Study claims some canned foods are as healthy as fresh, and cheaper too

Sofi Papamarko
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Feeding a lot of mouths on a shoestring budget is a reality that more and more families are contending with --- and often, super affordable fast food wins out. How can parents balance their family's nutritional needs along with their budgets?

A new study claims certain canned foods are not just more affordable, but sometimes just as healthy as fresh foods, reports Science Daily. The researchers compared cost against key nutrients from canned, fresh, frozen and dried varieties of common foods.

The market-basket study was funded by the Canned Food Alliance, unsurprisingly, and spearheaded by Cathy Kapica, an adjunct professor of nutrition at Tufts University, and Wendy Weiss, of Ketchum Global Health and Wellness.  They concluded that when price, nutritional value, waste and prep time were taken into account, canned foods are a smart choice.

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Some of the study's key findings as reported by Science Daily are:

• Pinto Beans -- When the cost of preparation time is taken into consideration, canned pinto beans cost $1 less per serving as a source of protein and fiber than dried beans. This is because it takes about six minutes to prepare a can of pinto beans while it takes almost 2½ hours (soaking and cooking) for dried beans to be meal-ready.

• Tomatoes -- It is nearly 60 percent more expensive to obtain dietary fiber from fresh tomatoes as from the same portion of canned tomatoes. Not only is the price of canned tomatoes lower than fresh for the same serving size, but fresh tomatoes take longer to prepare, adding to the real cost of fresh.

• Corn -- When looking at purchase price alone, fresh corn is less expensive than canned or frozen. However, when the cost of waste (most notably the cob) is factored in, as well as time to prepare, canned corn offers the same amount of dietary fiber as fresh at a 25 percent savings.

• Spinach -- With a lower cost-per-serving than fresh or frozen, canned spinach provides vitamin C at an 85 percent savings when compared to fresh or frozen.

But after all that we hear about the benefits of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins, are canned foods really the better choice?

"It truly depends upon the food category and the choice being made," says Theresa Albert, author of Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Every Day, and food and health correspondent for CTV. "If it is a choice between a can of beans and a drive-through, well, the can of beans wins."

Registered holistic nutritionist Rachelle Wood says that fresh foods are much better than canned goods.

"Certain canned foods are full of added sodium and the cans can be lined with BPA," says Wood. "I recommend clients choose the Eden line of canned goods because they have no BPA in their cans or lids. President's Choice Blue Menu have a line of salt-free canned vegetables but the cans contain BPA. Added sodium preserves the food's shelf life, but a high-sodium diet has been linked to heart disease."

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Albert agrees that additives are an issue in certain canned goods.

"Cooked fruits and vegetables [which are the kind that tend to be canned] can be diminished in nutrients and pumped full of sugar. But again, is it a choice between no fruit and canned?"

However, Albert mentions that the nutrients in tomatoes are actually more easily absorbed by humans after being cooked and canned.

"In this case, you may just have to watch what comes with the tomatoes, such as added salt, sugar or fat," she says.

Despite their drawbacks, canned foods are undeniably cheap and convenient.  A few dollars of canned beans, tomatoes and corn can make enough hearty chili to feed a family of six. Just make sure that you're also incorporating a wide variety of whole, fresh foods into your diet, as well.

Check out the video below showing how to make a popcorn burrito. Yup, you heard that right. Popcorn has recently been tooted as having a surprising amount of antioxidant properties.