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Should You Stick to Fresh Produce, or Are Canned Foods Just As Good for You?

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Think it's only OK to reach for fresh and seasonal produce? Quit can shaming! A new study from San Jose State University found that people who choose canned produce have better diets, eat more fruits and veggies, and fill up on more key nutrients (without overdoing it on sodium or gaining weight) than those who skip the packaged goodies. The can fans also took in more fiber, choline, potassium, and less fat. (Psst... These Packaged Foods Are Actually Healthy.)

Here's why that's huge: Canned fruits and vegetables are easy to find any time of the year—and they're perfect if you're too busy to hit the grocery store every week or just want to keep some produce in the freezer. That's a big plus considering a whopping 90 percent of us don't get our daily recommended vegetable intake; and only 15 percent of us meet the daily recommended fruit intake, according to the latest Dietary Guidelines Committee Report.

The interesting part? Despite their health boons, only 11 percent of us opt for packaged fruits and vegetables on any given day.

But you might want to start re-thinking that. "Americans struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables. Our research offers further evidence that all forms of fruits and vegetables—canned, fresh, frozen, and dried—are important contributors to a healthy diet," says Marjorie R. Freedman, Ph.D., who co-authored the study.

Worried that if you go for frozen foods you'll also load up on sodium and sugar? That's not the case, according to Freeman. "Our research showed that sodium and added sugar levels did not increase among those who ate canned fruits and vegetables. Based on the data, very few people consumed canned fruits packed in extra sugar."

That said, there are some guidelines to follow when fresh isn't an option.

  • Look for fruits packed in their own juices, water, or 100 percent juice, which will cut back on any added sugar.
  • Avoid canned fruit cocktails that contain artificial red coloring. Check the ingredient list before heading to the cashier.
  • Look for low salt or no added salt canned vegetable options. If they're not available, make sure to rinse your veggies thoroughly before eating them—studies have found this can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.
  • If you're concerned about BPA in canned goods, choose BPA-free canned produce like from Native Forest Brand from Edward & Sons and Trader Joe's.
  • As with any canned goods, choose those that are free of bulging ends, rust, are leaking or have flawed seals.

Now that we've dispelled those packaged food myths, go stock up! We've got 10 Quick and Creative Recipes Using Canned Foods to get you cookin'.

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