7 canned foods you should buy and 7 you shouldn't

Canned food is in high demand. It lasts a long time, and it's useful to have around in case of seasonal shortages or as emergency winter supplies. For these reasons, more people are choosing to stock up on these shelf-stable foods.

Of course, this hasn't stopped people from wondering — is canned food healthy? One of the most common concerns has to do with the process itself. Canning requires cooking food at high temperatures, during which it may lose nutrients.

But, while cans may not always be the most nutritious choice, there's no reason to shy away from them. In fact, Bridget Benelam, a nutrition scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation (via BBC News), says that any nutrient loss is minimal. The impact this has on your health, she adds, depends more on your overall diet, since some canned foods are better for you than others.

If you pick right, you can get all the convenience of canned foods without having to worry about any detrimental effects. Take a look at some of the canned foods you should and shouldn't buy before you stock up.

Do buy: Trader Joe's reduced-tat coconut milk

It's a great idea to make coconut milk a pantry staple. The pureed coconut is so versatile; you can use it to make everything from savory dishes to desserts. Coconut milk works in soups and stews, braises, and baking. It's flavor is light, so it won't make everything taste like coconut, we promise! It's especially useful when cooked with spices like turmeric to make immunity-boosting curries.

There are several types of coconut milk, so it can be confusing to pick one. It's available thick or thin, in reduced-fat and organic options, or as cream of coconut. If you're just stocking up, skip the cream. It contains a lot of added sugar, and is usually only used in cocktails and desserts.

While even reduced-fat coconut milk can be calorie-rich, it has a wealth of vitamins. It's naturally lactose-free, making it a good non-dairy and vegan option. It also boosts your immune system, keeps your brain sharp, and helps cardiovascular function (via Livestrong).

Trader Joe's reduced-fat coconut milk is an excellent option because, in addition to all the benefits of coconut milk, it's also priced right — and it's pretty tasty.

Do buy: Thrive Market organic pumpkin

Canned pumpkin isn't just for Thanksgiving pies. It can be used in baking, yes — muffins and breads made with this ingredient are always delicious — but canned pumpkin can also be used in pasta dishes, soups, oatmeal, and even dog food. It also has a host of health benefits, so keep it in your pantry throughout the year. It's a rich source of beta-carotene, antioxidants, and even contains heart-healthy potassium and vitamin C (via Medical News Today). 

Just remember not to accidentally pick up a can of pumpkin pie mix, since that contains a lot of sugar and other spices that you might not appreciate, depending on how you're using the pumpkin puree.

Canned pumpkin contains dietary fiber that can help control your weight. As Livestrong found, just one cup can provide you with 28 percent of your daily intake. It also contains vitamins A and E and can help control blood pressure.

Thrive Market prides itself on its array of high quality organic staples, so it's no surprise they have the best option for this nutritious fruit. It's creamier and smoother, with a fruitier taste than you would usually get from a can of pumpkin.

Do buy: Del Monte canned spinach

The benefits of spinach are no secret. Since most of the carbohydrates in this leafy green are fiber, it's a great way to boost your nutrition intake. It also contains iron, calcium, folate acid, vitamin A, and vitamin C (via Healthline).

The nutrient-rich vegetable helps with everything from bone health to anemia. According to Medical News Today, its alpha-lipoic acid helps manage diabetes, and the beta-carotene prevents asthma. 

Fresh, frozen, or canned, you can eat spinach cooked or raw. Fresh spinach has a short shelf life though, so it can be inconvenient to stock up on. However, there's an easy fix, because there's a good reason to buy this particular vegetable in a can. Time reported in 2012 that canned spinach actually contains high vitamin C content. Add that to the lower price and extended shelf life, and there's no reason not to buy it.

Del Monte's canned spinach comes in full leaf as well as chopped versions. It's one of the best options because it's picked and packed fresh, so it's always tasty.

Do buy: Bush's Best organic garbanzos beans

Don't forget to keep a few cans of beans in your pantry. They're cheap enough to stock up on, chock full of nutrients, and can be used in everything from a hearty stew to a tasty snack. 

Garbanzo beans are a particularly great option, and not only because you can blend them up into a delicious hummus. Part of the legume family, garbanzo beans are also known as chickpeas. The versatile beans contain protein, fiber, folate, and iron. They're good for heart health, diabetes and keep you feeling full for longer, which can help combat obesity (via Harvard School of Public Health).

When you're picking from the large variety available, reach for Bush's Best organic garbanzos beans. They're cooked to perfection — never mushy or not not cooked enough, and work great in variety of dishes. 

There's the added benefit of there being the option to pick a reduced-sodium variety. And, don't worry about salt intake if you can't find the reduced-sodium option — you can soak canned chickpeas in water to get rid of 40 percent of the sodium.

Do buy: Green Valley Organics whole kernel corn

Fresh corn won't stay in your fridge for much longer than three days, so stocking up on the canned variety is a great idea. Corn comes with vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber (via Livestrong), and can be used to make a variety of delicious meals, side dishes, and snacks.

A 2018 report in ScienceDirect found that the phytochemical content in corn helps lower the risk of chronic diseases. Also, it contains more beneficial antioxidants than wheat, oats or rice.

Skip the creamed corn versions, which can be packed with sugar, and pick whole kernel corn instead. The perfect option is Green Valley Organics' whole kernel corn. It tastes better than most canned corn, is farm-fresh, organic, and contains less sodium.

And, if you're not convinced to pick a can over fresh corn yet, here's something that might help. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that canned corn is just as healthy — it delivers the same amount of dietary fiber as fresh corn, and more antioxidants.

Do buy: King Oscar wild caught sardines

There are so many benefits to adding fish and fish oils to your diet. And, one of the most nutritious types of fish to add to your diet is the sardine.

They're an essential source of omega-3 fatty acids, but that's not all. They also contain a lot of omega-3. While you can get omega-3 in supplements, for the most benefit, it's best to go straight to the source.

Sardines contain so many minerals, vitamins, and proteins that the FDA actually recommends eating 2-3 servings every week. They are also affordable, so you'll be able to stock up on a few cans. They contain less mercury and are more sustainable than several other types of fish. They're also a good source of vitamin D and selenium.

Canned sardines are often packed in sauces such as tomato and mustard, or oils such as soy or olive. When you're shopping for canned sardines, it's best to pick a version packed in olive oil, since they're more versatile for cooking.

The King Oscar wild caught sardines are a great option. The Norwegian brisling sardines come in a variety of flavors. They're also lightly smoked, lending the flesh a delicious flavor.

Do buy: 365 Everyday Value sliced beets

If you've never had canned beets, you should give them a try. Pick the sliced beets from 365 Everyday Value, which is a brand from the Whole Foods Market.

The sliced beets are organic, and do not have any added salt, and they are also a whole lot tastier than most other canned varieties.

As if all that wasn't good enough, there's more. Beetroots contain numerous nutritional qualities. In a 2018 study (via PubMed), researchers found that they help with muscle contraction and help increase power and speed.

And, a 2018 Consumer Reports article found that in fact, they're filled with several hard-to-get nutrients. These include nitrates, betaine, and betalains, which is what gives beetroots their color. They also help with inflammation, cognition and cardiovascular strength, and so much more. The report also stated that low-sodium varieties of canned beetroot are a healthy option.

Don't buy: Old El Paso traditional refried beans

Refried beans are delicious, so you've probably been tempted to buy them. If you make them yourself, they're quite healthy. However, when you're stocking up on canned food, skip Old El Paso traditional refried beans.

Cooked with pinto beans, they contain a lot of trans fats that can clog your arteries. They also contain saturated fat. While this is good in small doses, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of this in a day. If you're eating a small portion of these beans once in a while, it's probably fine, but it's a better idea to pick a healthier option to add to your pantry.

The refried beans also contain a whopping 440 mg of sodium per serving, 19 percent of your daily value — and most people probably eat way more than a half-cup serving when they indulge in these. 

Most importantly, these beans just aren't flavorful enough. So, while the health effects will vary from person to person, it's just not worth the risk for a can of beans that isn't even that tasty.

Don't buy: Del Monte sliced peaches

It's tempting to stock up on canned fruits. They're convenient, have a long shelf life, and they're fruits — so how unhealthy can they be? Well, very.

While flash-frozen fruits contain similar nutrients to fresh fruits, canned fruits usually do not. Canned fruits typically contain too much sugar and are often marinated in unhealthy syrups

The Del Monte sliced peaches are delicious, but as the can says, they are soaked in heavy syrup. They keep the peaches as moist and sweet by adding 21 grams of sugar in every half cup. The American Heart Association (via Healthline) recommends a daily sugar intake of no more than 37.5 grams for men and 25 grams for women. So, even as an occasional indulgence, 21 grams is a lot of sugar to consume in a sitting. Besides, an entire peach contains only  around13 grams of sugar. If you've ever compared the two, you'll know it's not worth the trade-off.

The sugar-soaked peaches are a tempting indulgence on occasion, but they don't come close to the juicy flavor of the fresh fruit. They do have a "Lite" version, but they're not worth it just for that slightly lower amount of sugar.

Don't buy: Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs

There are so many reasons not to pick up a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. One of the most important being because it's full of all sorts of ingredients you should be avoiding.

For starters, the spaghetti and meatballs are soaked in an unappetizing, canned version of the sauce. It contains high fructose corn syrup as well as a lot of added sugar. They also contain over 700 mg of sodium, high saturated and trans fats and refined grains. Added in is wheat, lactose, soy, and animal by-products. This means that it's also not the best option for those who may have food intolerances.

With 280 calories per cup (and who eats only a cup of this stuff?) in the highly processed, salt-heavy, canned meal, you're better off avoiding this one. Just make an easy spaghetti dinner, and serve the kiddos the leftovers for lunch. It's not only a healthier option, but a tastier one. 

Don't buy: StarKist solid white albacore tuna

When it comes to tuna, canned is not the best way to go. Not all canned tuna is terrible for you, but it's best to stay away from StarKist solid white albacore tuna.

Tuna contains higher levels of mercury than other fish. Although this is fine in trace amounts, it can be harmful in larger doses. Because of the mercury levels, the FDA recommends eating white tuna just once a week — making not a great option when you're looking for highly usable pantry staples. It's also not the most sustainable fish to consume.

Especially considering the mercury levels, it's best to pick another canned fish, like salmon or sardines. If you do want to eat canned tuna, pick a light or flaky tuna over solid. 

One thing StarKist does get right is that the tuna has been soaked in water. Remember to pick this over oil, as it is not only healthier, but also lighter on calorie content.

Don't buy: Bush's Best brown sugar hickory baked beans

Baked beans themselves are a great source of nutrition. The legumes are usually sold in cans, so they're probably already a staple in your pantry.

Most cans of baked beans swims in a sauce made of tomatoes, vinegar, spices and some amount of sugar. Even so, they're packed with beneficial properties such as thiamine, zinc, and selenium. They also contain a good amount of phytates.

All of this makes them a nutritious meal that helps boost immunity, gives you energy and encourage good thyroid health (via Healthline). Bush's Best brown sugar hickory baked beans are basically made the same way — so they should be packed with all the same benefits, right?

Don't be so quick to reach for a can of this sugary sweet food. Because of all that brown sugar and hickory flavoring, these actually contain a lot of sugar. They also contain 570 mg of sodium per half-cup.

They're gluten and cholesterol-free, but that doesn't make up for all the unhealthy additives. If you look closely at the ingredients, you'll see they also contain caramel color.

Pick up a regular can of baked beans and sweeten them with a little brown sugar instead.

Don't buy: Spam with cheese

Spam isn't on too many best food lists for a reason. This version, however, is even more offensive.

Regular spam is pretty high in sodium, but it's not made with too many terrible ingredients. It contains 790 grams sodium, which is too much, but doesn't contain a lot of sugar or carbs. The highly processed food may taste really good fried, but it's not the best thing to put into your body. So, if you can avoid it altogether, that's the best option.

Spam with cheese, however, is not only much, much worse for your health, it's also extremely unappetizing. There's no real cheese flavor and it contains artificial colors that are best avoided. There are also several sodium phosphates in a can of Spam with cheese. While phosphates are naturally occurring in a lot of foods, an excess amount can cause vascular damage.

Skip over this one completely the next time you see it in the canned foods aisle.

Don't buy: Campbell's RavioliOs

Campbell's ravioli in a can may seem like a convenient way to indulge in a pinch. But, however tempting or delicious it may be, it's definitely not good for you.

If you skim through the ingredient list, you'll be impressed to see vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. Don't let that fool you.

You'll have to give up a lot of indulgences to eat this guilt-free. Campbell's RavioliOs also contain 1840 mg of sodium, which is an excessive amount. That's 80 percent of you daily values, which is far too much to give up in one meal (if you can even call this a meal). It also has 420 calories per serving, which is a lot, considering the amount of food you're getting.

The ravioli contains lots of fats and sugars, soybean oil, and an unhealthy caramel color additive. It's best to give this one a miss.