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Extension > Live Healthy, Live Well > Canned Food: What to Watch For

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Canned Food: What to Watch For

By Hannah Jastram Aaberg, registered dietitian

Canned food can be a great way to save money or time on items that are more expensive to buy or labor-intensive to prepare when fresh. The nutritional value of canned foods is often similar to fresh or frozen foods, but there are some things to watch out for.


Fruits


Canned is a great way to enjoy fruits when they're not in season. Fruit is packed in water, juice, or syrup. Syrup adds a lot of unwanted calories from sugar. A cup of pears in heavy syrup has 33 grams of sugar, even when drained. That's more than two tablespoons of sugar! Compare that to a cup of pears in water, which has 15 grams sugar.

Bottom line: Choose fruits packed in water or juice, and drain fruits packed in syrup.


Vegetables


Canned vegetables can be an easy way to add servings of veggies to your meals. But watch out for the sodium, or salt, content. Unless you choose low- or no-sodium options, you will be getting too much sodium.

For example, a half-cup of canned green beans has 200 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Compare that to a cup of fresh greens beans, which has almost no sodium. Most people have a 2000mg sodium budget per day — it doesn't make sense to "spend" one-tenth of your sodium budget on just one serving of vegetables.

Bottom line: When choosing canned vegetables, look for "low-sodium" or "no salt added" on the label. Compare brands to find the lowest sodium option. When preparing canned vegetables, drain them and then heat in water.


Beans and Meat


Canned beans and meats are helpful when you don't have much time for meal preparation. Just like canned vegetables, though, canned beans and meats are high in sodium. A cup of canned chicken has 275mg sodium, compared to a cup of skinless chicken breast, which has 100mg.

Bottom line: When choosing canned beans or meats, look for "low-sodium" or "no salt added" on the label. Compare brands to find the lowest sodium option. When preparing canned beans or meat, drain and rinse before using in a recipe.


Food Safety


Canning foods is a way of safely preserving them for months or years. Canned food can expire, but don't throw them away a day after the expiration date! Use these guidelines from Extension's Food Safety Team:
  • Use canned meats and seafood within 3 years of the date on the package.
  • Use low-acid canned foods like vegetables, and soup within 3 years of the date on the package.
  • Use high-acid foods like fruit, pickles, and tomatoes within 2 years of the date on the package.
Foods stored longer will be safe to eat if the cans do not show signs of spoilage or damage, but the foods may deteriorate in color, flavor, and nutritional value. Never use food from containers that are leaking, bulging, or deeply dented, or that spurts liquid when opening. These are signs of botulism, which is rare but toxic. Don't taste it, just toss it!

For ways to use canned foods, search the online recipes at Mealtime.org. Read more about storing canned food from the Food Safety Team.

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