I hope that got your attention. Yes, you read it right. Canned food can be good for you (excuse the pun). So can frozen food. BUT (you saw this coming, didn’t you?) not all of them. Let me clarify myself.
Some canned and frozen food can be good for you.
Recently I posted a picture on Instagram of my Zesty Tuna and Rice Salad, and a reader asked what I thought of tuna, since it’s processed. That’s a really good question and she’s not the first one to ask me that.
You see, both canned and frozen foods share the fact that they are processed and can last a long time, which is how they get a bad rep. It seems like people are always sceptical of things that last for longer than they should; things like McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries, plastic bags, and Trump… which is fair enough. But with the case of canned and frozen food, I split them further into two categories, which I shall call mildly processed or heavily processed. These are not technical terms, but are used for you to understand them better.
1. Mildly processed foods are kept in as close to its original form as possible to retain maximal amounts of nutrients.
2. Heavily processed foods are made with a whole bunch of other ingredients that changes its taste, texture, look, or creates a whole entire product sometimes known as a different name from its primary ingredient.
Let me give you some examples.
For mildly processed foods, after canning: tuna is still tuna, corn is still corn, kidney beans are still kidney beans. After freezing, peas are still peas, dory fish is still dory fish, chicken wings are still chicken wings.
However, for heavily processed food, you have canned foods like tuna with spicy mayonnaise, baked beans, and luncheon meat; or frozen foods like breaded fish, onion rings, pies, pizzas, or even prata and wontons.
I hope you’re starting to see the difference. The mildly processed foods are okay, while the heavily processed foods should be consumed in moderation.
Here are 3 reasons why mildly processed food can be good for you.
1. Although they are not fresh, mildly processed canned or frozen foods are packed at their freshest
Once processed, the nutrients are “sealed in” at their peak. Now, compare them with fresh foods, like fruits or vegetables, that lose nutrients through oxidation as they are transported from afar, or sit idle on supermarket shelves for weeks.
Although some people may argue that canned foods lose certain water-soluble vitamins when heated during the canning process, this is likely to happen with conventional cooking methods anyway. What’s important is that their macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat, along with other fat-soluble vitamins, are retained, while being similar to fresh versions. These nutrients are not lost over time no matter how long they sit on the shelves.
However, this is not to say that such canned foods surpass fresh foods in quality. If possible, always go for fresh. But know that these mildly processed canned foods are not inferior in quality and you should not feel guilty about purchasing them.
2. Mildly processed canned food can be high in fat, salt, or sugar, but it can be avoided
A thing to note with mildly processed canned food are usually their high fat, salt, or sugar content, which are used to help with preservation. There are two things you can do:
- Drain the water or oil (in the case of canned fish) it is soaked in. If you want to go one step further, you may give it a rinse with clean water.
- When cooking these foods further, reduce or eliminate use of any more salt or sugar.
For example, when I make my Tangy Sardine Fried Beehoon, I don’t add any more salt to it. This is because the dish is already salty enough from using canned sardines and tamarind paste. Furthermore, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, and lime in the recipe adds sufficient taste dimensions to the dish. Or, when I make a pineapple upside down cake using canned pineapples, I reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by half.
3. Mildly processed canned and frozen food provide convenience
The idea of mildly processed foods is to provide convenience to people who may not have access to, or the ability to store its fresh counterpart for long periods. This includes people who work in rural areas or oil rigs, or do not have a fridge in their house.
Of course, for most of us who have a supermarket just around the corner, these foods are beneficial too.
- They save us time as we can just add them into our dishes without pre-cooking them (as with my Mexican Bean Soup or Zesty Tuna and Rice Salad).
- They free up space in the fridge because they can just be put in the pantry.
- By being cheaper than fresh varieties, they provide cost savings. This is because they are processed in bulk and being easier to handle, incur lower costs.
- They’re a great way to reduce food wastage (which also translates to cost savings for you!) as they do not perish quickly even if we forget to use them as planned.
The key is to make sure you choose the “healthy” mildly processed foods over the “unhealthy” heavily processed ones, which you identify by looking at their ingredient lists. If it gets too long, it’s probably more processed than you want it.
So the next time someone tells you canned food is unhealthy, point them out to the ones that are! You can have your canned food and eat it too—you just have to know which ones.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below! Are there canned or frozen foods that you think fall between the two categories I described?