During the days of confinement due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), it may be practical to ” throw canned goods “: we do not find some foods that we usually consume and we abuse foods that we previously ate sporadically. One type of food that can be practical to use is canned food: are they all healthy?
Are canned food healthy?
When preparing a fruit or vegetable preserve, what is initially done is blanching and subjecting the food to a heat treatment . This allows us to eliminate all possible microorganisms that are harmful to our health and thus be able to extend the conservation of the product. Throughout this process, a certain amount of nutrients is lost . However, these losses are no more than those that occur when we buy, store and cook a fresh product.
On the other hand, there are certain nutrients that are increased. This is the case of lycopene, a natural pigment in tomatoes with antioxidant power, which has higher levels in canned tomatoes than in fresh ones 1 .
In the case of nutrients such as fiber and minerals, no losses or lower values were observed in the canned versions compared to their fresh versions 1 .
So where is the canning problem?
Canned foods usually have high amounts of salt and free sugars. Basing our diet on this type of product can make us consume amounts higher than the recommendations at the end of the day. So it is important to select well which ones we include in our shopping list and look at the labeling.
A high salt intake is associated with an increase in blood pressure and, in turn, this is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases 2 . An easy and effective way to reduce the salt in preserves is to rinse them with plenty of water before consumption and not consume the covering liquid.
On the other hand, we have to control the amount of sugar in our diet. High amounts of sugars that are related to a poor quality of diet, obesity and the risk of contracting non-communicable diseases 3 .
For this reason, preserves should not be the basis of a balanced diet. However, it is important to make it clear that there is no problem if they are part of our diet. In addition, they can facilitate our day to day when cooking healthy recipes. Thus, preserves can be part of a healthy and balanced diet as long as there is no cardiovascular disease and in the context of a diet based on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains or whole grains and legumes.
What kind of healthy canned food can we find on the market?
There are countless healthy preserves on the market. An easy way to detect them is by looking at the ingredient list and choosing those that only consist of one ingredient. For example: green beans, peas…. Or, with very simple preparations, such as: vegetable stew (pea, carrot and artichoke). Next, I will give you a series of examples of healthy preserves that are perfect to complement your dishes in a balanced way :
- Vegetables and vegetables: beet, carrot, vegetable stew, asparagus, artichokes, piquillo pepper, natural tomato, peas, green asparagus, potato, mushrooms, corn …
- Seafood: mussels, octopus, clams, cockles, razor clams …
- Blue fish: tuna, salmon, bonito, melva, sardines …
- White fish: golden in olive oil.
- White meat: natural chicken.
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, white beans, red beans, lupins, beans …
- Legumes + vegetables : chickpeas with spinach, green beans
On the other hand, we will avoid those preserves that are already prepared dishes ready for consumption given their low nutritional quality and their high consumption of salt, sugars and low quality fats. We have, for example: meatballs, tortellini, spaghetti, sausages, meats with peas and sauces …
What do we have to look for to choose a healthy preserve?
The way to know if a preserve is healthy or not is by looking at its ingredient list and nutritional information. So we can know what foods make up that preserve to know if it is unhealthy and suitable for a balanced diet. The nutritional information that we will find on the label will tell us how much of each nutrient it has.
Choosing a healthy preserve by reading the ingredient list
Here are some tips so that you can choose and identify healthy preserves taking into account the list of ingredients :
- Avoid those preserves that have salt and sugar as the first ingredients. It is important that you know that the ingredients, in the list, are ordered from highest to lowest presence in the final product.
- The oil that should be and predominate in our preserves is extra virgin olive oil . We must avoid those that contain refined vegetable oils.
- In general, it should be made up of a maximum of 1 to 5 ingredients .
- It must contain those ingredients that would be used normally at home to prepare the product in question. For example, if I want to buy a chickpea canning and at home I would use water, chickpeas and salt to prepare them, these are the ingredients that should be present in the healthy canned that we are going to choose.
- Avoid those preserves that contain in the list of ingredients the word sugar or any of its similar ones such as: fructose, dextrose, glucose, molasses, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, invert sugar, maple syrup, syrup, cane juice, honey, agave syrup or panela.
- As for the covering liquid, the best option is for it to be water (natural), vinegar, extra virgin olive oil or high oleic sunflower oil. Those preserves whose covering liquids are pickles or refined vegetable oils should be avoided .
Choosing a healthy preserve by reading the nutritional information
As it is very common for preserves to have high amounts of salt or added sugars , the exact amount should be verified in the nutritional information. A canning that contains 0.5g of sugar per 100g of product will not be as healthy as one that contains 17g of sugar per 100g of product. So here are some points that you can take into account when you are going to analyze the nutritional information of a preserve to know if it is healthy or not:
- Avoid those preserves that contain amounts of added sugar greater than 1g per 100g of product, that is, amounts greater than 1%.
- In the case that it contains more than that amount, we will have to verify in the list of ingredients that the sugar is not added, but that it is intrinsic or typical of the food . We can know this by looking at whether sugar appears as an ingredient in the list or if we can identify any of its similar ones that we have named in the previous section.
- A product is considered to contain a lot of salt when it contains more than 1.25g of salt per 100g of product 4 . We will have to verify that our product in no case exceeds this amount. It is normal that, instead of giving us the salt content, they give us the sodium content. In this case, we have to multiply the sodium by 2.5. The result will be its salt content. That is, grams of sodium x 2.5 = grams of salt 4 . As a general rule, we will always choose the product that contains less salt.
Remember that a healthy diet should be based on a high content of fruits, vegetables, legumes from fresh products and few processed ones. Including healthy preserves in our diet will increase the variety and richness of our diet and will help us to follow a balanced diet more easily.
Next, I leave you a healthy, easy and perfect recipe for our day to day that is based on healthy canned foods.
Healthy chickpea recipe with spinach, onion and tuna
Ingredients for the chickpea recipe with spinach, onion and tuna (1 serving): ½ can of canned chickpeas with spinach, ½ onion, can of natural tuna, natural tomato sauce, garlic clove, black pepper and oil olive.
Preparation of chickpeas with spinach, onion and tuna: Cut the onion fine brunua style and reserve. Slice a clove of garlic and reserve. In a frying pan add olive oil and brown the sliced garlic cloves. Then add the onion and fry it. Rinse the chickpeas with plenty of water and reserve. Add the tomato sauce and the can of natural tuna to the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste and let it reduce. Finally, add the chickpeas with spinach and cook all together for about 5 minutes.