Canned foods have been shown to offer just as much nutritional value as fresh or frozen foods. That makes them a cost-effective alternative to pricey organic produce. But what if you’re trying to lose weight? Plenty of nutritionists say weight loss doesn’t have to be an expensive affair involving cash-depleting trips to the farmers’ market. Instead, consider the canned-food aisle at your grocery store.
“Canned foods can be used [for weight loss] because it’s quick, easy and effortless to pop open a can and have something sweet and satisfying,” Marjorie Freedman, a nutrition professor at San Jose State University, tells Can Science. “And you’re getting vitamins, minerals and fiber.”
No matter where you live or what your budget is, it’s possible to find a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins all year round. If you live in what feels for part of the year like the far reaches of Antarctica, where fresh vegetables are scarce, you can always find corn, beets or green beans — free of preservatives, and picked at the peak of their freshness — in a can. And unlike with fresh foods, it’s easy to quickly calculate calories, fat content and sodium levels in canned foods by reading the labels and buying the appropriate serving size.
“Canned veggies are the perfect food to load up on if you’re trying to lose weight because you can always keep a few cans in your cupboard ready to open and eat when hunger is gnawing at you,” Joyce Hanna, the associate director of the Health Improvement Program at Stanford University, tells us in an email.
Here are a few tips for shopping for canned foods when you’re trying to lose weight:
- Read the labels. Although fruits and veggies usually don’t have any fat in them, check the label to make sure they aren’t loaded with sodium or sugar. Choose fish packed in water, avoid fatty products like processed meats and buy fruit that’s not soaked in syrup. And while you may’ve heard about the canned-soup diet, be aware that not all soups count as healthy diet food. “Heavy creamed products such as cream soups can have a lot of total fat and saturated fat,” says Susan Mitchell, a registered dietitian and blogger.
- Choose fiber and protein. “The more fiber you eat, the fuller you’re going to be,” says Dr. Freedman. Put cans of beans in chili, quesadillas and breakfast burritos and start making pumpkin muffins, breads and soups. “Fiber gives bulk without the calories,” she says, adding that beans and canned fish are excellent sources of protein. “These are staples for people looking to consume a healthful diet.”
- One size doesn’t fit all. Cans come in all sizes, from tiny little thimblefuls to supersized portions. “[There is] a variety of can sizes depending on family size, options for reduced sodium and fat, and even portable sizes for lunch such as pop top tuna cans or cans of fruit packed in water,” writes Dr. Mitchell. “Top two items to watch would be calories per serving and how many servings in a can. Sometimes a can could be two servings yet someone may think it’s only one so the calories would need to be doubled.”
- Rinse the product. Canned foods can sometimes be high in sodium, so get in the habit of rinsing beans and other vegetables before consuming them. “Always choose the lower-sodium item,” says Hanna — you don’t want to exceed 2,300 milligrams per day. “Add your own herbs and spices as a substitute for sodium. You may find the end result more flavorful than the higher-sodium option.”
- Stock up. Buy extra cans of proteins, fruits and veggies so you always have something healthy on hand. Dr. Mitchell recommends stocking up when canned items are on sale: “This is a great way to stretch your money and keep a stocked pantry. Think about the canned foods that you use in your go-to meals that are quick to put together during the week and keep those canned items on hand.”