You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Canned Fruits and Veggies Are Convenient—But Are They the Most Nutritious Option?

Runner’s World logo Runner’s World 12/8/2021 Monique Lebrun
Here, an expert-backed guide to how this type of produce stacks up to its fresh counterparts. © Vstock LLC - Getty Images Here, an expert-backed guide to how this type of produce stacks up to its fresh counterparts.

It’s no secret, fruits and vegetables are loaded with the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you need to stay healthy—especially as a runner. But if you think eating fresh fruits and veggies is the only way you can maintain your nutrition and reach peak performance, think again.

We spoke with two registered dietitians to discuss the advantages and disadvantages to eating canned fruits and vegetables. And, we developed this guide to help you ulyimately find out if canned fruits and vegetables are healthy, and which ones might be best to keep in your pantry to meet your dietary needs.

How do canned fruits and vegetables stack up to their fresh counterparts?

“Canned vegetables and fruits are often equivalent to—and sometimes even better than— fresh fruits or vegetables because they’re processed so quickly after they’re picked,” says Julie Stefanski, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fruits and vegetables are picked at peak freshness just hours before they are canned, and many nutrients are actually preserved in the canning process, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In fact, Melissa Majumdar, M.S., R.D., bariatric coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta—and a runner herself—says that most of the nutrients like vitamins that are fat-soluble—A,D, E, and K—as well as protein and fiber will be preserved and remain the same during the canning process. And, less water-soluble vitamins—like vitamin C and B—will be reduced because of the heat used during the canning process. Ultimately, Majumdar says, you don’t have to be afraid of the canned food aisle in the grocery store.

In a study published by the American Journal of Life Medicine, researchers found canned food options to be an affordable way to increase nutrition. The study revealed the cost of canned vegetables can be as cheap as 20 percent of the cost of fresh. And if stored properly, canned fruits and vegetables can last a long time. (FYI: The USDA recommends storing canned foods in cool and dry environments—avoid storing them under the kitchen sink or in the basement—and to never use any rusted, bulging, or leaking cans.)

What’s more, most canned fruits and veggies have a shelf life of almost five years, Majumdar says. “I think that’s one of the pros of using canned fruits and vegetables because they will absolutely outlast the shelf life of a fresh fruit and vegetable,” she says.

Finally, canned fruits and vegetables can be more convenient in the long term. “I think one of the best things is that [the food] is ready to go,” says Majumdar. “You come back from a run and you’re hungry or you’re tired—it’s already ready for you. There’s no pealing or washing. I hate when I anticipate that I’m going to have this [fresh] apple or banana and then you get to it, and it’s got a burse or it’s past its prime.” So, canned fruits are a great backup.

But you don’t have to replace your fresh fruits and veggies with canned. Instead, both Stefanski and Majumdar recommend using the canned options as a supplement to the fresh ones. This way, you can insure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.

“Sometimes when we have something that’s fresh, it has to be chilled somewhere or it’s older because it traveled so far. So, a lot of times people buy fresh, and when they run out during their week, they just don’t have any vegetables. It’s better to have something in your cupboard that you can pull out and have as you get to the end of your week,” says Stefanski.


Video: The Best Vegan Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (The Healthy)

Canned fruits and vegetables seem pretty beneficial—but are there any downsides?

Many people may avoid canned fruits and vegetables due to the lining of the can. A 2015 study published in Environmental Research found people who consumed canned vegetables, fruits, pastas, and soups had higher levels of bisphenol A (BPA)—a synthetic chemical that is used in the epoxy resin—in their urine. And, a 2017 report released by the Center for Environmental Health revealed that BPA found in can linings can migrate into the food inside of the can. This chemical, according to the Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, is an environmental health concern that can affect circulating hormone levels, cardiovascular health, obesity, reproductive health in both males and females, and hormone-driven cancers in children.

In response to this research, many consumers moved toward fresher options to avoid this toxic chemical. This led can manufactures and some food production companies in the United States—like Del-Monte, Trader-Joes, and Amy’s Kitchen—made efforts to provide BPA-free products. And, according to the Canned Manufactures Institute, nearly all canned foods are now BPA-free. If you’re concerned about BPA levels in canned foods, consider shopping around for specific brands that offer BPA- free products, as there are plenty of options.

Aside from BPA, some canned fruits and veggies may contain added salt or sugar. So, make sure you read the labels to find out what works best for you. Some brands offer “no salt added” or “no added sugar” options.

“Vegetables usually won’t have the added sugars, but they may have the added salt. The salt is not added for preserving it—it’s added for the flavor that’s lost when heating,” says Majumdar.

But salt isn’t always a bad thing, she says, especially for runners, if it’s consumed around race time. You can replenish your body with electrolytes postrun just by having a can of tomato juice says Majumdar.

If you are looking to avoid salt due to a health condition or a personal reason, you can either buy cans with no added salt, or you can reduce some of the sodium—up to 40 percent—by draining the water from the can, says Stefanski. It all comes down to your personal needs and preferences. Consult with your dietitian or doctor to find out what works best for you.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to avoid added sugars found in canned fruits, then Majumdar says to watch out for words ending in“-ose.” “Any word that ends in‘-ose’—like glucose, fructose, or sucrose—are all sugars,” she says. Ideally, she says, you are looking for 100 precent juice packed in water or its own juices.

So, what are the best canned fruits and vegetables for runners?

When it comes to finding the best canned fruits and vegetables, you’re going to have to do your own taste testing, Stefanski says—the most important thing is that you want to eat the options you choose. And, take into consideration what you’re going to cook and whether it requires fresh or canned ingredients. “When you think about making a recipe, you want to judge whether you need that texture in the recipe that you’re making,” says Stefanski.

Here are some canned fruits and veggies to keep in mind the next time you go grocery shopping.

1. Tomatoes: “With the tomato products, you actually get more lycopene in canned tomatoes than you do in fresh, and lycopene really good for overall health,” says Stefanski. A research review found that the consumption of lycopene-rich foods, like tomatoes, reduces your risk for health issues like prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

2. Pumpkin: With canned pumpkin, it’s cooked right before it’s packaged, so you can add it right out of the can into your smoothies and oatmeal, according to Stefanski. “Canned pumpkin is so high in vitamin A. it’s a really good addition for our immune system, especially this time of year,” she says.

3. Beans: These are a great option for maintaining your gut health because they contain fiber. Stefanski recommends stocking up on beans like chickpeas. When fiber is broke down, Stefanski explains, its nourishes the cells in our body to strengthen the immune system. “Runners are definitely more prone to getting sick because they’re often pushing their bodies to the limit. So having good gut health is really important,” she says.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Runner's World

Runner’s World
Runner’s World
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon