Best Canned Food For Healthy Meals
Choose wisely and these pantry staples can help you create quick, nutritious, and tasty dishes
By Sally Wadyka
Best Canned Food For Healthy Meals – When you think of canned food, it may conjure up childhood images of unappetizing mushy vegetables, syrupy peaches, or soggy SpaghettiOs. But canned food doesn’t have to be synonymous with bad-tasting, bad-for-you food. “Canned foods are an easy and affordable way to create any number of tasty and nutritious meals,” says Celine Beitchman, MS, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Can’t always get to the grocery store? Don’t have great options for fresh produce year-round? Can’t afford to eat fresh fish every week? Keeping canned food on hand—including beans, fish, vegetables, and fruit—can solve all of those problems. And by the way, those shelf-stable items in pouches (tuna, salmon, chicken) and cartons (beans and soups) count as canned.
The Nutrition Lowdown on Canned Food
The perception that nothing nutritious can come out of a can is still prevalent. But it’s not accurate. In fact, there’s some evidence that including canned foods in your diet can actually help you eat healthier. A 2015 study published in the journal Nutrients found that people who ate six or more canned foods per week had a higher intake of 17 essential nutrients—including potassium, calcium, and fiber (nutrients older adults often don’t get enough of)—than those who regularly consumed canned food less than twice per week.
Produce that’s destined for a can is generally picked and preserved at its peak of ripeness and canned within hours. That means the fruit and vegetables from the can aisles may be technically “fresher” than what’s in the produce section.
“Fresh produce may actually lose some of its nutritional benefits by the time we buy it in the store,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, RD, director of the Nutrition Center at the Scarsdale Medical Group/White Plains Hospital. “Your food may be traveling thousands of miles and have been picked over a week before you purchase it.”
The heating and canning process does slightly decrease the number of water-soluble vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin C. But for all the minerals and other vitamins, sealing food in an airtight can helps preserve them, meaning that their nutrient content can remain the same for the shelf life of the can. “Canned food can sometimes even have more nutrients than its fresh counterpart,” DeRobertis says. Take canned tomatoes. “Canning increases the levels of the antioxidant lycopene,” she says. “A cup of fresh tomatoes has 4,630 micrograms of lycopene, but once they’re canned that amount increases to 6,100 micrograms.”
Other antioxidants, such as beta carotene, are also enhanced by the canning process. That means vegetables like carrots and pumpkins pack a more powerful antioxidant punch when they come from a can.
Caveats About Canned Food
Not all canned items are nutritionally equal, though. “The healthiest canned foods are those that contain the fewest ingredients,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University in Missouri and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As with any packaged food, it’s important to read the labels before you buy.
“The biggest thing to be mindful of with canned food is sodium,” DeRobertis says. “Some canned soups can contain over 1,000 mg in a single serving.” Look for “reduced” or “less” sodium on the label, which means the food has at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. “Low-sodium” foods have 140 mg or less per serving.
Another option is to drain and rinse canned foods before using them. A test by Cook’s Illustrated (published by America’s Test Kitchen) found that canned beans, draining, and rinsing reduced their sodium by about 20 to 27 percent compared with the sodium levels of the beans in liquid.
With canned fruit, added sugars can be a concern. Fruit that’s in light or heavy syrup often contains high fructose corn syrup or other types of added sugars and can pack up to 14 grams per serving. Instead, look for fruit that’s packed in 100 percent fruit juice.
Canned Foods Save Time and Money
It’s hard to beat cans when it comes to convenience, shelf life, price, and accessibility. “Even small grocery and convenience stores usually carry canned staples like tuna and beans,” Linsenmeyer says. “The convenience of canned foods also extends to meal prep. Most are already chopped and ready to eat.”
Canned foods can often be less expensive than the same foods in fresh form. And one of the best ways they save you money is by helping you avoid food waste, especially if you’re cooking just for one or two. “Once opened, most canned foods will stay fine in the fridge for up to three to five days,” Linsenmeyer says. (Put leftovers in a covered container.) Unopened cans in the pantry remain safe to eat for years, even indefinitely, according to the USDA. The date you see on the bottom of a can is its “use by” or “best by” date. That refers to when the food will taste best, but it won’t be unsafe to eat past that date. A damaged can is another story. “If they can have any bulging or damage to the seal, toss it,” Linsenmeyer says. “It could harbor the foodborne bacteria that cause botulism.”
Clever Uses for Canned Food
Eating canned food from a can be as delicious as it is simple. “Think of the cans in your pantry as ingredients,” says Beitchman (who, as a chef, admits to stocking several). Here, she shares her favorite hacks for “homemade-from-a-can” meals.
Canned beans: “I throw them into anything I want to add some protein too,” Beitchman says. She adds canned beans to soups (even premade versions) and on salads, mashes and spreads them on quesadillas, or purées them into a dip. You can also spread chickpeas (or any other kind of bean) on a cookie sheet, toss them with olive oil and spices, and crisp them in a hot oven. “They make a great crunchy snack, or use them in place of croutons on a salad,” Beitchman says.
Canned fruit: Sure, you can spoon it over plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream, but there are other uses for it, too. Try canned peaches (drain the juice) mixed with canned chili peppers, some onion, salt, and lemon juice for peach salsa as a topping for grilled salmon.
Canned fish or chicken: Mix tuna, salmon, or chicken with some cooked potatoes, veggies (like shredded carrots), a lightly beaten egg, breadcrumbs, and seasoning, then form into patties and sear. “One can of fish or chicken make up to four patties,” Beitchman says. “Serve them over a salad or on a bun like a burger.”
Canned sardines are a good option, too. These tiny fish are nutritional powerhouses, and if you buy them packed without skin and bones, Beitchman promises they won’t taste too fishy. She serves them on a toasted whole-grain baguette topped with a drizzle of olive oil, arugula, capers or chopped green olives, and a squeeze of lemon.
Canned vegetables: The biggest complaint about canned veggies is that their texture can be soggy or mushy. To prevent that, Beitchman recommends draining them in a colander, then laying them out and patting them dry. Then quickly sauté them in a hot skillet with a little olive oil and seasonings. She also suggests mixing them (without cooking) into a simple batter to make savory dinner pancakes or adding them to eggs for a veggie omelet. Or combine a can of corn, a can of black beans, and a can of diced tomatoes with fresh or dried basil, a little salt and pepper, and oil and vinegar for a side dish or toss into a salad.
Canned tomatoes: Use whole, peeled canned tomatoes to make a quick soup by puréeing them with some light cream or coconut milk and a curry spice blend.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the December 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services and does not accept advertising.
13 Best Foods For Kidney Health
Your kidneys are like filters that get rid of all the things you don’t want in your body. These two fist-sized, bean-shaped organs filter your blood. In doing so, they remove toxins and excess fluids while keeping your levels of potassium, sodium, and more in check. At the same time, they produce hormones that help to regulate everything from your blood pressure to your bone strength. Long story short: Your kidneys do a lot.
So much, in fact, that they can get overtaxed. Roughly one in seven Americans have chronic kidney disease, which can cause waste and fluid buildup in your body. Worse yet, most people with CKD don’t know they have it.
Poor eating habits heighten your risk for CKD. But when you eat the best foods for your kidneys, the reverse can be true. Since certain foods are good for the kidneys, what you eat can help to protect your kidney health.
These are our top picks for foods to add to your diet for optimal kidney health.
1. Fatty fish
Fish delivers protein, and when you choose a fatty fish like tuna, salmon, or trout, you’re also getting omega-3 fatty acids. According to the National Kidney Foundation, omega-3 fats may help reduce fat levels (triglycerides) in the blood and may also lower blood pressure.
If you have CKD, you may need to keep an eye on the phosphorus and potassium levels of the fish you choose. The National Kidney Foundation has a chart you can use to determine levels in specific types of fish. Although, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
This nutrient-dense vegetable is low in both potassium and sodium while packing in fiber, vitamins C and K, and more.
Plus, cabbage is versatile. You can use it in salads and slaws, but you can also use it as a wrap for tacos, sandwiches, and more.
3. Bell peppers
Like cabbage, bell peppers pack in lots of good nutrients with low levels of potassium. With them, you get vitamins B6, B9, C, and K, plus fiber. And they deliver antioxidants, too.
You can slice them and eat them with dips or roast them up and add them to dinner.
Cranberries help to prevent urinary tract infections. While these usually stay in your bladder, they can travel up to your kidney, making kidney problems worse. Fortunately, regularly consuming cranberries can help you avoid this unwelcome situation.
Plus, cranberries have antioxidants that can help to fight inflammation, and they can boost your heart and digestive health. It turns out, these tart berries aren’t just for the Thanksgiving table.
We’ve talked about some of the best foods for kidneys, but you can take it a step further. The question is: what foods help repair kidneys? Blueberries deliver here.
With high levels of antioxidants and loads of vitamin C and fiber, blueberries are all-around healthy. They can also help to reduce inflammation and support bone health, reversing some of the issues that can come with CKD.
6. Dark, leafy greens
Still, wondering what foods help repair kidneys? You can turn to dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale. They deliver so many nutrients that they can help you get key vitamins and minerals, plus immunity-boosting benefits.
Be advised, though, that greens can come with a decent amount of potassium. If you have CKD, talk to your doctor before adding more of these to your diet.
7. Olive oil
Rich in antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, olive oil can boost your overall wellness. A study from the University of Harvard found that olive oil may lower cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some types of cancer.
Beyond all this, it can help you add flavor to dishes without turning to salt or butter.
To get more antioxidants, choose unrefined or cold-pressed olive oil that’s virgin or extra virgin.
Another antioxidant-rich, inflammation-fighting food, garlic also contains a specific compound called allicin. For people with CKD, allicin — an active compound found in garlic — worked just as effectively to help protect kidney health as a prescription drug. If you’re looking for the best foods for your kidneys, garlic has to make the list.
Plus, it’s an excellent way to add flavor even when you’re skimping on salt.
From the same family as garlic, onions give you another excellent and salt-free way to add flavor (bonus points if you saute them in olive oil). Onions also deliver important nutrients like vitamins B6 and C, manganese, and copper.
They also contain quercetin, a chemical that can help your body fight cancer, and organic sulfur compounds that can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Cauliflower brings the crunch, paired with plenty of vitamins C, B6, B9, and K, along with fiber. It also contains compounds your body can use to neutralize certain toxins — a big help when your kidneys aren’t doing their best filtration work.
Cauliflower does contain some potassium and phosphorus, though, so while it makes the list of foods good for kidneys, people with CKD may want to moderate their intake.
Egg whites are specifically recommended for people with kidney problems. They give you a way to increase your protein levels — which can be especially important with later-stage CKD, especially if you’re on dialysis.
Arugula is packed with nutrients your body needs like magnesium, iron, calcium, and vitamins A, B9, C, and K. Plus, it’s antioxidant-rich. It has glucosinolates, which can help your body protect itself against a range of cancer types.
You can eat arugula raw (it’s a great salad base), but you can also sprinkle it over whatever you’re whipping up. It’s great on pizzas, in omelets, and in pasta, for example.
Apples deliver cancer-fighting quercetin and fiber that can help to keep your cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels. And they’ve got plenty of antioxidants.
Better yet, they’re easy to work into your diet. Leave a bowl of apples on your counter and you’ll have a kidney-healthy grab-and-go snack whenever you need one.
Beyond Vitamin C: Eat These Foods For A Healthy Immune System
When winter comes around, we’re stuck together indoors more often. That makes us easy targets for the flu and other viruses that are looking for a place to thrive.
Although it’s important to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong year-round, it becomes especially critical during those cooler months. If you don’t want to be stuck in bed with the sniffles all winter long, you need to make sure your immune system is up to the task.
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to boost your immunity, including tweaking your diet. Let’s take a look at how your diet can affect your ability to stay healthy and explore some of the best foods for immune health.
Can food boost your immune system?
Your immune system is an intricate network of cells, chemical compounds, and pathways, all of which work together to defend your body from infection. The human body is built with powerful defense mechanisms that not only innately fend off foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, but also learn to recognize new ones so they can better do their job, according to Cleveland Clinic.
To function effectively, however, your immune system needs your help. This involves a range of different supporting behaviors, from getting enough rest and managing stress levels to exercising regularly and, yes, getting adequate nutrition. Each of these factors is important, but we’ll focus especially on diet here.
Malnutrition has been associated with poor immune health in many studies. Low levels of vitamins C and D or zinc, for instance, have been shown to increase inflammation and boost susceptibility to infections. These aren’t the only nutrients your immune system requires, though. It needs a wide array of nutrients to perform at its best.
If you’re unable to get enough of certain nutrients through your diet, multivitamins can be a helpful supplement. The best way to determine if you’re deficient in any nutrients and would benefit from a multivitamin is by asking a doctor.
However, you don’t have to take supplements or eat specific “immune-boosting foods” like garlic or ginger to strengthen your immune health, per Harvard Health. Rather, you can focus on eating a well-rounded diet that includes all of the necessary nutrients. These include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamins B6 and B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid (folate)
- Protein (including the amino acid glutamine)
It’s also important to understand the role your gut plays in regulating your immune health. In fact, 70% of your immune system is located in your gut, and the bacteria that live there have a significant impact on your immune health, according to UCLA Health. That means not only do you need a diet rich in the above nutrients but one that supports gut health. A gut-healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limits highly processed foods, refined sugars, and red meat. You can also support your gut with prebiotic and probiotic foods, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Which foods should you shop for?
A nutrient-rich, immune-healthy diet can take various shapes, according to the Mayo Clinic. You don’t have to eat a specific set of foods to get everything you need, so you can plan your diet to fit your preferences and budget.
Here are some examples of nutrient-dense foods for immune health that you can include in your diet, courtesy of Harvard Health and the British Nutrition Foundation:
- Orange and red fruits and vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, and apricots are rich in vitamin A, which supports healthy skin. Your skin is a critical first line of defense against infection.
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, one of the most important vitamins for supporting immune health.
- Iron- and protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, beans, nuts, and fortified cereals support healthy immune cell growth and functioning.
- Many seeds, nuts, peanut butter, and vegetable oils contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to fight off free radicals and bolster your immune health.
- Whole grains, along with many types of meat, seeds, and nuts, provide zinc, which supports wound healing and strengthens the immune response.
- Poultry, fish, other meats, eggs, bananas, and avocados contain vitamins B6 and B12 (and some contain both), which are important for new immune cell growth and communication.
- Oily fish, eggs, and some fortified cereal and dairy products include vitamin D, which seems to support better immune response.
- Bread, rice, quinoa, shellfish, and dried fruit are rich in copper, an important booster for immune cells.
- Green vegetables, berries, oranges, nuts, and seeds contain folate, which assists in new cell production.
- Foods with active cultures such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi, fermented vegetables, and some yogurts are known as probiotics because they add to the good bacteria in your gut.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and seaweed, along with many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are considered prebiotic foods because they contain fiber and oligosaccharides to feed and support the bacteria in your gut.
As you can see, there is overlap on this list, and many foods offer multiple nutrients that support immune health. A balanced diet, good rest, plenty of exercise, and habits that reduce stress, are all key ingredients for building a strong immune system.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.