Is canned food healthy for you?
9 March 2018 FOOD
By: Natasha Archary
Recent panic over the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa has every consumer in a frenzy. What is safe to eat? Should we stop purchasing only particular brands? Are fresh foods a safer option?
Many households in South Africa rely heavily on canned food for daily use. It’s cheaper, easy to store and has a long shelf life. The question is, how healthy are canned food items?
With many canned foods including animal protein in the ingredients list, it may be a good time to start questioning whether it’s healthy for you and your family.
South Africa’s canned food consumption increased by 50% during the period of 2012 to 2017. The bulk of the canned food products that are popular with the country’s average households, are canned beans, preserved ready meals like spaghetti and meatballs and tinned fish.
Nutritionists and dieticians cannot reach consensus on this question however and while some advocate for canned foods, there are others who are strongly against including canned food products in your diet.
What do the facts say?
- Canned vegetables and fruits do retain some nutritional benefits, but can be high in concentrated sodium and sugar. The preservation liquid or brine that most produce are packaged in.
- Food items that are ready to heat and eat, are often saturated with unhealthy preserving chemicals. The food is also heavily processed and may contain significantly high amounts of deadly bacteria. Yes, listeriosis is one of them but the more common Clostridium botulinum as well, the bacteria that causes a serious illness that can lead to paralysis and death.
- It is important to not eat any items from cans that are dented, bulging, cracked or leaking.
- Canned items may contain trace amounts of BPA (Bisphenol-A), a chemical that is often used in food packaging like plastic and cans, which is set to have a toxic effect on endocrine function.
- Read the ingredients list to check the ratio of actual meat and other additional meat-like ingredients. This will help make a more informed decision.
We do know that when it comes to food choices and affordability, no two South Africans will be at the same level to make decisions without thinking about the value for each rand spent. On this basis, canned food may be the only alternative to providing for a family and still staying within monthly financial constraints.
That said, it may be a safer bet to hold off on canned meat purchases until our country gets the Listeriosis outbreak under control.