Whether you’re searching for a quick meal or striving to survive a zombie apocalypse, you can always count on canned foods as a convenient source of essential nutrients.
Nowadays, almost any food can be found in a can. Take, for example, reindeer pâté, curried crickets and even fully cooked cheeseburgers (we wish we were making this stuff up).With so many options available, how can you trust what you’re eating? And, more importantly, are canned foods good for you?
Thankfully, AM is here to clear the confusion as we explore whether or not canned foods are good for you.
How Does Canning Work?
Before you can understand whether or not canned foods are good for you, you first need to understand the canning process. Canning is a method to preserve food for long-term storage by sealing it in an airtight container. Because the food is sealed airtight, chemical preservatives are rarely required. Instead, a variety of methods are used to prevent the food from spoiling, such as heating, freezing or drying.
Generally, low-acid foods like vegetables, seafood and meats require sterilization at high temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. These temperatures can only be reached by creating steam while under pressure using a pressure canner. High-acid foods, like fruits or pickled vegetables, can be safely canned in a boiling water bath since the acidity of the foods gives additional protection against bacteria.That’s great, but it hardly answers our question of whether or not canned foods are good for you.
Read on as we take a closer look at a few things.
Canning provides a cheap and convenient option for long-term food storage.
Because canned foods are mass-produced, they are often cheaper than fresh. Adding to that, canned foods can also be stored safely for several years.High-acid foods like tomatoes and fruits can be stored for up to 18 months while low-acid meats and vegetables can be stored anywhere from two to five years.
To be safe, though, canned foods should be stored in a cool, clean and dry place, and never above the stove, under the sink or in a damp garage or basement.
Canned foods may contain deadly bacteria
While extremely rare, canned foods may contain a dangerous toxins produced by the heat-resistant Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Even a small dose of botulinum toxin can cause the deadly paralytic illness known as botulism. Thankfully, the canning process produces temperatures high enough to kill the botulism-causing bacteria. Unfortunately, however, contamination is still possible if the integrity of the can is compromised in some way.
To be safe, never eat from cans that show the following:
— Foul odors
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Canned foods may be just as nutritious as fresh
For decades, there has existed the perception that canned foods are less nutritious than fresh foods. Recent research, however, reveals that this is not always true. In reality, it depends on the food and nutrient in question.While canning may reduce levels of heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C (in fruits), canning also has its advantages. The important antioxidants betacarotene (in carrots) and lycopene (in tomatoes) for example are easier for the body to absorb after heating, making canned carrots or tomatoes a healthy alternative to fresh. Meanwhile, minerals like iron or calcium, and the omega-3 fatty acids do not appear to be significantly reduced by canning.
Also missing from the debate is the fact that the nutritional content of fresh foods declines over time. Therefore, the nutritional content of an apple picked from a tree may vary significantly from an apple you pick up at the supermarket, and unfortunately, much of recent research fails to account for this phenomenon.
Canned foods may contain trace amounts of BPA
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the internal coating of cans to prevent canned foods from coming in direct contact with the metal of the can. Concern has been mounting over the past decade that BPA in canned foods may be dangerous to human health, particularly since the chemical can migrate from cans into food (a process called "leaching"). Even at low doses, BPA has been implicated in various human cancers and developmental disorders.While this may be true, various governmental regulatory organizations and scientific institutes including Health Canada, the European Union, the NIH, and the FDA have reviewed the evidence on BPA and have uniformly agreed that the risk is negligible to the average adult consumer of canned foods. Health Canada, for example, even went so far as to state that the average Canadian would need to consume several hundred cans per day to reach the tolerable level of BPA exposure as established by Health Canada.
While the risk to infants is a little less certain, it is also expected to be minimal. If, however, you are concerned of risks to your health, simply follow these simple steps to limit your BPA exposure:
— Eat fresh whenever possible
— Avoid drinking canned soda pop
— Rinse canned foods whenever you can
— Choose powdered infant formula instead of canned
— Look for containers stated as BPA-free
So, are canned foods good for you?
In short, yes! Canned foods are a safe and nutritious alternative to fresh.However, it’s important to understand what we put into our bodies and the risks involved. Although the risk of botulism and BPA-related disorders from canned foods is low, it is not necessarily nonexistent. To err on the side of caution, choose fresh foods whenever you can, and follow some of the above steps to limit your BPA exposure, but don’t be afraid to pop open a can of tuna from time to time.