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Canned food vs. fresh food: How do nutrients compare — and is one really healthier than the other? A dietitian weighs in – Yahoo Canada Shine On

5 minutes, 12 seconds Read

Welcome to Ask A Dietitian, a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on canned foods in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on canned foods in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)

Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on canned foods in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)

Canned foods are a mainstay in Canadian kitchens, offering convenience and variety year-round. Given the ongoing debate around canned foods, it’s important to understand if these pantry essentials truly align with your health goals.

To help Canadians make informed choices about their diet, we spoke with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp, who brands herself as a “no BS” dietitian. Read on to find out whether canned foods are actually good for you, what health risks you should be aware of, and how to incorporate them into a well-rounded diet.


Canned vs. fresh food: How do nutrients compare?

“Canned foods are typically processed soon after harvesting, which can really help to lock in their nutrient content.” This process, she explained, is beneficial for preserving nutrients that might otherwise be lost over time, especially when fresh produce is not readily available.

I think canned foods are fantastic. They’re budget friendly, they’re a great way to sneak in fruits, vegetables and lean protein.Abbey Sharp

However, Sharp also highlights a critical downside: “The heating involved in the canning process can result in some nutrient loss.” This loss is particularly true for vitamins that are sensitive to heat, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, which are essential for various bodily functions, including immune system support and energy production.

Despite this, for individuals in colder climates or places where fresh produce is scarce or expensive, canned foods are a great nutrient source. Transporting fresh produce across long distances can also impact the nutritional value of produce, Sharp explained.


Health risks with canned food: More on sodium, sugar & BPA

Canned foods that are processed and ready-to-eat are generally high in sodium, which can have some health consequences when consumed frequently. (via Getty Images)Canned foods that are processed and ready-to-eat are generally high in sodium, which can have some health consequences when consumed frequently. (via Getty Images)

Canned foods that are processed and ready-to-eat are generally high in sodium, which can have some health consequences when consumed frequently. (via Getty Images)

Sharp explained the addition of sodium and sugar to canned foods can be a concern, especially when it comes to foods like canned pastas, soups, beef ravioli and similar. “Processed, ready-to-eat canned foods often contain a lot more sodium,” Sharp warned.

Knowing this is particularly important for people with dietary restrictions or conditions like hypertension, where excess sodium can exacerbate health issues. If you can’t find low-sodium cans, Sharp advises to “rinse your canned vegetables or beans really, really well before consumption to help to drain out some of that sodium content.”

Similarly, added sugars in canned fruits can be a hidden source of unnecessary calories and can impact blood sugar levels. It’s crucial for consumers, particularly those with insulin resistance or diabetes, to choose options packed in water or natural juices.

“Look at the ingredient list for a lot of the additives or preservatives: artificial colours, flavours, high fructose corn syrup, things like that. Those are things that I would try to limit or avoid,” she added.

BPA, a chemical historically used in the linings of canned goods, has raised health concerns, leading to a shift in the industry toward BPA-free products. “About 90 to 95 per cent of canned foods are made without BPA linings,” Sharp pointed out.

She cautioned about the alternatives, such as BPS and BPF, which may have unknown health implications and are still being studied. Choosing cans that say “BPA-free” is a wise choice, nonetheless.


What to look for in canned food and how to understand labels

Knowing how to read a label on canned foods is essential in making informed decisions. (via Getty Images) Close up of a woman grocery shopping in supermarket. Holding a tin can and reading the nutrition label at the backKnowing how to read a label on canned foods is essential in making informed decisions. (via Getty Images) Close up of a woman grocery shopping in supermarket. Holding a tin can and reading the nutrition label at the back

Knowing how to read a label on canned foods is essential in making informed decisions. (via Getty Images)

Sharp said label reading is a key point of advice for consumers looking to make healthier choices with canned foods.

“Look for the no or low sodium… less than 140 milligrams or less per serving… and also make sure that you’re assessing the sodium against the serving sizes that you intend to consume,” she suggested.

She also warned about the added sugars in canned fruits, recommending that consumers opt for products packed in water or natural juices to avoid unnecessary sugar intake.


Questions about nutrition and diet? Contact us at [email protected] and your question could be featured in an upcoming Yahoo Canada article.


How to store canned food? Best practices for food safety

The way canned foods are stored is important. Sharp advised: “Store your canned food in a dry, cool place (10 to 20 degrees Celsius), away from any direct sunlight or sources of heat.”

She emphasized proper storage is essential to maintaining the food’s safety and nutritional quality, preventing spoilage and extending shelf life. “You want to avoid storing it next to any appliances that generate a lot of heat like your stovetop or your oven because that can accelerate the spoilage.”

Her advice to practice a ‘first in, first out’ approach not only helps in reducing waste but also ensures that the oldest items are consumed first, maintaining freshness and safety in your household.


How to incorporate canned food into a balanced diet?

Seamless food background made of opened canned food. Dietitian Sharp says canned vegetables and legumes are a great source of nutrition. (via Getty)Seamless food background made of opened canned food. Dietitian Sharp says canned vegetables and legumes are a great source of nutrition. (via Getty)

Dietitian Sharp says canned vegetables and legumes are a great source of nutrition. (via Getty)

Highlighting the role of canned foods in a balanced diet, Sharp described them as “budget-friendly and a great way to sneak in fruits, vegetables, lean protein.”

Canned vegetables and legumes like beans and corns, peas, carrots and tomatoes are “fantastic for soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, salads — they add a ton of flavour, texture and nutrition,” Sharp said. “Canned beans and lentils… are fantastic sources of plant-based protein and fibre.”

Canned proteins like canned tuna and salmon are great for making sandwiches, wraps or salads, she added, noting to look for fish packed in water or olive oil for a healthier option, that’s low sodium as well.

Her enthusiasm for canned foods in meal planning reflected a practical approach to nutrition, emphasizing that, despite some drawbacks, canned foods are a great source of nutrition when used thoughtfully.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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