neighbours.
- The tins they are canned in are often lined with plastic; this means the longer they are sitting there, the more BPA (bisphenol-A) is leaching into your food. (The environmental impact is a story on its own)
- They often have added salt and sugar, which play havoc on blood sugar levels, blood pressure and overall wellbeing.
- Labelling. This could be anything from mislabelling/omitting an ingredient that might be an allergen to health washing. Packaging and label wording plays a massive part in how we select products.
As you can see, there are pro’s and con’s here. The good news is that some of the not-so-great things about canned food can be bypassed or avoided. It all comes down to the selection and storage process.
How To Select The Right Canned Food
There are a few guidelines you can follow to get the best option available:
- select cans with a single ingredient;
- always read the label and make sure there isn’t a long list of things you don’t know or can’t pronounce;
- make sure the can is BPA free and not lined in plastic;
- where possible, make sure the ingredients are organic;
- opt for items canned in their own juices or water;
- avoid cans that are rusted, damaged or bulging;
- avoid brines (salt), syrups (sugar), or vegetable oils (trans fats).
How To Store Canned Food
We tend to think of canned food as invincible food. Watch any apocalyptic movie, and you get the impression they can survive anything. But there are some guidelines you should follow to ensure you are getting the best out of your cans:
- Store cans in cool dark places. Avoid high heat and direct sunlight
- Rotate your stock, and be sure to use the oldest cans first
- Take note of the USE BY date and be sure to use them
- If the label is loose or falls off, use a marker to write on the can – you won’t remember a year from now, I promise.
- Once opened, decant any leftover into an airtight container, refrigerate and use within a few days
Donating Canned Food
Canned food and other non-perishables are favourite items when making food donations. Homelessness, poverty and disasters of all kinds are a reality we cannot hide away from and doing our bit to help can go a long way. That being said, there are some things to consider when making canned food donations. Some of these pointers may seem silly, but they do come up and still need to be avoided while done with the best intentions.
- Do not clear out all your expired, damaged or rusted cans and drop them off at a charity or give them to someone less fortunate.
These people are already at a disadvantage and without resources to seek medical assistance in the case of eating food that has gone off.
- If possible, donate cans with easy-open lids.
We forget that many people who receive these cans might not have a kitchen, let alone a can opener.
- Avoid exotic foods.
It might seem like a treat, but exotic foods are generally quite niche and may not be enjoyable to kids.
- Do not donate opened cans.
Charity organisations have to adhere to a health code and dispose of open food.
- Contact the organisation or chat with the person directly and find out what they need.
Donations are made ad-hoc and sporadically, which means there might be an excess of one type of food and a shortage of another. By contacting the organisation directly or chatting to the person directly, you can get them what they need.
Let’s not forget our furry friends…
All of the above applies to animal food. So be sure to check those cans and their ingredients before you buy them.
Now to experiment with those cans…