Let’s face it: canned foods get a pretty bad rap health-wise. While buying fresh produce and meat/fish is the socially acceptable norm, there comes a time in all of our lives when we just don’t have time to make our twice weekly run to the grocery store. Enter canned foods. The convenience that these goodies offer are second to none, sitting patiently in your pantry to help you out of your next meal bind. Their handiness aside, the reality is that canned foods can be just as nutritious as the fresh foods we’re constantly encouraged to purchase if you know which ones to opt for. Given how tightly packed they are, the vitamins and minerals they contain are often even more dense than their original formatted counterparts.
Another main benefit of canned foods is their shelf life. While most of us aren’t preparing for the apocalypse, it’s reassuring to know that there can be months-old food left over in our homes if we forget to go shopping. Often, we’ll head to our local supermarket and buy much more fresh food than we can keep up with consuming before it goes bad. A couple of days later, you come home in hopes of preparing a satisfying salad only to notice that your alfalfa sprouts are furry and your eggplant is growing mold – and not the kind that tastes good on blue cheese. We’ve hunted high and low and come up with 15 of the most nutrient-dense canned foods you can opt for in hopes of keeping your shelves stocked for the next time there’s nothing left in the fridge. You might even love some of them so much that you reach for them first instead of their fresh counterparts.
15. Canned Tomatoes
While tomatoes may not exactly seem like the most nutritious food around, they contain a high amount of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant believed to have a protective effect against several different types of cancers. They’re also packed with vitamin C and fiber and extremely versatile, acting as a healthy addition to almost any meal. They’re one of the most inexpensive canned fruits (or vegetables, as most people view them) you can get and if they’re going to help protect us against cancer, we’re definitely not opposed to throwing them into our next pasta sauce.
14. Canned Smoked Mackerel
While smoked mackerel may be considered slightly unhealthier than its natural version given the nitrous process used to smoke it, it tastes incredible and provides you with a significant dose of protein for the price. Like most fish, it’s very high in the omega-3 fatty acids that are so essential to our hair and nail health. At usually a dollar or less per can, this is a protein source that you really can’t go wrong with if you want to stick to a budget. Add it to a cream cheese and black pepper paste for a pop of taste to be spread over crackers.
13. Canned Sardines
While you might automatically associate sardines to cats, they’re great for humans too. Second only to calf liver, they offer the highest level of vitamin B12 you can find in a food. This vitamin helps in maintaining optimal heart health and energy levels. Make sure to opt for the water-based canned version instead of the tomato-based one, as it has lower levels of sodium in it. Sardines are a great option if you get tired of other canned fish such as salmon and mackerel. They’re a big injection of flavor next to a plate of grilled vegetables.
12. Canned Salmon
Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, packing a massive nutritional punch within just a small can. Most canned salmon comes with the fish’s bones intact, adding to the level of calcium you’re getting out of the fish. When you buy fresh salmon, often the fat is left on the portion – leaving you to either do the work of removing it or ingest more calories. With canned salmon, you won’t have to worry about consuming excess fat as it is packaged without it. Add some to a salad or sandwich for a quick bit of protein.
11. Canned Pinto Beans
You’d think that fresh beans would be healthier than canned ones, but that isn’t the case with pinto beans. Both versions boast identical nutritional value, as they need to be cooked for equal amounts of time before being ingested. These little beans offer all sorts of benefits, providing a great source of vitamin B1, folate, manganese and protein. Add them to a soup for an instant energy boost or to a chili to make it heartier and more filling.
10. Canned Prunes
Prunes prunes, the more you eat, the more you…All songs aside, prunes are rich in phenols such as rutin: a powerful anti-inflammatory that can be great for soothing sore muscles after a workout. They’re also known for their laxative properties, which might come in handy if you’re experiencing bloating or constipation. Prunes are packed with vitamin C and enable the human body to absorb iron. While they might not be the most obvious canned fruit choice, the health benefits they offer are plentiful.
9. Canned Chili
If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to make a full meal, canned chili contains almost everything you need in one sitting. Opt for a low sodium option and you’ll get all of the iron, protein, vitamin B and zinc that you need. While chili may contain some fat, the complete nutritional package it offers far outweighs its cons. Reach for a can of it the next time that you’ve had a long day at work instead of eating carbs. You’ll experience higher energy levels and less of a sugar crash.
8. Canned Tuna
Containing just 140 calories on average, a 185 gram can of tuna delivers a whopping 30 grams of protein! Given that it’s also one of the cheapest canned fish you can buy, this should be a staple in everybody’s pantry. It’s uses are endless – you can add it to a casserole, sandwich, salad, pasta or turn it into a snack by snacking on it spread over crackers with some pesto or tomatoes. It’s low in saturated fat and high in vitamin B12 and niacin. What’s not to love?
7. Canned Spinach
Leafy greens are an integral part of any diet and spinach is probably the healthiest kind you can get. If you can’t make it to the grocery store for a while, consider stocking up your pantry with the canned version. While the idea of consuming canned spinach might seem strange, you can reap the same nutritional benefits from it as from the regular kind. It offers high levels of vitamin C and is commonly associated with being beneficial to heart health and preventing cancer. High in carotenoids, spinach can even help make your skin look more radiant. Not bad for a small tin of greens.
6. Canned Figs
Figs are a rich source of dietary fiber as well as manganese and phytochemicals, which have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Given that they’re naturally sweet, they provide a quick boost of energy and are rich in potassium. If you’re tired of consuming bananas in your pre or post workout shake, consider substituting them for canned figs. A 100 gram serving contains just 74 calories and 20% fiber. If shakes aren’t your thing, try adding dried figs to a salad with walnuts and goat cheese for a delicious spin on lunch.
5. Canned Lentils
If you’re hoping to lower your cholesterol levels, canned lentils can brag about that being one of their main benefits. They’re filled with fibre that helps keep your heart healthy and can stabilize your blood sugar while keeping food cravings under control – potentially leading to weight loss. They also contain two types of B vitamins, quite a bit of protein and are low calorie to boot. A half can of lentils only contains 90 calories, making them an ideal substitute for the pasta or rice you usually have for dinner.
4. Canned Kidney Beans
Similarly to canned pinto beans, kidney beans require quite a bit of cooking before they’re able to be eaten – making the canned version just as healthy as the dry one. Each little bean contains a high amount of fiber, iron and memory-boosting vitamin B1. They’re also very beneficial to those who suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia, releasing their energy slowly and avoiding any sugar spikes. If you’re vegetarian or are trying to consume less meat, kidney beans are a great source of protein and an excellent addition to your lunch or dinner.
3. Canned Pumpkin
Before we get into canned pumpkin’s health benefits, let’s clarify that we’re not talking about the kind that’s used for pie filling and is loaded with sugar. Opt for natural canned pumpkin flesh, which is low in calories and totally fat-free! Given that canned pumpkin contains less water than the original version, the plentiful nutrients it has to offer are densely packed. It contains 500% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 10% iron and 10% vitamin C. If that didn’t convince you, it’s one of the highest plant-based sources of fiber. Add some canned pumpkin to your morning oatmeal along with a bit of cinnamon for an instant flavor kick.
2. Canned Clams
Provided you don’t have a shellfish allergy, canned clams are an excellent source of zinc and protein – two components that are essential for a healthy immune system. Beyond that, they’re incredibly high in iron, which might come in handy if you really don’t feel like munching on red meat to prevent anemia. Like every other seafood source on this list, clams are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and are a source of potassium, manganese and phosphorous. Add these to a vegetable stir-fry or pasta, but watch out if you have high cholesterol levels – clams contain a bit of it.
1. Canned Coconut Milk
There’s a reason that coconut milk is so widely used in Asian, Caribbean and South American cuisines. While it is high in oil and saturated fat, we all need healthy fats in our diets and this is one of them. Often watered down in its canned format, coconut milk is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and even boasts cancer risk lowering benefits. Along with avocados and nuts, moderate portions of coconut milk are some of the best healthy fat options to incorporate into what you eat. Add a bit of it to a smoothie, your morning oatmeal or your baking to replace milk.