Canned foods, which many of us have been stocking up on during the current Covid-19 outbreak, are often regarded as convenience food: Easy to prepare but high in sodium, sugar and preservatives.
But not all canned products are unhealthy. Some of them are just as nutritious - if not more so - than their fresh counterparts, said Ms Yuliana Zhang, a plant-based nutritionist.
"When it comes to nutrition, all forms count. Many health organisations such as the USDA have recognised that canned, fresh, frozen and dried foods all help to contribute to healthy eating as long as everything is in good balance," she said.
FRESH IS NOT ALWAYS BEST
A study by the University of California, Davis, found that fresh vegetables like spinach can lose up to 75 per cent of their vitamin C within seven days of harvest. Blanching and freezing them may help to preserve some nutrients, but not for long.
It is worth noting that the process of canning preserves food.
"The key is to find healthier canned food products, and combine them with fresh ingredients in a meal," said Ms Zhang.
"Choose canned products that have a lower amount of sodium, sugar and saturated fat, such as those with the Healthier Choice Symbol. Also check the ingredient list - it should contain simple, key ingredients."
CANNED TOMATOES AND TOMATO PRODUCTS (SUCH AS TOMATO PUREE AND TOMATO PASTE)
Lycopene, the antioxidant that gives tomato its red colour, is more easily absorbed by the body after cooking or processing. The same goes for other canned vegetables that are high in vitamin A and carotenes, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin.
These nutrients are activated through the canning process.
Fresh fruits are always preferred but if you are short of time, having canned fruits is not such a bad idea. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, adults who incorporated canned fruits and vegetables into their diets had an overall higher consumption of fruits and vegetables as well as nutrient intake than those who did not.
Be sure to choose fruits canned in their own juice. If your canned fruit has added sugar, drain and rinse the fruit to reduce the sugar and salt level.
CANNED FATTY FISH
Fatty fish like sardines and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, the two essential nutrients that most Singaporeans lack.
Omega-3 is a good fat that helps to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels that are essential for brain and heart health.
Vitamin D aids calcium absorption for bone health. An increasing number of studies have found a link between a lack of vitamin D and various chronic diseases.
Including canned fatty fish in your meal plan can help you meet the Health Promotion Board's recommendation to have at least two servings of fish a week. One serving is equivalent to 90g of cooked fish.
And don't chuck the bones from canned sardines, as they are an additional source of calcium. Mash them with the meat for easier consumption.
CANNED BEANS (LEGUMES)
A good source of fibre and minerals, canned peas, beans and lentils are naturally low in fat and cholesterol-free. So consider swopping dried beans for canned beans if you are short of preparation time.
Source: The New Paper © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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