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Nutritional Value: Canned vs. Fresh

canned food

A lot of people believe that any food you can get in a can is just as healthy and nutritious as fresh. After all, canned food is simply fresh food in a sealed container, which should make it even better than fresh because the nutrients have been preserved. Right? Unfortunately, this is only partially true. While you can certainly preserve produce and animal products longer by putting them into vacuum-sealed cans, and they may even retain many of the nutrients that were present in their fresh and non-preserved state, you might be surprised by the ingredients that have to be added in order to keep fruits, vegetables, and meats safe for consumption once they are put into a can.

There are, of course, a few instances in which ONLY the food in question goes into a can. Some baby foods (which are generally in jars, not cans), purport to include one ingredient (pureed carrots or apples, for example). But you’d be hard pressed to find other such examples. The reason is because foods that are packaged without some kind of preservative simply don’t last as long. Do a little test: look at the expiration date on a jar of baby food that is preservative free versus a can of food that has preservatives. You’ll probably notice a big difference. Whereas the all-natural food is likely to expire in a few weeks, the canned food can probably last until the end of eternity (although their expiration is usually listed as being a couple of years in the future). And honestly, if the can doesn’t rust, it can probably last quite a bit longer.

So what’s the big deal with preservatives?  Well, for one thing, most of them are some form of chemical, which you may not want to add to your food. Interestingly, a lot of fresh foods also have chemicals included.  Produce contains traces of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides while meats (and other animal products) contain hormones and antibiotics that can imbalance your system over time. In fact, the only real way to avoid these many chemicals in your food is to switch to fresh organic products (and skip the canned versions).

Another popular preservative that is natural (but still harmful) is salt. And if you’ve been to the doctor recently and discovered yourself at risk for high blood pressure, you are probably well aware that in terms of preservatives, salt translates to sodium (which is bad). Even if you don’t suffer from hypertension yet, a diet filled with sodium is likely to get you there quick enough.  Most of us eat far more sodium in a day than we should, and it is largely due to the prevalence of processed foods in our diets, making another point in the win column for fresh foods. Also, if you’re worried about your physique, you should know that excess sodium causes bloating. While we do need some salt in order for our bodies to adequately absorb water, too much will lead to serious water retention.

So, it seems pretty clear that fresh foods are more nutritious. By choosing organic options, you will give yourself the best opportunity for health and longevity. This doesn’t mean that you have to cut canned foods out of your diet completely, but you should make every effort to ascertain how natural the ingredients are (if there are a lot of ingredients you can’t decipher, put the offending item back on the shelf) and make sure that the majority of your plate is filled with fresh foods.

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