Eating canned fruit and veggies linked to better diet

Children and adults who eat canned fruits and vegetables might have a healthier diet than people who don't, though they may also consume more calories and sugar, a recent US study suggests.

Researchers analysed data collected from 2001 to 2010 on the eating habits of almost 42,000 American children and adults, scoring the overall quality of their diets based their consumption of these foods as well as whole grains, dairy, protein, seafood and limited amounts of salt, sugars and empty calories.

Adults who consumed canned fruits and veggies had average diet quality scores of 49 on a scale of 0 to 100, compared with 47.4 for their peers who didn't eat these foods. For children, eating these canned goods was linked to an average diet score of 45.8, compared with 43.3 without these foods.

About 11 per cent of these individuals ate canned vegetables and fruits on any given day. Overall, these people tended to consume higher amounts of certain nutrients as well as more calories, sugar and fat, according to the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"By consuming fruits and vegetables, one may consume fewer foods that have lower nutritional value," said study co-author Marjorie Freedman of San Jose State University in California.

"Thus, it makes sense that those who consume canned fruits and vegetables - most likely in conjunction with other types of fruits and vegetables - would have higher intake of certain nutrients and higher quality diets," Freedman added by email.

The study was funded by the Canned Food Alliance, a consortium of steelmakers, can manufacturers, food processors and others.

While the study did find a higher quality diet linked to canned fruits and vegetables, it also set out to assess whether eating these things might be linked to a healthier weight or blood pressure. But weight, waist circumference and blood pressure were similar whether or not people consumed canned fruits and vegetables.

Children and adults who ate canned veggies and fruits had similar levels of salt and added sugars in their diets, the study found.

Kids whose diets included these canned items also consumed more protein, vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium.

The study wasn't designed to see whether canned fruits and veggies might be healthier than fresh or frozen alternatives.

Limitations of the study include the potential for some processed foods to be missing from the data because researchers asked only about cans, not jars, boxes, bags or other containers, the authors concede. This may have underestimated the amount of processed fruits and vegetables consumed in the study.

The survey data used for the analysis also relies on people to accurately report on what they consumed in the previous 24 hours, which might not be a complete picture of their eating habits on a typical day.

It's also important to bear in mind that from a nutritional perspective, not all canned goods are created equal, noted Kevin Comerford, a researcher affiliated with the University of California, Davis, who wasn't involved in the study.

"While there may be some overlap, processed foods are not synonymous with canned foods," Comerford said by email. "Canned fruits and vegetables are better than no fruits or vegetables. Many canned fruits and vegetables can even be considered comparable to fresh options."

It's also possible that people who ate canned fruits and vegetables also ate more servings of fresh and frozen produce, noted Lauren Ptomey, a researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City who wasn't involved in the study.

Consumers may opt for canned alternatives because they are more affordable, or when other options aren't in season, Ptomey added by email. When they do, they should look for options with little or no added salt or sugars, and drain and rinse them before consumption.

"What this study is saying is that by consuming canned fruits and vegetables you may increase the total amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet," Ptomey said. "It is in no way implying that canned is better for you than fresh or frozen."