There’s a good chance that you’ve stocked a few of your cupboards with canned foods. Indeed, these products have been a staple in households around the world for a long time now. But what kind of impact do they have on your health?
Of course, certain foodstuffs are sure to pop up when you think of traditional canned foods. Classic items such as soup and baked beans have been present on supermarket shelves for decades. But in more recent times, you might’ve spotted a few more unusual options during your weekly shop.
For instance, did you know that you can purchase peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in cans? Those products are fittingly referred to as “candwiches.” Alongside that, even whole chickens covered in brine have been sold inside the steel containers.
But it’s not just chickens; consumers in Switzerland can reportedly buy cheeseburgers in a can, too. They were valued at around $6 in 2009, according to the website Oddee. And should you ever find yourself in a Russian supermarket, you might catch sight of a canned Snickers bar – complete with tomato sauce.
But how often do we consume canned food products? Well, back in 2013 researchers interviewed 1,000 people living in the United States and asked them about this. According to the Insider website, only 60 percent of them admitted to eating products from cans a couple of times each week.
Statista noted that the canned food industry was worth nearly $100 billion worldwide in 2018. Furthermore, the website estimated that the market would increase to almost $120 billion within five years. So now we have a better idea of the economics of canned food, but what about the impact from these products on your health?
Of course, many people assume that canned items lack nutrients, and it’s largely agreed that frozen options and fresh produce are healthier. Yet the Healthline website argued that cans contain plenty of goodness – thanks in part to the production process.
The website adds that canned food tends to go through three specific stages prior to arriving at the supermarket. Firstly, the produce is cut up, trimmed or cooked before its journey into the can. That leads to the second phase, where the items are then secured inside the steel containers.
As for the third stage, the canned goods need to be warmed up before they can finally leave, according to Healthline. This action should stop the contents from going off inside the tins. In addition to that, the heat wipes out any lingering germs that could make consumers sick.
These three steps don’t remove nutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fat, the health website argues. It also claims that certain vitamins remain in place too – such as vitamin A, D, E and K. Yet while that’s good news for your health, you need to keep an eye on the cans’ other contents as well.
Jessie Holden is a dietitian at the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And in March 2020 the expert sat down to talk with Insider about what she looks for when out shopping for canned goods. Holden said, “I watch for sodium levels and the amount of added sugar.”
“[Sugar and sodium] are not inherently unhealthy, but sometimes there is an excessive amount of salt and sugar added to canned food,” Holden went on. “[You should] check the nutrition label and find one closer to 5 percent sodium or added sugar per serving.”
But what about the nutritional value of the canned items that you can pick up from the supermarket? Well, let’s take tomato produce as an example. The bright-red fruit has long been sold in cans, and there’s a very good reason for that.
Insider claims that there are few healthier canned items than a container of tomatoes. The fruit is loaded with pigments called carotenoids, which can be found in other produce that sports red and yellow shades. And that coloring reaches new heights once a tomato is placed inside a can.
Canned tomatoes produce significant amounts of carotenoids thanks to the heat from the final processing stage. And it’s believed that the pigment might help consumers stave off serious degenerative ailments in their later life. The products are also considered to be healthier than their fresh counterparts in other ways, too.
A fresh batch of tomatoes will be touched by several people when they’re picked, Insider claims. And the fruit can lose some of its nutritional value by the time you bring it home from the store, Insider claims. But if they’re placed inside a can, that goodness is retained – along with certain vitamins and minerals.
You’ll need to be a little more cautious when out shopping for other fruits and vegetables, though. Some other canned items will be sitting in liquids like syrup or brine before you empty them out. And the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine argues that they could be shedding important contents due to these juices.
In 2014 the publication released a report which noted that products mixed with syrup and brine generally lose their phenolic compounds. Those are the molecules that give fruit and vegetables their taste and shade outside a can. They also produce antioxidants, which can really aid a person’s health.
The paper also claimed that products without skins were particularly vulnerable when sitting in the aforementioned liquids. But there are other cans that preserve vegetables and fruits in healthier ways. As per Insider, juice and water will help them retain their phenolic compounds while they rest on the supermarket shelves.
Canned pulses are another healthy food item you might want to consider when buying tinned goods. Meanwhile, products like baked beans, chickpeas and lentils also fall under this same category. According to the National Health Service (NHS), all of these foodstuffs contain both iron and protein, which are important for our overall health.
Pulses are well-known for their fiber content as well, which could help stave off some a number of conditions such as diabetes and heart problems. But the NHS advises that you should avoid canned foods with additional sugar and salt.
But what about canned fish? Well, tuna is considered to be one of the better options on the market today. Insider reports that it’s the most popular item in a can, and that comes as no surprise once you break down its nutritional value. For instance, the publication adds that the meat houses just 4 percent of a person’s sodium count for the day.
Cans of tuna are also free from extra helpings of sugar, and they’re packed with protein, too. To round things off, Insider revealed that the fish is loaded with magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin B12, which should assist your body’s immunity.
All of the aforementioned products can be enjoyed as a snack, but other canned items are seen as solid dinner choices. For instance, pasta in a can could save you a lot of time in the kitchen – especially when compared to fresher options. But it is not particularly good for your health.
Cans of ravioli, for example, contain a surprisingly high amount of sodium. The Daily Meal website reports that a single serving would make up a third of your suggested daily intake. Soup is similar in that respect, as Insider notes that one standard container held 2,175 mg of the chemical.
But the most concerning aspect of eating canned produce can be traced back to the container. As per Insider, a small percentage of the cans are laced with a substance known as bisphenol (BPA). And it can have serious potential effects on the human body.
BPA was reportedly first put into canned products back in the 1960s. And the purpose of the substance was to stop the tins from getting rusty over time. However, it’s been known to come off the containers and mix in with whatever consumable product is inside.
Medical experts have since voiced their worries about the health risks of BPA. According to them, the substance is capable of altering your testosterone and estrogen, which could impact your brain and reproductive organs. On top of that, a study from 2015 published in PubMed.gov suggested that it could cause breast cancer, too.
Yet the biggest worry centers on expectant mothers. The Endocrinology journal published a paper in February 2017 that detailed what happened when pregnant rats consumed BPA. By the end of the experiment, the authors noted that the chemical could cause a damaging misunderstanding between your brain and feelings of hunger.
Maida Galvez is a physician and associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. And she talked to Women’s Health in January 2018 about some of the risks that expectant mothers face from BPA. Galvez said, “In humans, BPA exposure when the fetus is developing may increase the risk for behavior issues – like hyperactivity and aggression.”
“[BPA could also cause] later breast development during puberty, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and changes in liver function,” Galvez went on. But the shocks don’t end there, as a few other studies examined the chemical.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper in 2007 which discovered that over 90 percent of Americans tested had traces of BPA in their water waste. Meanwhile, the Buyer Beware website dropped an eye-opening statement on the subject in 2016.
The statement read, “A new report released today by six non-profit organizations that tested nearly 200 food can linings for the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) found that two out of three cans tested have the chemical in the lining.” Furthermore, the aforementioned study revealed that all of the Campbell’s containers that were examined had BPA inside.
Director of program and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund Janet Nudelman was one of those individuals behind the study, and she shared her concerns in the report. The expert said, “Most people in the United States are exposed to BPA every day largely from food packaging – despite the negative health impacts. It shouldn’t be a buyer beware situation for shoppers every time they set foot in the canned food aisle.”
Nudelman then added, “Consumers deserve protection from the toxic effects of this hormonally active chemical, and the likelihood of exposure to unsafe toxic alternatives.” As for Galvez, she wasn’t shy in voicing her frustrations to Women’s Health a couple of years after that report was released. And the doctor was also fairly blunt on another issue.
Galvez said, “Why do we continue to use a lining that poses potential concerns to human health? Pre-market safety testing, transparency in food labeling and assurance that alternatives are in fact safer are critically needed. Our general advice to families is to buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible. Avoid canned and processed foods.”
But not everyone agrees that we should ditch canned foods. For instance, Jessi Holden spoke up once again during her talk with Insider in March 2020. In her opinion, you don’t need to scrap canned goods from the shopping list. Yet the dietitian did offer some words of advice about the sodium readings.
Holden said, “It is perfectly fine for us to rely on canned fruits and vegetables as forms of produce in our day-to-day lives. [But] if [the label] says [the sodium is] 20 percent or above per serving, it is a high source. It might help to find a product with less.”
Elsewhere, a registered dietitian named Karen Ansel came forward to share her thoughts with Women’s Health in January 2018. The expert praised canned items like tuna, tomato, beans and pumpkin, while also addressing the question of whether you should eat them each day.
Ansel told the publication, “I wouldn’t recommend eating a diet that’s entirely made of canned foods. But I wouldn’t be concerned about eating a serving of canned food a day if it helps you work in more healthy foods like beans and veggies. Especially since few of us are eating enough of these foods to begin with.”