Is Canned Food Bad for Your Health?

Updated on October 5th, 2020
Is Eating Canned Food Bad for You

Buying local, fresh,  and nutritious foods is definitely a lifestyle goal, but might not always be possible, particularly since getting to the organic farm isn’t always practical. If you’re finding yourself stockpiling food or grocery shopping online to make your provisions last a while, you’re definitely going to buy canned foods.

And why not? Canned foods are a kitchen staple with an extended shelf life. They’re usually priced reasonably and an easy go-to option when you’re cooking in bulk or planning meals. 

But, pertinent question, are canned foods not good for you? The answer will astonish you.

Is Canned Food Nutritious?

The brief answer to whether canned food has nutritional value is generally, yes (if you are selective). The perception that canned food is less nutritious than frozen or fresh versions is inaccurate. The canning process actually retains the product’s fat-soluble vitamins, minerals,  and macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein).

However, the high temperatures used in the process decrease many water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C and B vitamins, which can be troublesome if you’re relying on a particular canned food product for its presumed vitamin C or B content to help with immune support.

Perhaps it’s not the contents that bother you, but the actual can itself. Is consuming food packaged in a metal safe? The apprehensions around canned foods come from the cans.

Even though we’re well aware of BPA’s presence and dangers, a chemical that has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, you can still find cans lined with BPA readily on the supermarket store shelf.

Bisphenol-A or BPA chemical is used in packaging and will not be listed as an ingredient but can enter the food post-canning. Several trials have been undertaken to determine what foods are more possibly to have Bisphenol-A present due to leaching from the can itself [1].

The percentage of Bisphenol-A found in canned goods ranges from 48% to 90%.

Human trials have also been conducted to investigate the potential for Bisphenol-A to enter and cause damaging effects, including a 2011 study published by the National Institutes of Health, which found a 1000% increase of Bisphenol-A in the urine of individuals who ate a can of soup for five days [2]

Look for canned foods that clearly say, “BPA-free lining” on the label, citing a report published by the CEH (Center for Environmental Health), indicating that 38% of cans were tested from large retail chains BPA.

[Also Read: Gut-Friendly Probiotic-Rich Foods]

Discerning the Good from the Bad

When it comes to making proper choices about variants of canned foods,  you should opt for low-sugar (under 4 grams) and low-sodium offerings. 

You rinse the item underwater to reduce salt intake if you can’t find a low-sodium option. Some other less prevalent, but certainly present and concerning ingredients include dyes and artificial colors, sodium benzoate, high fructose corn syrup, and other artificial sweeteners.

Another ingredient to skip is sodium nitrate, which can be added to some canned foods as natural flavor, but is known to possibly lead to various cancers, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Dyes and Artificial colors are linked to cancer, as well as kidney and thyroid disorders.

Avoid any canned food that has any type of preservative other than salt or vinegar or a natural acid like lemon juice.  Canned fruits tend to be high in syrups and sugar.

Another suggestion to get the most nutrition out of canned foods is to look for items packed in water rather than syrup or oil. Oil adds extra calories as well as a total and saturated fat that typically aren’t essential to the food’s quality or taste.

Even in instances where it is common to find particular foods packed in oil, like tuna and other fish, it is still best to opt water. This is due to these oils don’t match the healthy oils naturally found in the fish. This oil is almost trans fat or always saturated, which negates many of the health properties of consuming fish.

For instance, tuna packed in water has less than 2 grams of fat per 1-cup serving, while tuna packed in oil has 12 grams of fat for just 1 cup. 

When perusing the can, don’t depend on buzz words like “natural” or “healthy,” which can be misleading. Instead, always read ingredient labels. Some manufacturers use labeling and marketing techniques to coerce consumers into believing certain health qualities about their food instead of reading the nutrient panel and ingredients.

Often, the contents and the label are quite different. If you don’t notice the words on the label, put down the can.

Finally, never buy dented cans, particularly those that have been dented around the lip of the can. Dents can make little microscopic holes that allow just enough oxygen to allow clostridium botulinum (botulism) to grow rampant. This bacteria cannot be killed through the cooking process and is deadly.

[Read: Easy to Digest Foods To Reduce Indigestion]

Alternatives to Canned Foods

If you’re looking for foods with an extended shelf life but want to avoid canned goods,  go for fermented foods. Not only do these make great kitchen staples, but they also deliver probiotics, which support a healthy digestive system. Think pickled foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and tempeh.

Try dry goods as an alternative to canned. If you’re looking for maximum nutrients and shelf life, you can purchase dry. In the case of beans, cooking them entirely from scratch allows you to make different textures for things like spreads, burgers,  and even brownies.

You can also try merely drying and freezing your vegetables and fruits to preserve them, or try canning them yourself. Prepare your ingredients, boil, seal, and store. 

Bottom Line

Canned foods can be a nutritious choice when fresh foods are not available. They are incredibly convenient and provide essential nutrients. That said, canned foods are also a significant source of BPA, which may cause health issues. Canned foods can be a part of a healthy diet, but it’s essential to recognize labels and choose accordingly.

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