10 of the best canned foods for healthy meals

These days, the last thing I want to do is spend hours upon hours in my kitchen preparing a meal.

Canned foods are a staple in my pantry to add nutrients to my meals and make cooking a lot easier. I often stock canned beans, chicken, diced tomatoes, and black beans so I can quickly make salads, wraps, and soups.

In fact, canned foods are convenient and inexpensive alternatives to fresh and frozen foods. They make it possible to eat seasonal foods all year round.

While some packaged products get a bad reputation for their high levels of sodium, there are many unsalted and low-salt options.

In general, you don’t have to shop at upscale health food stores or spend a lot of money on groceries to improve your health. Canned foods are affordable and can make healthy eating easy.

Here are 10 of the healthiest packaged foods.

Canned beans include chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, red kidney beans, and kidney beans. Not only is it a staple in vegetarian and vegan diets but it also saves you a lot of time, as dried beans require hours of soaking before you can cook them.

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In general, canned beans are rich in protein and fiber but low in fat.

Eating a diet rich in fiber is vital for lowering cholesterol and weight. That’s because fiber helps you feel fuller for longer, which can lead to eating less food overall (1And 2).

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends choosing unsalted canned items. That’s because high salt intake is linked to increased blood pressure, which can increase the risk of stroke, kidney disease, and heart disease (3And 4).

Make sure the label says “unsalted” or “no salt added.” If the list of ingredients contains salt or sodium, it is best to dry the pills and rinse them before use.

Uses

Canned beans work well in soups, stews, chili, salads, fresh sauces, casseroles, meat dishes, and baked desserts.

Canned meat and fish are excellent, inexpensive sources of protein.

Make sure to buy proteins canned in water or brine, not oil or sauces, for their low calorie and fat content.

For example, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of tuna canned in oil contains 200 calories and 8 grams of fat, while the same amount of tuna canned in water contains 90 calories and 1 gram of fat (5And 6).

Salmon, tuna, sardines, and chicken are great options for canned protein.

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Canned chicken is very low in fat but high in protein, calcium and vitamin D. Canned fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease (7And 8).

Uses

Canned meat and fish make it easy to prepare pies, dips, pasta, salads, soups, and quesadillas.

Canned diced tomatoes are not only nutritious but also important in a number of recipes.

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Tomatoes of all kinds contain lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that gives this fruit its red color and provides disease-fighting benefits (9).

Surprisingly, canned tomatoes contain higher amounts of lycopene than fresh tomatoes (10).

Uses

Diced tomatoes can be used well in countless dishes, such as soups, pasta, casseroles, pizza, flatbreads, and lasagna.

A dairy-free milk alternative is a great and somewhat sweet option for many recipes.

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Although coconut milk is high in fat, it is mostly made up of a specific type called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Although more research is needed, MCTs may provide greater heart-health benefits than butter, such as increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol (11And 12And 13).

Uses

Smoothies, soups, dips, sauces, coffee, pickles, and desserts all benefit from the creaminess of coconut milk.

Canned green pepper cubes have a great flavor and work well as a garnish.

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Chili peppers are a type of pepper rich in phenolic compounds such as capsaicin.

Capsaicin is responsible for the burning sensation you feel when eating hot peppers. It also acts as an antioxidant, fighting unstable molecules called free radicals to help manage heart disease (14And 15And 16).

Furthermore, just 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of diced green peppers provide 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, which is essential for eye health (14And 17).

Uses

Add green peppers to scrambled eggs, burgers, chili, french fries, and sandwiches.

Corn sometimes gets a bad reputation because starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, and winter squash contain more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, and peppers.

However, baby corn is considered a non-starchy vegetable (18).

If you have diabetes, limiting your intake of foods rich in carbohydrates is essential to control your blood sugar (19).

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Baby corn is fat free and very low in calories and carbohydrates. For example, there are only 3 grams of carbohydrates in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of young corn (20).

Uses

Baby corn is well suited for stir-fries, soups, salad dressings and snacks.

There is no need to handle canned mandarin orange peel. This refreshing and naturally sweet fruit is packed with nutrients.

However, to reduce the intake of added sugar, it is best to buy tangerines canned in juice rather than syrup.

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Just one cup (249 grams) of mandarin oranges provides 6% of the DV for folate, 12% of the DV for vitamin A, and 94% of the DV for vitamin C (21).

Folic acid is essential for pregnancy because a deficiency in this nutrient may cause problems in the developing fetus. Today, many foods are fortified with folic acid to prevent this from happening (22).

Eating foods such as mandarin oranges that provide vitamin A may help prevent conditions such as night blindness (23).

Canned mandarin oranges may also help prevent vitamin C deficiency associated with a poorly functioning immune system (24).

Uses

Enjoy canned mandarin oranges right out of the box, in baked goods, or as toppings for yogurt, cheese, or salads.

With their distinct flavors and nutrients, olives do more than just decorate your martini glass.

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Just 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of canned olives provide 7% of the DV for calcium, 35% of the DV for iron, and 11% of the DV for vitamin E (25).

Your body needs iron to distribute oxygen through red blood cells and vitamin E to act as an antioxidant and help fight inflammation (26And 27).

Canned olives are also high in sodium. While sodium is an essential nutrient, too much of it can lead to high blood pressure (28).

As such, it is important to look for varieties that are low in salt.

Uses

Olives are great for pizza and sandwiches, as well as in salads, hummus, and tapas. Many people enjoy it on charcuterie boards.

Canned pumpkin can bring the scent of fall into your home all year long. It is also very nutritious.

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One cup (245 grams) of canned pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber, 45% of the DV for magnesium, 10% of the DV for potassium and vitamin C, and 208% of the DV for vitamin A (29).

Fiber may help prevent constipation by keeping food moving through your gut, as well as promoting weight loss by helping you feel full. Meanwhile, vitamin A is essential for optimal eye health (17).

Uses

Besides its obvious uses in desserts like pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, canned pumpkin makes a hearty ingredient in soups, smoothies, mousse, pudding, and pasta dishes.

This fibrous tropical fruit is notoriously difficult to open, so it’s a good thing that it comes in a can. Jackfruit is a popular vegetarian and vegan alternative to pulled pork.

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Jackfruit is a low-calorie food that may promote weight loss, as it contains just 16 calories in 2 ounces (56 grams). It’s also a heart-healthy alternative to meat because it’s free of fat and cholesterol (30).

Uses

Jackfruit is a great filling for tacos or enchiladas, as well as being a healthy ingredient in stir-fries and fried rice.

It is best to avoid foods that are packaged with extra sugar or salt.

To do this, choose fruits canned in their own juice or in water, and check nutrition labels for sodium content.

Canned fruit in syrup

The general rule for buying canned fruit is to choose only those canned in their own water or juice, as they have less sugar than those canned in syrup.

High sugar intake is associated with hyperactivity, brain deficits, overweight and obesity in both children and adults (31And 32).

High Sodium Canned Items

Canned soups, pastas, and meats may contain large amounts of sodium, which can increase your risk of conditions such as high blood pressure or heart failure. You can control your sodium content by making homemade versions of these foods (33).

The AHA defines low-sodium foods as those with less than 140 mg per serving. Check the label on packaged foods to limit your sodium intake (34).

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive.

Canned foods are inexpensive, quick to cook and rich in nutrients that benefit your health. Moreover, they are long lasting and can be used in a variety of recipes.

Always read the nutrition label to determine if certain canned foods are appropriate for your lifestyle.

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