For decades, it has been the standard advice from nutritionists: Eat a diet loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables to boost your health. But the surprising truth is that canned foods can be just as nutritious as their fresh, raw counterparts — and some even become more healthful through the canning process.
Produce is most nutritious shortly after harvesting, studies show. But many fruits and vegetables on supermarket shelves are sold days or weeks after they’ve been harvested and may not be at their nutritional peak. But canned and frozen foods are packed right after they’ve been harvested, sealing in vitamins, nutrients, and other beneficial compounds. Plus canned goods tend to cost less than fresh. And, in some cases, canned foods have higher levels of key vitamins and nutrients than even fresh varieties.
“Some fruits and vegetables are actually better when they’re heated and some or not, so it depends on what you’re talking about when you’re look at canned vs. fresh vs. frozen,” says Marisa Moore, a registered Atlanta-based dietitian and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“For example, canned tomatoes have higher amounts of [cancer-fighting] lycopene vs. fresh,” she tells Newsmax Health. “Canned corn has more lutein, an antioxidant, and heated canned carrots have more beta-carotene.”
Canned foods are also available year-round, just like frozen foods, so you can always include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet — another critical component to healthy eating, Moore notes.
Numerous studies have found many fruits and vegetables have as much or more nutrients, disease-fighting antioxidants, and other nutritional substances, compared to fresh varieties.
Cathy Kapica, a nutrition specialist at Tufts University, put canned vegetables to the test in a recent market-basket study that compared key nutrients and the costs in canned, fresh, frozen and dried varieties of a handful of common foods. The study — presented at a meeting of the Experimental Biology scientific meeting — found that when price, waste and preparation time are considered, “canned foods almost always offered a more affordable, convenient way to get needed-nutrients.”
Kapica tells Newsmax Health the findings may come as a surprise to some consumers.
But she adds: “Yes, canned foods can be better choices than fresh. There are numerous studies that support the nutritional quality of canned foods. And foods, like fruit and vegetables, are picked at the peak of ripeness and packed soon after and close to the farms, preserving many nutrients which might be lost in fresh during transport and storage in stores and the home.”
Kapica explains that heating, chopping, and other cooking techniques involved in the canning process “break up the small-cell particles in foods, making their nutrients more available for metabolism during digestion.”
For the study, Kapica and her colleagues analyzed the nutrients in corn, green snap beans, mushrooms, peas, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes, pears, peaches, pinto beans and tuna fish. Kapica sought to determine the cost of several key nutrients, including protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate.
Among the key research findings:
Pinto Beans. Canned pinto beans contain as much protein and fiber as dried beans, but cost $1 less per serving.
Tomatoes. Levels of lycopene, a beneficial compound believed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and other health conditions, actually increase when tomatoes are heated during the canning process.
Corn. Canned corn has higher levels of lutein — a beneficial antioxidant that may reduce the risks of cataracts and targets “free radicals” that can lead to cancer and heart disease — than fresh corn. Canned corn also offers the same amount of dietary fiber as fresh — at a 25 percent savings.
Spinach. Spinach doesn’t lose its vitamin content when canned. Vitamin C levels are virtually the same in fresh, frozen, or canned varieties. But canned spinach provides the same levels of vitamin C at an 85 percent savings over fresh or frozen.
Kapica said her study also found that canned tuna, pumpkin, mushrooms, green beans, peaches and pears are also good choices, when compared to fresh vegetables.
Other recent research has reached similar conclusions, among them:
- A University of California-Davis study found that virtually all forms of fruits and veggies — canned, cooked fresh, and frozen — are nutritionally similar and can contribute to a healthful eating plan. But researchers also found fresh produce loses nutrients more rapidly than canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- An Oregon Health Sciences University study demonstrated increased amounts of some key anthocyanins — a powerful antioxidant — in canned blueberries, compared to the amounts in fresh and frozen blueberries.
- A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found canned tomatoes, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, and corn are rich in antioxidants. One-half cup of canned tomatoes provides 11.8 milligrams of lycopene compared to 3.7 milligrams found in one medium uncooked tomato; heating of carrots and spinach for canning enhances the bioavailability of carotene; canned pumpkin contains a higher concentration of beta carotene than fresh.
“Consumers are not aware of the nutritional value of canned foods,” Kapica notes. “Canned foods have been providing nutrition and safety for over 100 years, and their use is still relevant today. For those on tight budgets, or where access to stores is limited, canned foods can be especially important to meet nutrition needs.”
The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar newsletter. To read more, click here.
© 2017 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.