Online Exclusives

Canned Foods for Health

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | July 30, 2012

MSU study cites low cost, high nutritional value of canned food as an important tool in the fight against obesity.

On the heels of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on strategies for addressing the obesity crisis in the US, Michigan State University (MSU) issued findings from its own study on canned fruits and vegetables and how they play “a critical role” in helping Americans increase their healthy food intake, regardless of geography or income level.
The MSU study, “Nutrition and Cost Comparisons of Select Canned, Frozen and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,” analyzed more than 40 scientific journal studies and nutrition data, comparing canned fruits and vegetables to fresh and frozen based on nutrition and cost. Its researchers found that with continued emphasis on the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable intake, canned foods provide great tasting, affordable options to conveniently incorporate fruits and vegetables into the daily diet. “Canned fruits and vegetables are comparable nutritionally to fresh and frozen, and in some instances, canned options bring a nutritional advantage to the table,” the researchers wrote. “The analysis also shows that the cost of canned vegetables can be as low as 50% of the costs of frozen alternatives and 20% of the cost of fresh, with virtually no sacrifices in nutritional quality.”
The convenience and safety of canned foods were also lauded. “Canned fruits and vegetables are not subject to seasonality or refrigeration requirements, making them easily accessible to all – from corner convenience stores to supermarkets,” wrote MSU, and added that “with 23.5 million people living in areas known as ‘food deserts’ with little or no accessibility to nutritious foods, canned fruits and vegetables are a shelf-stable option that delivers nutrition on par with fresh and frozen.”
MSU condensed the highlights of its findings into a snappy acronym – S.H.E.L.F.
·         S – Safe:  According to the CDC, at least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with foodborne illnesses. The MSU analysis concluded canned foods were a safer option for produce thanks in part to the canning process that creates a barrier to microbiological contamination.
·         H – Healthy:  The study underscored that nutritionally, canned foods are on par with and in some cases better than fresh and frozen. In fact, MSU reported, canning tomatoes improves the B vitamins, vitamin E and carotenoid content. Fiber, a nutrient of concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, also becomes more soluble and therefore more useful in the human body, in the canning process.
·         E – Ease of preparation:Canned fruits and vegetables are convenient to prepare and incorporate into meals or on their own. They are not subject to seasonality or refrigeration requirements, also making them easily accessible to all – from corner convenience stores to supermarkets, a key recommendation in the IOM report.
·         L – Thanks to their long shelf life, canned foods are perfect staples to stock up and have on hand anytime. USDA reported Americans waste 25% of their fresh produce each year, and with millions of people having limited accessibility to nutritious foods, canned fruits and vegetables are a wise, shelf-stable option for families.
·         F – Financial benefits: Canned foods stretch hard-earned dollars, saving up to half the cost of frozen and 20% of the cost of fresh. For example, fresh green beans are estimated at 500% more costly than canned. 
“Canned foods can be a terrific option to easily and inexpensively incorporate great tasting nutrition into healthy meals,” commented Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight.”One of the IOM report directives is to increase access to healthy foods at various locales. It's important that people do not overlook the variety at convenience stores across the country with healthy options sitting on the S.H.E.L.F.”
To view MSU’s findings on canned foods in full, click this link.
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