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Lots of canned foods can be a healthy part of your diet, but these four are always a good buy.

By Alyssa Sybertz
February 28, 2021
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Canned foods come with tons of perks: they're compact, inexpensive, easy-to-use, and last significantly longer than fresh foods. And contrary to some popular beliefs, they can also be an incredibly healthy and simple addition to meals.

But like many other types of food — fresh vs. frozen, dehydrated vs. fresh, juiced vs. raw — some canned foods are better than others. Or, to put it another way, some canned foods have more health benefits and fewer drawbacks.

Here, we've listed four ingredients you can feel good about buying by the can. Plus, we share tricks and things to look out for to be sure you're making the most nutritious pick.

Canned vegetables in opened tin cans on kitchen table. Non-perishable long shelf life foods background
Credit: OlenaMykhaylova/Getty Images

1. Beans

The reasons for adding more beans to your diet are vast and varied. They're an excellent plant-based source of energizing protein and filling fiber, while staying low in sugar and fat. They also come in tons of different varieties, sliding deliciously into recipes from Mexican to Middle Eastern.

While dried beans are also inexpensive and long-lasting, they take significantly longer to cook, often requiring hours of soaking before adding them to your meal. For that reason, canned beans are much more convenient while also delivering similar amounts of protein and fiber.

The only difference is that canned beans are packed in water and salt, which adds sodium not present in their dried state. The fix: According to a study from the University of Tennessee, simply draining and rinsing beans with water before adding them to your dish removes 41 percent of the sodium, making canned beans an A choice.

2. No-Salt-Added Vegetables

Take a stroll down the canned foods aisle at your grocery store, and you'll likely see at least two varieties of every vegetable: The classic, basic option and the no-salt-added option.

As long as you choose the latter, vegetables like green beans, carrots, peas, beets, spinach, and tomatoes will deliver just as many good-for-you antioxidants as their fresh counterparts (not to mention, you won't need to worry about them going bad before you get the chance to enjoy them).

If you can't find this variety and need to buy the regular, you can use the same draining and rinsing trick to remove some of the sodium before enjoying.

3. Fish Packed in Water

Fresh (and even frozen) seafood can be hard to come by in some places, yet incorporating foods like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines into your diet adds omega-3 fatty acids that are critical to heart and brain health. The solution: Feel free to reach for canned varieties, as long as they are packed in water and not oil.

While it's true that some oils, like olive, coconut, and avocado, also contain healthy fatty acids, the vegetable oils that seafood is packed in are typically other varieties that contain more of the unhealthy saturated fats. In fact, some canned tuna packed in oil contains double the saturated fats as the same brand's tuna packed in water. And if you can find low-sodium fish packed in water, even better.

4. Fruit Packed in Water

While fresh fruit is a tasty and nutritious sweet snack, canned fruit can be a great way to grab fruits that are out of season when you want them for a recipe. Canned fruits often boast the same amount of vitamin C and other nutrients as their fresh counterparts, but they also present the widest variety of choices when it comes to sugar content.

In short, always choose fruit packed in water and steer clear of fruit juice and any syrups. These liquids are adding sugar to a food that already contains plenty of natural sugars, priming you for blood sugar spikes that can cause cravings and energy crashes.

Case in point: One brand's can of sliced peaches packed in heavy syrup (AKA high fructose corn syrup) contain 21 grams of sugar per serving; the same brand's sliced peaches packed in 100 percent juice contain 13 grams of sugar per serving and those packed in water have just 7 grams of sugar per serving, all from the peaches themselves.

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