Fall is the time of year for soothing soups, yummy stews, and comfort foods. It’s also an ideal time for canned foods. But far too many people feel that they’re cutting corners by using them. Sometimes zipping open a can is associated with guilt. But enjoying canned foods can and should be guilt-free. Here are four of the biggest myths that I’m busting for good!
Myth #1: Fresh produce is always nutritionally the best.
Not always! When fresh produce is picked at its seasonal best, it’s chock full of nutrition and flavor. When it’s not at peak ripeness—or when it’s not so fresh anymore—it’s not at its peak of nutritional value and flavor. Canned produce relies on peak-season fruits and vegetables, so you can count on it being at its nutritious and flavorful best. Once produce is picked, it gets canned within hours. I was delighted to see this happen firsthand with tomatoes and clingstone peaches from field and orchard to can.
And there’s more! The heat used in canning can improve availability and quality of certain nutrients. A couple nutrients enhanced through the canning process include lycopene and beta carotene. Also, research finds that regular consumption of canned vegetables and fruits is associated with higher overall nutrient intakes. So, do eat fresh seasonal produce. Eat canned fruits and vegetables, too.
Myth #2: The canning process involves excess waste.
What about the can? Steel food cans aren’t just partially recyclable; they’re 100% recyclable … forever! In fact, steel cans are the most recycled food package! It doesn’t get better than that! What about the food in the can? There’s good news there, too! But first, the not-so-good news. Unfortunately, at the consumer level, Americans waste an estimated 25 percent of the fresh fruits and 24 percent of the fresh veggies they buy yearly. Yikes! There’s also significant waste before fresh produce ever gets to consumers, such as at the retail level.
Luckily, choosing canned foods can help to significantly reduce food waste at all levels of the lifecycle from farm to table. Cores, peels, and other produce parts that are removed during canning tend to be used as agricultural feed—or they’re composted. Plus, you can store canned produce notably longer than its fresh counterpart. In fact, canned foods can generally be stored for two years or more while still maintaining good quality and taste. You can also use them in recipes where the entire contents of a can are utilized.
Myth #3: Canned foods are a high source of added sugars and sodium.
That’s definitely a myth! Current recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to consume less than 10% of total calories per day from added sugar and less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. You’ll be pleased to know that only 2% of added sugars in the American diet is from veggies and fruits, including canned varieties. And less than 1% of the sodium in the American diet is from veggies of any form.
And you have choices. You can select low sugar and no-added-sugar canned food options, including canned fruits in 100% fruit juice, light syrup, or extra light syrup. You can buy reduced sodium, low sodium, and no-salt-added canned foods, too. Plus, you can drain and rinse the contents of regular canned veggies or beans to reduce sodium. Research suggests the sodium content may be reduced by about 36% by draining and about 41% by both draining and rinsing canned beans.
Myth #4: Culinary professionals don’t use canned foods.
Culinary pros know that a wide array of canned foods can offer cuisine-worthy qualities similar to their fresh or frozen counterpart. In some cases, they’ll save time and money while being more versatile and desirable, depending on the preparation method. For instance, popular picks like canned tomato products are preferred to fresh tomatoes in a stew or chili, partly due to their rich and consistent flavors. Unique choices like canned green jackfruit make it simple for chefs and foodies to create on-trend recipes, especially when fresh versions aren’t readily available. Seasonally-specific foods like canned pumpkin are time-saving while making it easy for food professionals to create autumn-inspired dishes any time of year. And vegan favorites like canned coconut milk or coconut cream are beloved when developing dairy-free creations.
Preparing meals with canned foods is not a copout; it’s a shortcut that can save you time and money. It can potentially add more flavor, nutrition, and intrigue to your meals. It is an environmentally sound choice, too. So as a chef and nutrition expert, I give you my professional permission to use canned foods in your cooking!