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Canned foods can be a healthy and affordable way to maintain a balanced diet. They're convenient, last for months (or even years) in your pantry and they're especially helpful in the winter when few fresh vegetables are in season.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should replace all your fresh foods with canned versions. Canned foods are more likely to contain preservatives, including sodium. Plus, some older cans might contain a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA).
Fortunately, most people's exposure to BPA is low and poses no health risk, and there are ways to make healthier choices regarding sodium and other preservatives.
If you shop smart, canned foods can be healthy additions to your pantry. Here are five of the best canned foods you can buy:
Picked ripe and sealed to preserve freshness, canned tomatoes are a tasty and convenient pantry staple. They contain essential nutrients like vitamin A and folate, and they're particularly high in vitamin C.
They're also high in an antioxidant called lycopene, which can lower your risk of heart disease and prostate cancer. According to UnlockFood by Dietitians of Canada, canned tomatoes contain even more lycopene than fresh tomatoes thanks to heat-based sterilization.
Canned tomatoes come recipe-ready and are available in multiple forms, such as:
Whole: Peeled and cooked
Diced: Cut into chunks to stay firm in recipes like chili or salsa
Paste: Cooked long and strained to make a soft solid
Puree: Cooked briefly and strained into a thick liquid
Low-sodium or seasoned varieties of canned tomatoes are also available. The best part is, no peeling or stewing is required.
Like canned tomatoes, canned corn is a nutritious and flavourful pastry staple. It can last years, and it's much more convenient in recipes than fresh corn on the cob.
Canned corn is rich in carbohydrates and contains 2 grams of dietary fibre — 8 per cent of the recommended daily intake for women and 5 per cent for men. Fibre helps keep food moving through your digestive system and can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
Canned corn also contains dozens of important vitamins and minerals, including:
It also tends to be high in sodium, which may pose a health risk for some people. If your doctor has advised you to keep your sodium level down, look for low-sodium canned corn as an alternative.
Sure, you could buy a bag of dried beans and use those in your recipes. But then you have to soak them and pre-cook them for up to two hours — and that's before you even start following your recipe.
Canned beans are a convenient alternative. Plus, they're good for you.
According to Canadian Food Business, a half cup of beans contains 9 grams of plant protein and fibre, which can reduce your risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
Canned beans also contain key nutrients, including iron, folate, magnesium, potassium and zinc. One study even showed that canned beans could significantly lower people's cholesterol levels, including LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol — the "bad" kind. No wonder the Ontario Bean Growers call them a "nutritional powerhouse."
As with corn, the main downside is that canned beans contain extra sodium. UnlockFood recommends choosing brands with no more than 360 mg of sodium. That includes "no sodium added" varieties.
You may have bought canned pumpkin for your holiday pies, but once you find out how nutritious these big orange fruits are, you'll start using them year-round.
Pumpkin is high in fibre and low in sugar. It helps with weight control, blood sugar management and cholesterol control. It contains high levels of antioxidants like vitamins A and C, so it's great for your immune system.
And that bright orange colour? It happens due to high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which can lower your risk of multiple illnesses, including heart disease and prostate cancer. The nutrients in pumpkin can even help to reduce vision loss as you age.
Plus, pumpkin is tasty — and you don't need to eat lots of pie to enjoy it. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of nutritious pumpkin recipes online, from soups to salads and casseroles.
You could make any of these recipes with fresh pumpkin, but it's an involved process. If you've ever scooped out pumpkin guts for a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween, you get it. And that's just the beginning — you also have to roast the pumpkin for up to an hour and then puree it. It can be fun, but canned pumpkin makes cooking so much easier.
Lower your blood pressure
Prevent arteries from hardening
Help clear triglycerides (fats) from the blood
Assist fetal brain development during pregnancy
Diabetes Canada also recommends canned tuna to reduce the risk of heart and kidney disease. It's convenient, shelf-stable and lower in mercury than fresh catches.