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Canned Foods Offer Economical Way to Obtain Key Nutrients

SAN DIEGO—As more Americans opt for healthier diets that include fresh fruits and vegetables, new research presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 annual meeting reveals when price, waste and preparation time are considered, canned foods may offer a more affordable, convenient way to get needed-nutrients.

The study comes on the heels of a 2011 survey conducted on behalf of the Canned Food Alliance (CFA) that found U.S. consumers underestimate the benefits of canned foods. In fact, nearly 40% of consumers surveyed said they think canned foods are less nutritious than frozen, and nearly 60% of those survey said they are not as nutritious as fresh foods.

For this study, researchers from Ketchum Global Health and Wellness conducted a market-basket study funded by CFA comparing the cost of obtaining key nutrients from canned, fresh, frozen and dried varieties of common foods. The market-basket study involved buying, preparing and analyzing canned, fresh, frozen and dried (where available) corn, green snap beans, mushrooms, peas, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes, pears, peaches, pinto beans and tuna fish. The foods were cooked so that an accurate comparison could be made. All varieties purchased were with no added salt or sugar when available.

The foods were analyzed to determine the cost of several key nutrients, including protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. The nutrient content was obtained from the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, Standard Release 24. The nutrients selected for comparison were included because they are either “nutrients of concern" for children, adolescents and adults and/or are those commonly found in the foods.

Findings for pinto beans, tomatoes, corn and spinach were particularly interesting:

  • Canned pinto beans cost $1 less per serving as a source of protein and fiber than dried beans because it takes about 6 minutes to prepare a can of pinto beans compared to 2½ hours (soaking and cooking) for dried beans to be meal-ready.
  • It is nearly 60% more expensive to obtain dietary fiber from fresh tomatoes as from the same portion of canned tomatoes. Not only is the price of canned tomatoes lower than fresh for the same serving size, but fresh tomatoes take longer to prepare, adding to the real cost of fresh.
  • When looking at purchase price alone, fresh corn is less expensive than canned or frozen. However, when the cost of waste (most notably the cob) is factored in, as well as time to prepare, canned corn offers the same amount of dietary fiber as fresh at a 25% savings.
  • With a lower cost-per-serving than fresh or frozen, canned spinach provides vitamin C at an 85% savings when compared to fresh or frozen.

“With economic concerns at the forefront today, households are challenged to meet dietary recommendations within budgetary constraints," the researchers said. “This research should assure families they are getting needed nutrition regardless of whether they choose canned, fresh, frozen or dried varieties. They can be confident in buying those foods that best meet their budgets, schedules, cooking abilities and taste preferences and still obtain important nutrients."

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