A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Canned food: A healthy alternative to fresh

A bowl of tortilla soup topped with sour cream, a lime wedge and tortilla strips - What to look for in canned food

This “skinny” version of tortilla soup uses a variety of canned food and makes a delicious lunch or dinner option.

Canned food is budget-friendly, convenient and comes with a long shelf life.

Even better, it’s a healthy alternative to fresh fruit or vegetables.

“Companies can fruits and vegetables shortly after harvest,” said Paula McIntyre, a registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic. “Because of the short time span between harvest and can, the nutritional value of canned foods is the same or better than fresh foods.”

How to select canned foods

Likely, the strongest concern with canned vegetables is sodium content and with canned fruit, sugar content, McIntyre said.

Watch labels to easily avoid high sodium and sugar.

The best choice for canned vegetables is a “no salt added” option. Second best are “low sodium” options.

Sodium content comparison:

Del Monte Golden Sweet Whole Kernel Corn, 1/2 cup:

  • No salt added: 10 mg sodium
  • Low sodium: 160 mg sodium
  • Regular: 320 mg sodium

The best choice for canned fruit is a “no sugar added” option. Second best are “100 percent juice” options.

Sugar content comparison:

Del Monte Mandarin Oranges, Fruit Cup® Snacks, 1 cup:

  • No sugar added: 5 g sugar
  • Orange flavored gel, lite: 11 g sugar
  • Regular: 15 g sugar

Canned foods to have on hand

Shop for fruits and vegetables you like best and incorporate them into meals for a balanced diet.

I suggest having tuna or salmon, beans and diced tomatoes available in your pantry,” McIntyre said.

Tuna or salmon

The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend 8 or more ounces of seafood per week.

Add canned fish to salads or enjoy as a mid-afternoon snack with whole-wheat crackers.


“Black beans are so handy,” McIntyre said. “You can add them to vegetable soup, salad or wraps.”

Another tip is to substitute taco meat with black beans: Mash up the beans to replace half of your lean beef in tacos.

Diced tomatoes (no salt added)

“It’s nearly 60 percent more expensive to buy and prepare fresh tomatoes,” she said.

Additionally, canned tomatoes have the lycopene antioxidant known to help prevent cancer. Lycopene is less available in fresh tomatoes.

Moderation and seasonal choices

“When fresh fruit and vegetables are in season, by all means, eat the fresh fruit and vegetables,” McIntyre said. “Midwest seasons make it difficult to eat fresh produce year round. That’s when canned food is convenient.”

With any dietary recommendations, it’s important to eat in moderation, McIntyre added.

Try this recipe

This “skinny” version of tortilla soup uses a variety of canned food and makes a delicious lunch or dinner option.

Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 6-8 hours

Serving size: 1-1/2 cups


  • 1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 breasts)
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes (no salt added), un-drained
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can black beans (no salt added), drained and rinsed
  • 1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (no salt added), un-drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt-free southwest seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup corn tortilla strips or chips
  • 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges (garnish)

Optional toppings: shredded cheese, diced onion, avocado, fat-free plain Greek yogurt, cilantro.


Dice onions. Mince garlic.

Toss all ingredients for soup into crockpot and stir. Secure the lid and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Once the soup is almost done, use a large spoon to break the chicken apart into smaller pieces. If needed, carefully remove the chicken and piece apart with two forks and return to soup.

Dish soup into bowls and top with a few tortilla strips and your choice of toppings. Complete the dish with a lime wedge.

Nutrition information

Each serving contains approximately 204 calories, 2.8 g fat, 25 g carbohydrates, 4.6 g fiber, 23 g protein, 1.8 g sugar and 342 mg sodium.

Source: theskinnyfork.com

Print soup recipe
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