To ‘can’ or not to can …is the big question. Canned foods are available in plenty across the world but are more common in the Western countries where people depend largely on all kinds of ready-to-eat options. In India, not many households stock-up canned fruits and vegetables, only canned corn or pineapples are most popular. We all admit that sometimes washing, peeling, cutting vegetables and fruits can be a cumbersome job. Canned fruits and vegetables are washed, cleaned and sometimes blanched so can be used directly in the meals. Canning helps to retain their texture and quality for a prolonged period of time.
But, what we all want to know is that whether canned foods retain the same nutritional values as the fresh ones?
As compared to fresh fruits and vegetables, canned ones
- Are safe with minimal microbial activity
- Have a shelf life of at least 15 days or more
- Are convenient to carry to work or while traveling
- Are cheaper
- Are in the ready-to-eat form reducing pre-processing /cooking time
But there are certain other drawbacks one needs to be careful about
Excess sodium– Salt or sodium is often used as a preservative since it draws out water from tissues and reduces water available for growth of microorganisms. Hence, canned foods contain brine or salt water solution . This same principle applies to pickles and chutneys wherein high amounts of salt is added to increase shelf-life. While choosing a canned food product, look for low sodium, reduced sodium or sodium -free foods. Also, one can wash the canned foods thoroughly before using to get rid of the saline solution used for storage
Added sugar – Sugar, like salt, has the ability to bind water restricting the amount of water available for microorganisms. But, we surely do not need the extra calories coming from the added sugar . Fruits that are canned in water, their own juice or light syrup can be chosen.
Nutritive value of canned versus fresh fruits and vegetables
Vitamin C – vitamin C content of canned fruits and vegetables are lower than fresh ones because treatment such as blanching can reduce vitamin C. But , this much or more losses occur during natural cooking process as well. What is interesting is that vitamin C content of fresh foods gradually decline during storage, however canned foods maintain their vitamin C content at relatively constant level.
B vitamins – Canned fruits and vegetables tend to have slightly lower levels of vitamin B than fresh cooked, with the exception of tomatoes. Canned tomatoes tend to have higher levels of B vitamins, with the exception of folate.
Phenolic compounds – Depending upon the method of canning, phenolic compounds present in fruits and vegetables may or may not be destroyed. Those that are packed in brine or syrup tend to lose phenolic compounds while the vacuum packed or canned without liquids tend to retain their levels of phenolic compounds
Fiber- The heating process during canning appears to make the fiber more soluble and therefore increases its availability
vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin E, and minerals are similar in fresh and canned fruits and vegetables
Uses of canned vegetables and fruits :
- Canned fruits can be used for a fruit salad or custard after thorough washing
- Canned vegetables can be used for preparing clear veg soups, sweet corn soup, etc
- Canned fruits can be used a topping on fresh curds or breakfast cereals
- Canned vegetables can be eaten with dips
- Canned vegetables can be added to pulao, noodles or pasta
For a housewife or a working woman, often putting together a meal that meets the likes and preferences of all family members is a big challenge. Added to that , the meal should be healthy and wholesome. The healthy plate recommendations suggest that vegetables and fruits should occupy half the area on the plate at every meal. Canned vegetables and fruits can be a great solution to these problems.
Natural foods are highly perishable and they can get spoilt easily but canned foods provide the guarantee for prolonged freshness and nutritional value. We do not suggest or advice that canned foods can replace fresh ones in daily cooking but for those who do not have the time , resources or simply the patience to chop and prepare vegetables and fruits, canned or frozen ones are definitely an almost equally healthy and safe option .
Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.