There are very few no- no’s for me when it comes to food. But canned food, in particular canned produce, is one of them. I can tolerate canned beans, but I have zero tolerance for canned fruits and veggies. Among the list of things that skeeve me out, some of which include airplane barf bags, blackboard nail scratching, toothpaste left in the sink, canned corn is right up there. I know, I sound insane.
This is how I see canned food: it started off fresh and was then pressure cooked to such high temperatures, imprisoned in tin walls for months, maybe years, with its only escape being with the use of special equipment. C’mon, that’s scary! In addition to freaking me out, canned goods can be quite high in sodium thanks to the added salt used to preserve. And, the high temperatures required to kill bacteria during pressure cooking kills/leaches some of the vitamins. I’ve even seen sugar added to some canned veggies!
I get it, canned goods are cheap, quick and convenient especially when you have a family to feed. That’s why I’m going to offer an alternative. Frozen is better. Frozen produce better maintains its structure and vitamins, plus it tends to be salt-free, which is why it is generally a lot fresher, tastier and more nutritious. Rumor has it that frozen is even better than fresh because produce meant for freezing is picked in peak-ripeness, a time when it’s generally most nutrient-packed. But, because frozen produce still needs to go through processing (quick boil, flash freezing), my vote is with fresh.
Frozen veggies are just as quick and convenient as opening a can. Just pour into a strainer and rinse under very hot water for 1-2 minutes to defrost. A lot of brands pack the veggies in a steamer pocket that you throw right into the microwave, which is even better than boiling because it prevents water soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, from leaching out. Even though you can take my word for it, always look at the label – look for plain, unseasoned, non-sauced frozen veggies with the ingredient list consisting of ONLY the fruit or veggie you are buying. Or, you can buy fresh and freeze at home. My mother (if you’re reading this, hey Mom) boils then freezes corn, so she always has on hand. Berries freeze well but get mushy when defrosted so they’re perfect for baking pies.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many frozen legumes or beans, but you can make a big batch from scratch and freeze. It is time consuming, but I have a great recipe I’ll post soon.
In terms of buying canned versus frozen soups, meats and sauces, neither is really great, but it really depends on the brand. Most frozen prepared foods I’ve seen are high in sodium and other preservatives. Again, it’s healthier and cheaper to just make some extra soup or meat and freeze it for a later date. But, if you’re in a bind, just read the labels, compare the amount of fat and salt and try to find the product with the shortest ingredient list with mostly ingredients you recognize.
If you insist on staying with the cans, there are a few ways to make it healthier. Buy fruit that has been canned in its own juice and not syrup. Sweet canned corn doesn’t refer to the natural sweetness of the corn; it means added sugar. And, to reduce the amount of sodium and other junk found in canned veggies, pour goods into a colander and rinse under fresh water for 1 minute.
Time for food safety quiz (how exciting):
Q: Why do cans dent or bulge?
A: When bacteria grow and breathe they release CO2. Cans don’t save any room for bacteria or its CO2. So, the CO2 and other gases begin to push out and expand. When you see a dented or bulged can it means the bacteria is liking whatever is inside and you should steer clear.