Canned fruits and veggies may get a bad rap, but they have surprising nutrition facts and are a simple way to include more produce in your diet.
I just got back from Sacramento, California (my first time!) where I toured a peach orchard, tomato field and each of their canneries. It was so enlightening! I love going on farm tours because I get to meet the growers and see how our food is produced with my own eyes.
Disclosures: This post wasn’t created in partnership with any product or brand. My expenses were covered on this trip by Pacific Coast Producers. I was not compensated for my time and was not asked to write this.
Canned Foods Get a Bad Rap
Ask someone off the street about “healthy eating” and you’ll be sure to hear something about “only eating fresh produce” or “shopping the perimeter of the store.” But, dig a little deeper and you’ll learn that 98% of Americans have canned foods in their pantry (1). Is that a bad thing? Research shows frozen and canned foods are nutritionally comparable to fresh (choose no added salt or reduced sodium for veggies and packed in 100% juice for fruits) and an easy way to include more produce in your meal pattern (2).
Why Canned Foods May be Fresher than Fresh
Canned and frozen foods may be fresher than what you find in the produce section. Why? Because they’re picked at peak ripeness and sealed within hours, preserving nutrients and flavor at their peak. Most fresh produce has at least a several days’ journey to make it to the shelf and is often picked before becoming ripe to make it to your grocery store in better shape.
Nutrients in Canned Foods May be More Bioavailable than Fresh
In fact, some nutrients in canned goods are higher or more bioavailable than in fresh (more bioavailability means your body can use it better). For example, lycopene in tomatoes is more bioavailable canned or heated and is higher in B vitamins than fresh (3). Similarly, canned peaches are four times higher in vitamin C, ten times higher in folate, and 1.5x higher in antioxidants than fresh peaches.
I’m by no means saying, “only eat canned fruits and veggies”, but I am saying that they’re a nutritious option that you can feel good about keeping in your pantry.
Farm Fresh Peaches
First we visited the peach orchard and cannery. I was amazed to watch the process of picking and canning!
The type of peaches we see in the store are called freestone peaches (the pit is easily removed), while the peaches that are used in canning are called California cling peaches (the pit is not easily removed).
California Cling Peaches
Cling peaches are sweet and the perfect firmness for canning. They also don’t have that purple tint around the pit, which keeps them looking beautiful in your snack pack.
The peaches grown by the Pacific Coast Producers (PCP) co-op are generally canned within 12 hours of being hand-picked. Peaches in California are harvested about two and a half months out of the year (July to early September), which means if you want fresh peaches in January, your best bet will be those that were preserved at peak season.
Why Aren’t Fruits Packed in Water?
Fruit can’t be packed in water because the natural sugars from the fruits leech into the water and considerably degrade flavor. Packing fruit in 100% fruit juice interestingly makes the fruit maintain its natural sugars and flavor and doesn’t actually increase the sugar content of the fruit itself.
Farm Fresh Tomatoes
On our second day, we took a visit to Muller Ranch tomato field.
Most fresh tomatoes are picked before they are ripe, and they essentially ripen on their way to your produce section. In contrast, canned tomatoes are picked ripe and canned quickly, which delivers optimal flavor.
Tomatoes are harvested three months out of the year (July through September). Most tomatoes are canned within 3 to 6 hours of being harvested. The fields are harvested with by a tomato harvester. The harvester sorts out any green tomatoes and leaves, and a worker also hand-sorts as the tomatoes run by on a belt. The tomatoes are then kicked over to a large truck. The trucks are then taken to the cannery.
Safety & Sustainability of Canned Foods
I loved what one of the growers, Frank, said. He said, “Sustainability is leaving the land better than you found it.” The growers on both farms talked about ways they are improving soil conditions, using drip irrigation to limit water usage, minimizing applications of pesticides by only using them when absolutely necessary or innovating in ways like using pheromones to ward off pests.
As a mom, something I was concerned about addressing on our tour was BPA in can liners. Although some argue the science is fuzzy on whether or not BPA is “definitely harmful,” I personally prefer to reduce exposure. Notably, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement about avoiding canned foods because of BPA exposure.
I was surprised to learn that all cans used by PCP have been BPA-free for seven years. In fact, 90% of cans on grocery store shelves are BPA-free (4). The small percentage that are not BPA-free are often imports not grown in the US. (Another reason to shop US-grown produce!) Although PCP specifically packs for private label brands (like Sam’s or Kroger), something they have done is print “Non-BPA Can” and “Grown in the USA” on their cans and snack packs when the brand will allow, to provide more visibility to the consumer.
I was surprised to learn that steel cans are 100% recyclable, and that 80-90% of steel ever produced is still in use today.
Fifteen to 20% of fresh fruits and vegetables are wasted in the US, equalling 34 million tons of food. Canning helps keep food from spoilage, and food bits (like pits) that aren’t used for human consumption are passed on for animal feed.
You Can Do It!
So, all this to say… cans can be a good thing! You ought not to feel like you’re providing your family “lower-quality” or less nutritious food if you’ve got cans in the pantry. In fact, you can feel pretty dang good about it. Choose simple ingredient, low-sodium or no added salt veggies, and fruit packed in 100% fruit juice (you can drain before eating) for tip top nutrition. And hey, have yourself a grand ol’ time in the kitchen!
Do you use any canned foods?
What canned foods do you use most often?