Q: Can canned foods be part of a healthy diet?

Heart Month is almost here, 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.

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.

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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.

Source: Hy-Vee dietitians

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