I get this question a lot. Rightfully so, since you hear all the time to avoid processed foods, choose fresh whenever possible, and limit foods high in sodium.
But what about processed vegetables? Are canned vegetables actually healthy?
I have written before about the trickiness of asking such questions; They are complex with no straightforward answer.
But, in most cases, my short answer is this:
YES, canned vegetables can be a nutrient dense, practical, convenient, and affordable addition to any meal. Below I will break down the nutritional considerations for canned vegetables, followed by some strategies to incorporate them into your diet.
Canned Vegetable Nutrition
In a perfect world, we would eat fresh vegetables as soon as they are picked. That is when their nutrient content is the highest (and when they taste the best!) However, fresh vegetables go through a lot of travel before they reach the supermarket, and then there is even more delay before we purchase them and eventually prepare them for consumption. During this time, the vitamins and minerals start to break down. Canned vegetables, on the other hand, are processed immediately after harvest. This processing (i.e. the canning process) preserves most of the nutrients in the produce.
That being said, canned foods tend to be higher in sodium than fresh or frozen. This is because sodium helps to safely preserve the canned vegetables. To reduce the sodium amount, look for no-salt-added or reduced-sodium versions, and then drain and rinse the vegetables before using. This practice can remove up to 40% of the sodium! Many manufacturers are actively working to reduce the sodium in their products as well.
Canned Vegetables are Practical, Convenient, and Affordable
Have you ever purchased a cart-full of fresh produce with good intentions to cook them every night of the week?
Have they ever gone bad right before your eyes?
Enter: canned goods.
Thanks to them being preserved under pressure they will not spoil before you can even say “kale chips”.
Canned vegetables also offer convenience. There is no chopping or long cook times needed to make them usable in recipes.
And lastly, canned vegetables are affordable. For those on a tight budget, utilizing canned vegetables can stretch your dollar and allow you more flexibility in meal planning.
How to Incorporate Canned Vegetables
Eating canned vegetables can be as simple as grabbing a spoon and digging in. But, if that is not your preference (it’s definitely not mine), consider these other strategies to build them into your meals:
- Casseroles: Add to Green Bean Casserole, Shepherd’s Pie, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Tetrazzini, or Tuna Noodle Casserole.
- Soups: Canned mixed vegetables can be an easy addition to any vegetable or chicken noodle soup. Consider adding canned tomatoes to your tomato soup for some extra fiber and nutrients.
- Bean salads: Three Bean Salad, Cowboy Caviar, and Lentil Salads come together almost instantly when using canned beans.
- Tomato sauce: Diced tomatoes, tomato puree or sauce, and crushed tomatoes are all simple bases for a quick homemade marinara sauce; Just add Italian seasonings for additional flavor.
- Stir fries: Water Chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and straw mushrooms are stir fry additions that are often found in cans.
- Chili: Beans, diced tomatoes, pimentos, and corn can be a simple way to bulk up a beef or vegetarian chili.
- Salsa: Combine fire roasted diced tomatoes with canned pimentos, onions, and some garlic and you have a basic homemade salsa ready for dipping.
- Baked goods: Canned pumpkin is a popular choice here. From pumpkin bread, muffins, smoothies, pancakes, and even donuts, there are infinite ways you can incorporate this canned vegetable.
Do you prefer to follow a specific recipe? See some ideas below from other dietitians!
- The Best Homemade Salsa by The Oregon Dietitian
- Cheeseburger Chowder from Meme at the Living Well Kitchen
- Protein-Rich Pumpkin Spice Smoothie by Amy Gorin
- Creamy Coconut Lentil Curry from the To Taste Chefs and Dietitians
- Easy Baked Fish in Foil and Easy Beef and Bean Chili from Elizabeth Ward
- Pressure Cooker Minestrone Soup from Your Choice Nutrition
- Pasta Puttanesca from Judy Barbe
- Mexican Cornbread Muffins with Peppers and Corn by Cristel at nutriFoodie
- Do you use canned vegetables on a regular basis?
- Any favorite recipes or uses? Share below!