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Discover 3 Ways Canned Foods Fit into a Holistic Lifestyle and how adding canned food can help to preserve nutrition, enhance taste, maximize your budget, and help to reduce food waste and improve sustainability efforts.
Canned Foods Are Our History
Canning is a traditional food-preservation method that has played a critical role in the evolution of human life as we know it today.
In the early days, before refrigerators and freezers, grocery stores and fast-food restaurants, our families needed to rely on food-preservation methods to ensure there was enough food to endure the hard times when food was scarce.
From ensuring their families had delicious and nutritious food to eat during the winter, to saving money, time and resources, our families age-old traditions were more than just important, they were critical to survival.
Canned Foods Are A Part Of Our Future
Fast forward to the present day, and there is virtually no need to preserve food. With nearly 24/7 access to grocery stores, food delivery services, Amazon prime, and Grub Hub – who has the time to can foods when fresh is easily available?
As I like to ask in return – who has time to whip up homemade marinara sauce every time you have spaghetti dinner? Who has the time to chop and prepare fresh salsa every time you indulge in taco Tuesday? Who has time to soak dried beans overnight before preparing them in a dish to enjoy?
Unfortunately, in our modern-day culture, canned foods have gotten a bad rap.
From the perception that canned food is the ‘leftover stuff nobody wants’ to the perception that canned foods are less healthy than fresh or frozen, or even worse, contain dangerous chemicals like BPA – it can be completely understandable that as a consumer, there are many hesitations of consuming canned foods.
My Family Enjoys Canned Food
As a small-time farmer in The Millennial Garden and backyard homesteader, my husband and I take our food preservation very seriously and have used caning as a method of preserving foods for the past 4-years.
From pickling our own homegrown cucumbers to preserving our yearly black raspberry harvest with homemade blackberry jam, to dozens of cans of tomato sauce and salsa, we take pride in the fact that we are able to preserve the food we worked so hard to grow, while also preserving the taste and nutrition, saving money, and limiting our carbon footprint.
As a dietitian, I understand that everyone does not have the time or interest in having their own garden or canning their own foods – but I always take the time to educate my clients that canned foods can play a positive role in a happy and healthy holistic lifestyle.
In this post I am going to be breaking down the top 3 Ways Canned Food Fits into a Holistic Lifestyle and sharing more about what I learned on my trip to California, one of the richest agricultural centers in the world, with Pacific Coast Producers.
Pacific Coast Producers is an Agricultural Cooperative, owned by over 160 family-farms located in Central and Northern California that specialize in canning fruits and tomatoes for private brands throughout the world.
California is one of the five Mediterranean climates around the world, making it an ideal place for fruits and vegetables to be grown in abundance.
While my travel on this trip was sponsored by PCP, this post was not. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
#1 – Canned Food Preserves or Enhances Nutrition
Myth: Canned Foods Are Not As Healthy As Fresh Or Frozen
One of the concerns I get from my clients most often is the concern that canned food is simply not as nutritious as fresh or frozen foods.
While this is true in some cases where excess sodium or sugar have been added, it is not true for foods that have been canned without extra unwanted ingredients.
Truth: There are hundreds of canned food items on the supermarket shelf that do not contain excessive amounts of added salt or sugar, making them equally as nutritious as fresh or frozen.
Fruits and vegetables that are grown to be canned are typically harvested from the field and canned in the facility in less than 5 hours time. This is an incredible feat which helps to preserve the integrity of the nutrients when they are at their peak at harvest time.
In some cases, this may even mean that fruit put into cans may retain more nutrients, as fruits and vegetables that have traveled many days or even weeks before you consume them may contain fewer nutrients through nutrient degradation (1).
Canned Tomatoes May Increase Bioavailability of Lycopene
There are studies that have shown that certain nutrients are more bioavailable when consumed in canned form versus fresh, such as the vitamin C found in peaches and lycopene found in tomatoes.
Tomatoes happen to be one of the most studied foods on the planet, with more than 650 human studies examining the health benefits of consuming tomato products (2).
For my clients who are looking to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, lycopene is an important nutrient to be familiar with.
Lycopene is an antioxidant, a member of the carotenoid family, that has been shown to help to inactivate free radicals, protect against certain forms of cancer, and slow the development of atherosclerosis.
In clinical research, it has been discovered that the lycopene found with tomatoes is 2.5 times more bioavailable, or better absorbed by the body than fresh tomatoes (3).
This research helps to confirm that adding canned tomato products, whether in the form of canned simple tomatoes, salsa, spaghetti sauce, and more can help to contribute to an anti-inflammatory diet.
A Note on Nightshades
Some of my clients struggling with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions worry that they should not consume tomato products because they are considered to be a nightshade vegetable.
I only recommend pulling nightshades in very individual circumstances, in the event that someone is sensitive to solanine or a specific member of the nightshade family.
Proceeding with Food Sensitivity Testing is the ideal way to determine if you have a sensitivity, as this prevents you from needed to unnecessarily eliminate otherwise healthful foods from the diet.
What About BPA Used in Cans?
I understand the concern about BPA being used as a can liner in canned products, as BPA has been shown to be harmful to human health (4).
Thankfully, _90% of the cans being produced in America today are BPA-free.
It is my understanding that the time and place to worry about BPA liners is when the canned food is imported from outside the US, as regulations are not as strict.
What Else Goes into the Can?
Pacific Coast Producers is a private label company meaning they make products for other companies. Imagine your Wegman’s brand tomato sauce or Walmart’s
At this point in the processing stage, all of the ingredients added to each can are to each customer’s specifications. Salt, spices and herbs can all be added to make a product that in uniquely theirs.
What is more important is what is NOT in the can – artific
There is no need to add any artificial ingredients or preservatives because the process of canning in and of itself is the preservation method.
What About Salt and Sugar?
As mentioned above, it is each private label customers exact specifications that call for various amounts of salt and sugar, meaning, you’ll have to read the label on each product.
In the past, consumer preference was fruit canned in a heavy syrup, but over the past 5 years, there has been a dramatic shift in consumer preference from syrup to 100% fruit juice or water, likely due to excess sugar concerns.
Today on the shelf, it is most likely you will find a fruit canned in 100% juice, or even simply packed in water.
#2 Canning Food Preserves Delicious Taste
Myth: Canned Foods Are Made From The ‘Leftovers’ Nobody Wants
While on the Heart of California Orchard and Field Tour I had the opportunity to see both a peach orchard a tomato field. I learned a
Truth: Canned food is made from the highest quality produce and the fruit goes from field to can in less than 4 hours total.
At the Micheli Peach Orchard, we saw beautiful peach trees, each of which can produce upwards of 300-400 peaches per season. Each peach can weigh a half-pound or more, making this quite a sight to see.
Keep in mind, every peach is hand-picked every year.
There are two main types of peaches grown in California, a cling peach and a freestone peach. It is best to use a cling peach in canning.
There are many reasons, but the biggest difference is the texture. Cling is more firm and can withstand the canning process well enough to produce an
July 4th picking date is the official picking start date, and from there is hard work for the next 4-months. Peaches are planted in 4 variety groups: extra early, early, late and extra late. This means that the peaches are ready for harvest at different times, so you can have a longer season and a higher yield.
In the field, trees are nourished and watered with micro-irrigation systems which allow trees to be easily spoon-fed the nutrients they need. Each farmer takes leaf samples to assess the trees nutrition to ensure they are getting what they need to thrive.
It was clear that the
With more than 100 pickers in the orchard, the most important part is to treat your people well. At the Micheli Peach Orchard, they provide housing for their employees, have 90% retention and return rate, and on average each employee has been employed at the farm for more than 15 years.
But What About Pesticides?
It was interesting to learn the new and innovative ways that farmers work to reduce the need to use pesticides on their crops.
From what I understand, making the decision to use pesticides is truly a devastating one. The decision to use pesticides means something has gone wrong, and that this is the only way to save the crop.
At the peach orchard, they are trying to avoid this by using more biologically natural options. One way they do this is to use a pheromone emitter. Each tree gets a tag that emits pheromones which over-saturates the orchard with female hormone for the fruit moth, which confuses the males, making them leave. This helps to reduce the need
From the farmers perspective, when you have to spray, call pest control and use it when you need it, but hopefully, you don’t. If you do, you must use very focused material to treat the problem, and never use overtreat.
He believes all farms are going down a better path when it comes to the frequency of pesticide use.
From Field to Can
After visiting Micheli Peach Orchard we drive a short time to the Oroville Cannery where these fresh peaches are taken from the trees to be processed.
From arrival to the facility to the finished canned product, the process takes a mere 40 minutes. Yes, that’s right, your canned peaches were canned at the peak of freshness, sealing in that delicious fresh flavor.
What I found most interesting is that this plant only runs 90 days during the year, 24/7, to make the most of the fresh harvest. Here over 2 million cans 2 million fruit bowls are processed per day to provide enough canned products to sustain the full year before the process starts all over again.
At Muller Ranch Tomato Farm
Like peaches, tomatoes are taken from field to can in less than 5 hours, preserving the taste and quality of this delicious fruit. We got the opportunity to fisit Muller Ranch and their tomoato fiels to learn about how tomatos are grown and harvested.
It doesn’t rain in the summer in California, with the average rainstorm happening once every 10 years. Thousands of acres are planted in 5 foot beds, 5 rows at a time, and at the end of each planting season, over 20 million tomato plants have been planted by hand.
All plants must be watered via extensive drip irrigation systems. These systems allow the plants to thrive with the water they need while preventing unwanted weeds from growing by denying them the water they need.
Once they are ready to be harvested, the official harvest is on, running 24/7 for 60 days straight. Mechanically harvested by an enormous machine, this combine picks up
These tomatoes bred to withstand the mechanical harvest. They are also bred for firmness, to have fewer seeds, while maintaining a sweet taste. This helps to increase the yield per acre.
This seed selection is generated from traditional breeding practices by big seed companies, and to date, there are no GMO tomatoes on the market.
The farm does produce over 25 varieties of tomatoes from conventional to organic.
Woodland Tomato Cannery
Tomatoes harvested in the field to can be taken to the cannery and canned in less than a total of 5 hours, but typically this process can be done in less than 2. Many of the farms are less than 15-miles from the plant, meaning the process can get underway quickly.
Running nearly 300 loads per day at the cannery, nothing sits for long. It is extremely important for the quality of the final product for the process to go as quick as possible.
The tomato is 94% water and soluble solids, so in 105-degree weather, the tomatoes can’t sit or else they start to explode. The producers don’t want to lose any of the fruit, water, or byproducts, as those are used in other products like juice.
This cannery runs 24/7 for 90 days a year and in this time will processes over 12 million tons of product at the peak of harvest, so it can taste the best all year long.
95% of all tomatoes come from California in the United States, and the canning process allows us to enjoy ripe, delicious tomatoes all year long.
#3 Canned Food Helps With Sustainability Efforts
Sustainability is important for many reasons to the producers in California. From the way the produce is grown, to how it is packaged, and what it is packaged in, from farm to table sustainability is always kept in mind.
At peak, the Oroville Fruit Cannery is using, using 1.6 million gallons of water per day. This is needed for the final product, but also for the cans: for steam, for cleaning, to spray & rinse.
This water goes into a drainage system, which is really a way to recycle the water. This water is pumped out and sprayed on fields to grow grass, cut grass which is then cut, baled & feed to cows. This byproduct helps to irrigate
Have you ever wondered what happens to those millions of peach pits after the harvest?
They are saved and put into a semi-truck where they are hauled to a co-generation plant and burned to make electricity because they are a great fuel source.
Product Waste in General?
At the cannery, the goal is to not generate waste in the first place by keeping multiple products that can be used for multiple purposed.
When they do have byproducts, like peach skin which has been removed due to consumer preference. which cannot be used elsewhere, they are sent to a cattle feed truck and feeds cattle, which results in happy cows.
Can You Recycle Cans?
All canned food is packaged in steel cans which are one of the most recycle friendly items in the world.
“Steel has the highest recycling rate of any material, at more than 88 percent” making it an environmentally friendly product tha
At Pacific Coast Producers, no BPA is used in any cans, so the cans are lined with tin to prevent rust and any potential food contamination.
“Steels cans may be recycled infinitely with no loss of quality. Unlike glass, paper or plastic, metal is in limited supply, putting extra importance on recycling”(6).
Canned Food Overall
While fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are always a fantastic option, I also want you to be open about the role that canned food can play in your life as well.
As I teach my clients, healthy is what you add, not what you take away.
What You Get When You Add Canned Foods
- Choosing canned means that you can enjoy seasonal produce all year long. It means you can stop buying those sad, unripe fresh tomatoes from the grocery store in the middle of winter in favor of sweet, ripe produce.
- Canning helps to preserve the taste and the quality where it would otherwise be lost.
- Additionally, it is not sustainable to purchase out-of-season produce that has been commuted across the country.
- Finally, if you’re like me and my family – canning means you can save and preserve the food you spent the whole year to grow.
Have any questions about canned foods? Be sure to contact me and let me know!