Canned food has a somewhat controversial reputation. Many people assume food that comes in cans, whether it’s meat, fresh fruit, or vegetables, will be less nutritional and overall less healthy than fresh, whole alternatives. While this can be true in some instances, canned food isn’t necessarily bad for you. Sometimes, consuming canned foods can be one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need in your diet.
Canned foods last longer than fresh alternatives, are often more convenient for time-conscious consumers, and they can be a lot more affordable. If you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, stocking up on some canned foods can be a good option.
However, it’s important to know what to look for when reading the labels of canned goods before you buy them or before you consume them. Some canned products may contain ingredients which are either damaging to your health, or reduce the nutritional value of your meals.
Common Canned Food Options
Canning is a common process in the food industry. The method is used not just to conveniently package foods, but also to preserve various ingredients, so you have longer to use them with a lengthier expiry date. Many canned foods include healthy substances. For instance, canned chickpeas are rich in vitamin B6. You can even make your own hummus with them. Canned beans are high in fiber and protein, and tend to be low in fat.
While it’s common to think canned foods are less nutritious than their fresh alternatives, the canning process rarely has a significant impact on the macro and micro nutrients in products. The canning process doesn’t influence fat, carbohydrates, or proteins in foods, and it retains most of a product’s fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.
Studies have even shown that many canned foods preserve their high nutrient levels. However, because canning often requires the use of heat, some water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B and C can sometimes be damaged during preparation.
Despite this, canned foods can be an excellent source of nutrition, vitamins, and minerals.
There are also various canned food options to choose from, including:
· Canned Soups: Often rich in vegetables, spices, and vitamins
· Canned Meat and Fish: Salmon, tuna and canned sardines are great sources of protein
· Canned Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes maintain high levels of antioxidants such as lycopene
· Coconut Milk: Used in smoothies, sauces such as green curry sauce, and marinades, coconut milk is rich in healthy fat
· Canned Vegetables: Canned vegetables such as baby corn and peas can maintain their nutrient levels, even after the canning process.
· Canned Fruits: When they’re not stored in high levels of fructose or corn syrup, canned fruits can be an excellent source of vitamins and minerals
When eaten with care, canned foods can actually improve your chances of getting higher levels of the right nutrients in your diet. One study found people who ate 6 or more canned foods per week had a higher level of 17 essential nutrients in their blood stream.
Problematic Ingredients to Check For in Canned Food
While the canning process doesn’t automatically make canned food more dangerous, or less nutritious than fresh food, there are some issues to watch out for. Certain canned foods can contain higher levels of certain substances which can prompt a range of health issues.
Some of the most problematic ingredients to watch out for in canned foods include:
For some time, BPA was a common ingredient of many canned foods. It was often used in the lining of cans, to prevent contamination and rapid corrosion. However, studies have linked this substance to a range of health problems, including hormonal imbalances, and damage to the reproductive system.
At one time, the majority of canned foods included detectable levels of BPA. However, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute, around 95% of canned food does not include BPA today. Companies have begun using other alternatives to protect the food in cans.
However, it’s still worth double-checking your canned foods to ensure absolutely no BPA is included. Look for products labeled as BPA-free, or check online if you can’t find any information about a can’s BPA contents.
Sodium and Artificial Preservatives
Most canned foods will contain preservatives to help ensure the food lasts as long as possible. The most common preservative is sodium (or salt). While sodium isn’t necessarily dangerous in small doses, some studies show the average American is already eating around 4 times the recommended amount of Sodium in their diet each day.
Excessive levels of sodium can increase insulin resistance, and increase a person’s chances of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. It can also cause a loss of calcium, which makes bones brittle, and prone to breakage.
Alongside sodium, other preservatives, such as BHA/BHT can also have negative health effects. One preservative, known as sodium benzoate has been linked to issues such as allergies, oxidative stress, higher risk of obesity, and even increased hyperactivity.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
MSG is another sodium-based substance often added to canned food to increase flavor. It’s common within soups and other ready-to-eat canned meals.
This substance has faced significant controversy over the years, after one study found large amounts of MSG caused brain tumors, lesions, and impaired growth. However, researchers believe the risk to human beings is minimal, as MSG cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
Despite this, there are still some potential issues connected to MSG for people. The substance has been connected to weight gain, obesity, and an increased risk in metabolic syndrome in some studies. Additionally, some people have a genetic sensitivity to this substance, which can cause symptoms such as sweating and headaches when they eat large amounts.
A type of long-chain carbohydrate, Guar gum is frequently used to thicken and bind foods. It’s common in canned food such as soup and sauces. Some studies have revealed potential benefits connected to Guar Gum, such as reduced IBS symptoms and increased fiber intake.
Researchers believe this product may help to reduce symptoms such as bloating and constipation, and may also increase feelings of satiety after eating. However, high levels of guar gum can lead to adverse health effects, causing obstructions in the small intestine or esophagus.
This is because the substance is capable of swelling in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to inflammation, and issues such as gas, bloating, and cramps.
Similar to Guar Gum, Xanthan gum is used to stabilize and thicken various types of foods, including soups and sauces. It can also improve the texture of some foods in the gluten-free landscape. Xanthan Gum can have some benefits in small doses. One study found eating this product for 6 weeks helped to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
However, consuming excess amounts of xanthan gum can cause discomfort, and a range of gastrointestinal problems. Some people struggle with bowel movements, experiencing softer stools, and increased gas production.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Artificial Sweeteners
Found in many canned fruit products, high-fructose corn syrup is rich in fructose, a form of simple sugar which can cause health hazards in large amounts. Excess sugar consumption is frequently connected to obesity, weight gain, and a higher risk of diabetes.
Alongside an increased risk of weight gain, high-fructose corn syrup, and other forms of simple sugar may increase your risk of internal inflammation. Inflammation is linked to a huge variety of chronic conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and various gastrointestinal issues.
It’s best to avoid any canned foods with added sugar syrups or corn fructose. If you’re purchasing canned fruit, look for options stored in water to minimize your sugar intake. It’s also best to avoid artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium, and aspartame.
Though artificial sweeteners aren’t always dangerous, they can cause headaches in some people who have high levels of sensitivity.
Artificial flavors are also common in canned food. They’re essentially chemicals produced to mimic the taste of other ingredients, while keeping food production costs low. Although artificial flavors aren’t considered dangerous in small doses, they can cause problematic side-effects in some people.
Specific artificial flavors, such as chocolate and strawberry flavorings have been connected to damaged bone marrow in some animal studies.
Similar to artificial sweeteners, artificial flavorings shouldn’t cause significant damage in small amounts. However, if you’re eating large quantities of canned food, it’s best to watch out for too many artificial flavors.
Is Canned Food Safe to Eat?
Canned food isn’t necessarily dangerous, especially if you pay attention to the ingredients on the label. In fact, canned food can be an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, and a convenient way to eat a more balanced diet on a budget. However, it’s important to know which ingredients you should be watching out for when reading food labels.
Alongside the ingredients mentioned above, it’s worth paying close attention to the presence of any substances in canned foods you may be particularly sensitive to. Using the genetic nutrition results of your CircleDNA test, you can get insight into the kinds of foods most likely to cause problematic symptoms and side effects for you, based on your genetic makeup.
Once you understand your own nutritional needs and sensitivities, you can more carefully examine the labels of each canned food you buy.
- NCBI: Nutrient Retention During Canned Food Production
- NCBI: Frequent Canned Food Use is Positively Associated with Nutrient-Dense Food Group Consumption and Higher Nutrient Intakes in US Children and Adults
- NCBI: The adverse health effects of bisphenol A and related toxicity mechanisms
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31299621/#:~:text=BPA can enter the body,system and neuroendocrine system%2C etc.
- Can Manufacturers Institute: Innovations in Food Cans
- Heart.org: How much sodium should I eat per day?
- NCBI: Brain lesions, obesity, and other disturbances in mice treated with monosodium glutamate
- NCBI: Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation: Effects of Gender, Age, and Body Mass Index
- NCBI: Fructose Induces the Inflammatory Molecule ICAM-1 in Endothelial Cells
- NCBI: Toxicity of synthetic flavorings, nature identical and artificial, to hematopoietic tissue cells of rodents
- Research Gate: Effect of Xanthan Gum on Blood Sugar Level after Cooked Rice Consumption