Food snobs at the farmer’s market may look down their noses at less-than-fresh veggies, but isn’t popping open a can of French green beans healthier than shoveling down a Brie-topped artisan baguette? Experts tell us to amp up our veggie intake for optimal health. But can we count the canned kind? Read on to find out if only fresh will do, or if confined veggies will do too.
We all know that vegetables add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to our diets, helping us fight cancer, heart disease, and illness while keeping our waistlines slim. Yet headlines warn us that the average American simply doesn’t eat enough veggies. But how much is enough, and how do we work more veg into our meals? The government website, Choose My Plate, indicates that the amount of vegetables needed for a healthy diet depends on your age, gender, and physical-activity level. For most adults, that means 2 to 3 cups is recommended each day.
That might not be a difficult goal to reach for those who have developed a habit of featuring veggies in every meal, but it can be a stretch for many of us. In fact, we might forego buying fresh veggies during grocery trips, because we know they’ll likely end up uneaten and rotting in our fridge.
But here’s the good news: canned veggies can be even better then fresh in some cases. According to Consumer Affairs, “Canned and frozen veggies (low-sodium versions) are picked and harvested at their nutritional peak.” Fresh vegetables can languish on trucks and in supermarket cold cases for days or even weeks before you choose them, losing nutritional value like a ticking time bomb. “Buying fresh produce should be more for those consumers who routinely eat their vegetables, or already have a meal plan put together that incorporates them,” advises Consumer Affairs. So, if haven’t yet established a regular veggie-eating routine, canned wins.
That should be music to the ears of canned vegetable-lovers everywhere. Brian Zucker Fuhr, who is making a career transition from digital advertising to food policy and nutrition science, champions one particular canned delight: peas. “I love canned peas,” he proclaims proudly. He calls them “the ultimate comfort food,” transporting him, “to this make-believe world of an English boarding school where I believe mushy peas are always on the menu.” He’s spent years, he tells us, perfecting a recipe to serve with Sunday lunch, but he warns, “Only Le Sueur Very Young Small Sweet Peas will do.”
Elizabeth Catstree, a full-time mom from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, England, is also out and proud about loving the shelved stuff. “Personally, I don’t consider tinned (canned) or frozen vegetables to be inferior to fresh,” she shared. “With busy lives and multiple activities to fit into one day, as long as vegetables are part of our main meal of the day, I’ll take them any way that is easy.” She points out that many fresh vegetables are only in season for a short time, so if she wants her favorites year-round, canned is the way to go. She loves to use canned tomatoes and carrots for an easy curry, but her favorite is canned white asparagus, which she puts on pizza or layers into cheesy raclette to up the nutrition factor.
Canned veggies were a staple for Sara Mass, an interior designer from Galloway, New Jersey, growing up, as they were her dad’s preference. Now that she’s an adult, she eats more fresh vegetables than canned, but she and her family still have a soft spot for the canned peas-and-carrots combo. It’s the only canned food that made it to their modern Thanksgiving Day table, and it was her son’s first solid meal, ladled into his toddler mouth by some slightly older cousins. Her son won’t touch them now, but “if someone offered them up to me, I’d happily take a helping of nostalgia and the salty goodness of mushy peas and carrots.”
Manhattan born-and-bred Jill Bennett can’t get enough of canned green beans. “I love them,” she gushes. In fact, she buys them by the 8-pack case at Costco, and eats them with everything. Bennett recently hit the 30-pound milestone on her weight-loss journey, and reports that canned green beans have factored strongly into her success. “I like to have a minimum of three foods on my plate for every meal,” just “for variety, not because I’m OCD,” she joked. “When I find I only have two, I add either applesauce or a can of green beans. I’m feeling good at 30 pounds lighter and since I’ve been watching my carbs, I’m grabbing the beans more and more these days.”
So the next time you’re ready to throw in the healthy-eating towel because you can’t make it to the store, remember that you have the American Heart Association’s blessing to go canned and stay home. “All produce counts,” they assure, “which means canned, fresh and frozen varieties can help you reach your goal.”
And for those of us who prefer the soothing texture and mild taste of canned vegetables to fresh: Let your Veggie Freak Flag fly. When it comes to nutrition, you can have your mushy peas and eat them, too.