Eating straight out of the can is one of the most convenient ways to prepare a meal if you are pressed for time. However, the question is often asked: is canned food healthy for you?
It is a well known fact that these canned foods such as sardines are prepared in such a way to make them last a long time.
As a result, there are plenty of people who advocate staying away from canned foods due to the preservatives inherently required to keep them from going bad.
Then again, there are plenty of reasons why you should eat canned food in the first place. Convenience is perhaps the biggest factor.
In today’s fast-paced world, the difference between taking anywhere from 20-60 minutes to cook a meal (including food preparation and washing) pales in comparison to the seconds it takes to open a can, and 1-5 minutes it takes to heat up the food that you took out of the can.
If you are still on the fence about whether or not you should choose convenience and add more canned foods to your diet, here are some of the essential pros and cons you need to know:
Why canned food is good for you
1. Canned foods are cheap and last a long time
The convenience of storing food away for a long time, even years, is something that we all can do without which is something only canned foods can give. They are also cheaper than fresh foods because of their mass production.
Canned foods supply you with food that you don’t have access to. When you want the ability to stash food away for years without having to spend a lot of money, nothing compares to the convenience of canned foods.
Storing up canned foods can save the day for food shortages in times of bad weather and sickness. The preservatives present in all canned foods to extend their shelf-life are also their finest points. The spices and condiments added as preservatives to canned foods give a special flavor to food that would otherwise taste bland and unappealing.
2. Canned foods can give you additional nutrients
A registered American dietician says that canned vegetables and fruits can compete with the nutritious content of fresh produce. Another plus point is its easy absorption in the body compared to their fresh counterparts.
Minerals and vitamins are also packed in canned foods such as soy products, breakfast cereals, breads, and juices. Sodium intake can also be lessened by choosing canned vegetables and fruits in low-sodium or no salt varieties.
Canning fruits and vegetables preserve their natural goodness for they are picked at their prime and processed right away. This process locks in all the natural nutrients of fresh fruits and vegetables that do not need to be loaded with preservatives.
It’s an undeniable fact that the canning process can get rid of some vitamins such as Vitamin B and C which are ultra sensitive to high heat. However, canning corn and tomatoes actually helps them release more antioxidants making them a good source of antioxidants.
In fact, one study found that people who had a weekly consumption of more than 6 cans of food showed higher nutritional intake of 17 important nutrients compared to those who had a weekly consumption of less than 2 cans.
3. Canned foods are easy to prepare
Quick, convenient, and delicious meals are the things we like to have. Life in the fast lane can do without having to boil, grate, cook, thaw, slice, chop, bake, and whatever one has to do to come up with delicious home-cooked meals. Canned foods are the fast and easy alternatives that:
- Are pre-prepared and flavored to perfection
- Contains vitamins and nutrients for good health
- Are easy to store
- Are inexpensive
- Has a long shelf-life
- Only needs a can opener and a skillet, microwave to heat
Why canned food is bad for you
1. Canned foods contain plastic contaminants known as BPA or Bisphenol A
Humans are not made to eat plastic in any form and the plastic coating all canned foods known as Bisphenol or BPA is placed there to keep the food fresh. What is Bisphenol A and how toxic is it for us?
Bisphenol or BPA or Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical that has been around since the 60s is used for making resins and plastics. Canned foods, water supply lines, and bottle caps are some of the metal products that use epoxy resins to coat their lining. These epoxy resins contain BPA which explains the reason for its presence in canned foods.
To answer whether BPA is bad for our health, consider the several studies made by scientists to determine the toxic effect BPA has on our bodies.
The research discovered some possible serious health effects on the prostate gland, brain, and behavioral patterns in children, infants, and fetuses. BPA are also suspected to cause a rise in blood pressure.
2. Canned foods DO leak
Using aluminum pots and pans to cook food have been found to garnish aluminum along with the food. Canned foods are packaged in aluminum cans lined with BPA enriched epoxy resins that can leak to the food. How does that happen?
Let’s take canned soup as an example. The method of sterilizing canned soup is to heat them up for a long time until all their contents, both liquid and solid, reach the same temperature.
This heating process affects the chemical composition of the lining, which can make BPA seep through the canned soup’s fat content. Obviously, once breakage in the plastic lining containing BPA occurs, it naturally follows that BPA will contaminate the food.
Heating them up before eating will do you no good for aluminum can withstand the highest heat which is why it was used in cooking pots and pans, remember?
3. Canned foods are loaded with deadly preservatives
Some of us may be lucky to live in places where fresh fruits can be bought at the nearest supermarkets or grocer near our homes. But what about people who seldom, if scarcely even get to see or eat an apple or orange unless it’s their lucky day?
For these people, canned fruits would seem like manna from heaven. Yet, canned fruits are said to contain deadly ingredients and preservatives for them to preserve their “freshness”.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most common preservatives and ingredients you might find in the canned fruit products that are sold at most grocery stores:
- Calcium hydroxide which is used for firming the fruits
- Calcium hypochlorite, a germicidal wash
- Sorbic acid, a fungistat
- FD & C red No. 3, a food coloring used especially for cherries
- Sodium chloride for anti-browning
- Sodium metasalicate, a peeling solution used in peaches
- Sodium hydroxide, another peeling agent
- Sulfur dioxide, a preservative
4. Canned foods may be (but are rarely) riddled with bacteria
I’m not saying that all canned foods are infected with bacteria for this rarely happens. However, if it was improperly processed, it could certainly cultivate a bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum.
Most of the time, this happens when canning is improperly done at home. Eating canned food infected with this bacterium results in botulism, a rare but deadly health condition that causes serious poisoning, paralysis, and death.
Can you make canned food part of a healthy diet?
Looking at the list of good and bad sides of canned foods, where does this leave us then? To eat or not to eat, to buy or not to buy, to stock or not to stock, which road should we take for us to achieve a healthy lifestyle?
We could say that the jury is out on this issue of canned foods as arguments from food experts do not exactly pinpoint whether it is good or bad for us.
From where I am, the best route to take on canned goods and on everything else is the middle road which is to practice moderation in all things. For example, red wine is good for the heart, but too much gives the opposite effect.
Weighing the good and bad sides to canned foods make me conclude that moderation holds the key. Winnowing out the bad effects of canned foods can be achieved by reading the nutritional values found at the back of every can being sold at supermarkets, neighbor grocer, and other grocery stores.
In fact, there are actually wide variety of healthy options for you to choose from whenever you need to buy canned food. Some great examples include:
- Canned tuna and salmon
- Canned fruits and vegetables that are sugar or syrup-free
- Canned varieties of oatmeal and dried fruits
- Canned non or low fat milk
Checking out the labels of canned foods gives us several options when it comes to canned foods. Why buy the ones high in salt when you can have the same variety in either low-salt or no salt added? Or why choose canned fruits that are packed with syrup when you can have one packed in water or natural juices?
The lesson learned here is never to thumb up our noses on any information, good or bad, that comes our way simply because everyone says so. Our high technology era sometimes seems to look at only one tree and not the whole forest and stating that canned foods are bad for our health is an irresponsible statement.
While fresh produce and alternative healing methods are the trendy things happening around us, let us not forget the fact that, once upon a time, our great-grandparents and grandparents ate canned foods and lived to ripe old ages.
If you like to continue to use canned food but would rather take things into your own hands, you can try preserving your food and canning them yourself at home.
We recommend the All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving, a comprehensive guide which contains over 350 recipes that you can try at home.
These recipes not only include traditional dishes such as jams, jellies, pickles, and salsa, but also more exotic and fun foods such as kimchi and kombucha.
The book was written by the good folks over at Jarden (the makers of Ball canning products), so you can be sure they know exactly what they’re talking about when it comes to canned food!