Canned Food: Good or Bad for Your Health?

If you opened up your cupboard right now, odds are you would find quite a few dozen canned foods. Canned food is one of the most common food items in an American household. Even more so if you are planning for the impending apocalypse, but that's a story for another day. There are a lot of misconceptions around canned food and whether or not it is good for you. Like everything there's the good, the bad, and the ugly, canned food is no different. So what exactly is bad about canned food and what is good? 

What is Canned Food?

If you really don't know what canned food is, you need to get out from that rock you've been living under your entire life. Canned food is a method used to preserve foods for long periods of time. This is done by packing them in airtight containers. It was actually first used in the late 18th century as a way to provide a stable food source for soldiers and sailors at war. Ever heard of spam? Yeah, one of the 4 basic food groups when it came to canned foods. Also the go to struggle food. 

The canning process can vary from product to product, but there are three main steps that every canned food goes through. First is the processing. If you do not like processed food, probably want to stay away from canned food. But the food is peeled, sliced, chopped, pitted, boned, shelled, or cooked. Then comes the sealing. The food that was processed is sealed in the cans. Finally, the cans are heated. This is important because it kills off harmful bacteria that may have gotten inside during any of the other processes, and prevents the food from spoiling. All of these processes allows the food to be shelf-stable and safe to eat for up to 5 years or longer. And virtually anything can be canned, fruits, vegetables, beans, soups, meat, even seafood. 

Canned Food Nutrition

One of the biggest worries is that the canning process diminishes the nutrition levels of the food, making them of less healthy for you. However, this is very misunderstood and taken as fact, when in reality it is not always true. There are certain nutrients that are unaffected by the canning process. These include protein, carbs, fat, and most minerals and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Studies have shown that food high in certain nutrients are still high in the same ones after the process of canning is complete. Sometimes the process can even make the foods better than they were before. Certain foods like tomatoes and corn release more antioxidants when they are heated. This means that when those canned foods go through the heating process, they become an even better source of antioxidants. 

However, not everything is on the up and up. The canning process can also damage certain vitamins. Certain vitamins, like C and B, are sensitive to heat and when the cans go through the heating or cooking process, the vitamins are destroyed. That being said, unless you eat certain foods raw, those vitamins would get destroyed when you cook the food at home either way. So you are not really losing much. 

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Risks with Canned Food

While there are a lot of great things about canned foods, there are some risks that can come with them as well. One of the biggest issues when it comes to canned food is BPA. You know that stuff that is usually in water bottles. Apparently, this stuff can often be inside cans as well as plastic bottles. This is also probably the worst worry when it comes to canned food. Most canned food has a plastic coating inside the can that is supposed to help keep the food fresh. That plastic coating can have BPA in it, otherwise known as Bisphenol. This is a toxic chemical that can cause hormone imbalances, obesity, heart disease, and in extreme cases, cancer. However, according to the FDA, small amounts of BPA is nothing to worry about. But if you are constantly eating canned foods and those cans contain BPA, the amount can potentially accumulate in your body and cause serious issues. For this reason, many reusable water bottle companies have avoided any use of BPA in their plastics. 

Beyond that, the only other thing you may have to worry about is the overall quality of the food. Sometimes canning companies will use lower quality foods for their canning because they are often cheaper and more readily available. However, it is all about buying from a trustworthy brand. Different brands will give you different quality foods, so just keep that in mind. 

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Canned Food Expiration Dates

Here is another area of canned food that people often do not completely understand. How much do the expiration dates on canned food actually matter? Well, according to the Canned Food Alliance, their guidelines state that canned food will remain at peak quality for at least two years after the processing. They also note that the food in cans retain their safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it's color and texture may change after that time. When it comes down to how long do canned foods last, there are a lot of factors that affect how long a food will stay edible in the can. However, if the canned food is kept at moderate temperatures, 75 degrees F or below, it may very well last indefinitely. 

In the canned food industry, they prefer to use "best by" dates instead of the usual "expiry" dates. This is because canned foods do not expire on a certain date. One cannot say that the canned food is good one day and not good another. Because they are under a vacuum, the absence of oxygen helps to extend their shelf life. So they use a "Best by" date which will help in indicating to the consumer when they may start to see a decrease in quality. But even then, that takes years to happen. When it comes down to it, it all depends on the type of food you have. More acidic foods will expire sooner, while more basic pH level foods will last a bit longer. That means that spam I mentioned earlier, would probably outlive your canned peaches. Then again, Spam may outlive us all...

Best Canned Foods to Buy

If you are a bit worried about buying canned foods, there are some that will either keep longer than others, or are just typically of better quality than others. These are the ones that you should keep an eye out for and should definitely consider picking up. 

  • Canned Salmon- Even after canning, it still retains all of its omega-3 fatty acids. Plus this may actually be one of the better ways to eat salmon because it is usually packed with the bones, which gives it a calcium bonus. Not to mention that the canning process gets rid of most of the fat. 
  • Pinto Beans- There is really no difference in the nutritional value of canned beans and fresh beans, as both require the same amount of cook time. However, canned pinto beans are incredibly convenient as they can be stored easily and for a long time. Also they retain all of their nutrients including folate, manganese, protein, and vitamin B1.
  • Tomatoes- Like I mentioned before, canned tomatoes can actually be the healthier option because they release more antioxidants after they have been heated. Plus they retain all of their vitamins A and C while containing no fat or salt.
  • Smoked Mackerel- Canned fish have a bad reputation for being just downright nasty. However while being able to last for a long time, it also keeps its high protein value and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus it's cheap. 
  • Sardines- An oldie but a goodie. Maybe old faithful. Sardines are definitely an acquired taste because they can be very salty. However, they are great for you. These fish are sustainable, inexpensive, and contain huge amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. 

Conclusion

Canned food may get a bad reputation for not being fresh. But as it turns out, they actually have a great nutritional value. Not to mention they last almost forever. So you can rest easy knowing that those canned beans are not going anywhere anytime soon. And when you finally crack them open 4 years from now, they'll still be as fresh as the day they were canned....probably. To learn more about how to stay happy, healthy and green, check out the rest of Green and Growing. 

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Patrick Sands
 

Hey, I'm Pat. I am a Millersville grad with a Bachelors of Arts in English. I love to write, play video games, watch movies and TV, basically be a total nerd whenever I can. Green and Growing is important to me because it allows me to help others be as green and eco-friendly as possible. With Climate Change being what it is, it is even more important for people to get educated about their environment. This website allows me to do my part in that. Also, I'm a huge goof who tries to add some humor into anything I write. Stay Excellent out there!

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