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Pros and Cons of Canned Vegetables and Fruits

A 2011 survey commissioned by the Canned Food Alliance (CFA) uncovered that 84% of Americans prepare or eat meals made with canned foods at least a couple times a month and 34% rely on them at least three times a week. But what is it that makes those tin cans of tuna, beans and peas so popular? Here's a rundown on the pros and cons of canned vegetables and fruits.

The Pros

Canned food
84% of Americans prepare or eat meals made with canned foods at least a couple times a month.

Price. Canned food is cheap. This is the most obvious benefit of eating canned food, and a perhaps the main reason why students on a low budget eat canned vegetables and fruits regularly. The price benefit of canned food is particularly obvious during winter months when most vegetables are out of season and will have to be shipped from abroad.

Convenience. Fresh vegetables and fruits have a hard time beating the convenience canned foods can offer for those with busy lifestyles. Whether you're a busy parent or just an active person, keeping canned beans and vegetables on hand can let you quickly and spontaneously prepare soups, stews, and even salads

Long Shelf-Life. The advantages of canned food over fresh produce also include a longer shelf life for unopened cans. As a general rule, unopened home-canned foods have a shelf life of 1 to 1.5 years. Commercially canned foods should retain their quality until the expiration date printed on the can. For most canned goods, this date is 2-5 years from the manufacture date.

Nutrition. Even though canned often gets a bad rap, there are actually many canned vegetables and fruits that are not that bad at all in terms of nutrition. Especially compared to fresh produce that has already been stored for several days, canned vegetables and fruits may be a better source of certain nutrients. Why? Because these foods have been processed within hours of harvesting, which is when they are at the peak of their freshness and nutritional value. This procedure helps lock in many nutrients.

The Cons

Taste Aspects. In the battle fresh vs. canned food, most people agree that the flavor of fresh produce is unmatched. That's also why top chefs always cook with fresh produce.

Sodium and Sugar Content. Sodium (salt) and sugar are added to some, but not all, canned foods to enhance flavor and in some cases to maintain texture. To maximize the health benefits of the canned food you eat, opt for products that have not been enhanced with salt or sugar. You can also reduce the sodium content of canned foods by draining and rinsing them prior to use. According to one study, rinsing canned food can reduce its sodium content by 23-45%. However, by rinsing the food before cooking or eating it may also cause losses of other micronutrients.

Risk of Botulism. Improperly canned food has been associated with botulism, a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. However, commercially canned goods manufactured in the US are required to undergo a "botulinum cook" at a high temperature, and so rarely cause botulism. Home-canned foods with low acid content are more likely causes of this potentially fatal disease. Nevertheless, you should also take precautions to minimize your risk of botulism from canned foods that have been produced commercially. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends disposing of dented cans as well as cans that are bulging, leaking, rusting or badly dented, or that contain food with a foul odor.

Exposure to BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly found in aluminum and tin cans, has received a lot of attention in recent years. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown BPA to be toxic even at low doses and have linked BPA exposure to many health problems including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, neurological disorders and infertility. So far, the FDA has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but has refused to extend the ban to other products, saying it still needs further evidence.

Exposure to Tin. If you eat your canned food well before the expiration date and don't eat food that has been stored in an open can, exposure to tin is not likely to be a concern. However, old or improperly stored canned food can contain tin which may cause gastrointestinal problems.