08 Sep Why Dietitians Won’t Bash Canned Tomatoes
This post was sponsored by Tomato Wellness Products Council. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are my own.
As a registered dietitian, part of my role is to debunk nutrition myths and provide a science based reason why they are myths. As I am a huge fan of canned tomatoes, one of my biggest pet peeves is when folks and media outlets trash canned foods without really knowing all the facts. Please stop trashing canned foods, especially canned tomatoes, and understand the agricultural facts and science. Below are four common myths about canned foods debunked, plus a ton of ways to use canned tomatoes in your dishes.
Myth #1: Foods, including produce, used for canning are inferior to fresh produce.
Fact: Foods, including produce, used to be canned are just as superior as fresh.
Many believe that the foods being canned are reject foods but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Fruits and vegetables, including canned tomatoes, are specifically bred to be canned for their stronger flavor and for their firmness so they can hold up to being harvested by machines (this doesn’t mean GMOs are used). Over the last 40 to 50 years, scientists have gotten very good at breeding tomatoes to get the perfect blend of flavor and structure. The tomatoes used for canned tomato products are machine picked, not handpicked so they need to be sturdy. After the tomatoes are handpicked, they are cooked to preserve them. No additional additives or preservatives are needed. .
Of course, fresh is certainly a healthy option too. There is a time and place to use both fresh and canned in a healthy eating plan. If the fruit or vegetable is in season, enjoy it as a snack or in a sandwich. However, if you’re cooking or the fruit or vegetable isn’t in season, turn to canned (like canned tomatoes) for the best and most consistent flavor.
Myth #2: You shouldn’t use canned food because of BPA
Fact: The USA Canned Tomato Industry stopped using BPA years ago.
First, just to reiterate, because this is the one you’ll see headlines about: this is flat out false. The USA canned tomato industry has already stopped using BPA. However, here’s more background info.
BPA or bisphenol-A is a synthetic compound used since the 1960s used to make certain plastics and resins. BPA is also used for other functions like dental sealants and thermal paper lining. Human exposure to BPA is rather widespread and 93% of people have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Recent research has found that individual thermal receipts from retailers and restaurants contain BPA levels that are 250 to 1,000 times greater than that found in canned food.
The plastic coating created by BPA serves as a lining in metal cans to protect the can from corrosion or pitting when exposed to acidic foods, like tomatoes. Ultimately, the lining protects the customer from exposure to metals, which can occur when acidic foods are in contact with unlined metal cans.
BPA is thought to be similar to estrogen and may have the ability to disrupt the function of other hormones in the body, and possibly negatively impact the brain. Many of the studies pointing to risks from BPA were based on small studies using rodents, not humans. A recent two-year government study found that even higher doses of BPA produced only minimal effects, which could have occurred by chance.
FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. Based on FDA’s ongoing safety review of scientific evidence, the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging. Further, The European Food Safety Authority (EPFSA) agrees with FDA in their evaluation of BPA, reporting that there is no consumer health risk from BPA exposure.
While no restrictions have been made in regards to the use of BPA, the USA tomato industry has removed it from their products. If you’re concerned about BPA in your food, many companies label their products “BPA-free”, and even though they may not all be labelled, virtually all now removed BPA from their linings. The Tomato Wellness Council recently contacted all the canned tomato companies in the U.S. they could think of and none are using BPA in their canned tomatoes. Note that the Tomato Wellness Council can’t verify for other foods beyond tomatoes, or anything imported for other countries. If you’re still concerned about BPA exposure, you can contact the manufacturers of your favorite tomato products to confirm that they don’t use BPA in their cans. In addition, you can purchase tomato products in other packaging materials, such as glass.
Myth #3: Fresh produce is always better than canned
Fact: Fresh and canned can both be part of a healthy eating plan—and canned is just as good as fresh.
Tomatoes are a seasonal fruit and are only fresh in the summer (about one month a year, depending on where you live in the U.S.). So where do you get good tasting, ripe tomatoes during the winter or off-peak season? You’re better off getting canned tomatoes that are harvested within just a few hours—I have witnessed this process. The quick harvesting and canning process locks in the flavor and nutrition so you can enjoy them all year long. Check out this video to see how canned tomatoes are harvested on the farm.
Plus, have you tried to use fresh tomatoes for sauces? They tend to be a watery mess. You get that amazing thick tomato sauce consistency when you use canned tomatoes.
Myth #4: Fresh produce is always more nutritious than canned foods.
Fact: Both canned and fresh are equally nutritious. Depending on the fruit or vegetable canned, it can be even more nutritious compared to its fresh counterpart.
Both canned and fresh produce are healthy. According to the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines, only 90% of Americans meet the daily recommended amount of vegetables and 85% meet the daily recommended amount for fruit. Having the opportunity to include canned produce in your diet can actually increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat every day. According to a 2015 study published in Nutrients those who consumed 6 or more canned items a week were more likely to have diets higher in 17 essential nutrients compared to those consumed canned foods 2 or fewer times a week. In addition, those consuming 6 or more canned items a week consumed a higher amount of nutrients of concern (including calcium, iron, vitamin D, and potassium) compared to those who consumed 2 or fewer canned items a week.
Lycopene is a phytochemical, a natural plant compound that provides health benefits. Also It’s what gives tomatoes and other red fruit their gorgeous color. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been shown in over 700 studies to have a positive impact on breast cancer, heart cancer, inflammation, and prostate cancer. When it comes to canned tomatoes, the lycopene is even more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes, which means you get more. When tomatoes are cooked—as they are in all processed tomatoes (like cans, jars, sauces, salsa, and ketchup)—the lycopene is even more available to your body, because the cooking opens up cell walls in the tomato plant to allow the lycopene to be absorbed into your body, offering 2 to 3 times more cancer protection and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Dietitians Favorite Ways to Use Canned Tomatoes
Registered dietitians nutritionists (RDNs) are fans of canned tomato products. Four RDNs share their go-to canned tomato products and how they love to use them.
Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilis
Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook uses roasted diced tomatoes with green chilies in stovetop dishes like chilis, stews, and jambalaya, especially during the fall and winter. Newgent loves that it’s a time-saving pick because it uses roasted tomatoes, so there is no need to do the roasting to enhance flavor. Plus it provides green chilies for a hint of heat, so you don’t need to purchase and prepare the peppers. One of Newgent’s go-to recipes is her Creole Vegan Jambalaya.
Canned Tomato Juice
Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet and host of The Keri Report Podcast says there is “nothing like a Sunday brunch with a home-made spicy bloody Mary. I make mine from scratch; it includes vodka, canned tomato juice, horseradish, tobacco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, ground black pepper, and paprika. Cheers!”
Fire Roasted Canned Tomatoes
Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The 28-Day Pescatarian Meal Plan & Cookbook uses fire roasted canned tomatoes to add flavor to easy meals like her Easy Turkey Chili and Spicy Lentil Bolognese. Amer says that using extra flavorful fire roasted canned tomatoes are a great way to cut down on ingredients because there’s so much flavor in one can!
Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN and author of The Superfood Swap loves canned tomato paste because it has a concentrated tomato flavor which adds an umami or “meaty” flavor to plant-based recipes. “I add a tablespoon to veggie burger recipes and I love this superfood plant-based thousand island dressing for salads, wraps, lunch bowls, or sweet potato fries!”
Recipes to Try