Canned vegetables and fruit are healthy alternatives to fresh fruit or vegetables, are budget-friendly, convenient and comes with a long shelf life. However, there are some rules to follow when picking out produce from a can.
“Companies can fruits and vegetables shortly after harvest,” said Paula McIntyre, a registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Because of the short time span between harvest and canning, the nutritional value of canned foods is the same or better than fresh foods.”
Watch sodium to determine if canned vegetables are healthy
The largest concern to determine if canned vegetables are healthy is sodium content. This is why it is important to watch labels to easily avoid high sodium.
The best choice for canned vegetables is a “no salt added” option. Second best are “low sodium” options. Here is an example of the different sodium levels for sweet corn:
Del Monte Golden Sweet Whole Kernel Corn, 1/2 cup:
- No salt added: 10 mg sodium
- 50% less sodium: 160 mg sodium
- Regular: 320 mg sodium
Watch sugar to determine if canned fruits are healthy
The largest concern with canned fruit is sugar content. This is why it is important to watch labels to easily avoid high sugar levels.
The best choice for canned fruit is a “no sugar added” option. Second best are “100 percent juice” options.
“No sugar added means no ingredients containing sugar were added during the manufacturing process, but it does not mean that the product will have zero sugar,” said McIntyre. Here is an example of the different sugar levels for mandarin oranges.
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.
- Beans: “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.
Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup
This lite version of tortilla soup uses a variety of canned food and makes a delicious lunch or dinner option.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6-8 hours
Serving size: 1-1/2 cups, 8 servings
- 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.
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.