When looking to get the most nutrient bang for your buck, look no further than the canned food aisle of your local grocery store. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, May 2012, found that not only are most canned foods less expensive than their fresh, frozen and dried counterparts, but many also offer a more convenient way to get much-needed nutrients. For example, when purchase price, waste and preparation time are considered, canned tomatoes cost 60 percent less than fresh tomatoes to get the same amount of fiber.
The study, commissioned by the Canned Food Alliance (CFA), looked at the total cost of commonly used canned food and compared it to fresh, frozen and dried fruits, vegetables, beans and tuna. The research factored in not only actual grocery dollars spent, but also the value of the time required to prepare the food (cleaning, chopping, cooking, etc.) and the cost of the waste (pits, stems, cobs, seeds, etc.). Building on that information, the study authors analyzed the cost-per-nutrient of several key nutrients including protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and folate.
"Canned foods contain the same important nutrients as fresh, frozen and dried varieties do," says lead study author Dr. Cathy Kapica, adjunct professor of nutrition at Tufts University and science advisor to the CFA. "The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls for an increase in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and seafood. This study shows families can help meet their dietary goals and often get the nutrition they need at a lower cost when they purchase canned foods. This is especially true when price, waste and the value of preparation time are considered. Recommendations for achieving a healthy diet, particularly for those with interest in saving time and money, should include all forms (canned, fresh, frozen and dried) of fruits, vegetables, beans and seafood."
Canned foods offer important nutrients affordably and conveniently
Canned foods have long been touted for the ease and convenience they bring to the kitchen. Less well-known is the fact that canned foods offer comparable nutrition as other forms, often for a lower cost. This new research sheds light on the convenience, affordability and nutrition that comes in a can. Some of the findings from the study include:
Pinto Beans – When the cost of preparation time is taken into consideration, canned pinto beans cost $1 less per serving as a source of protein and fiber than dried beans. This is because it takes about six minutes to prepare a can of pinto beans while it takes almost 2 1/2 hours (soaking and cooking) for dried beans to be meal-ready.
Tomatoes – It is nearly 60 percent more expensive to obtain dietary fiber from fresh tomatoes than 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.
Corn – 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 with a 25 percent savings compared to fresh and the same amount of folate with a 75 percent savings compared to fresh.
Spinach – With a lower cost-per-serving than fresh, canned spinach provides vitamin C and dietary fiber at an 85 percent savings compared to fresh.
Peaches –The price of a serving of canned peaches is 39 cents less than an equal serving of fresh peaches and $1.10 less than frozen peaches. When factoring in the value of preparation time and cost of waste, a serving of canned peaches cost $2.37 less than fresh and $3.22 less than frozen per serving, making canned peaches a less expensive way to obtain dietary fiber and folate.
"There has been a steady call in recent years to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, seafood and higher fiber foods, such as beans," says Rich Tavoletti, executive director of the CFA. "This can present a challenge for many people managing their food budgets or who rely on food assistance programs, as well as for those who lack easy access to grocery stores. Canned foods can help all families achieve a healthy, balanced diet by providing access to affordable, nutritious and convenient foods that can be purchased and stored until needed."
Conducted by Kapica and Wendy Weiss, MA, RD, 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 among all forms. All varieties purchased were with no added salt or sugar when available.
Time is money as the adage goes, so to arrive at the actual cost of each type of food, time spent cleaning, preparing and cooking was recorded and calculated at a rate of $7.25 per hour (the minimum wage in New Jersey where the research took place). Many fresh foods that are sold by the pound, ounce or other measure require peeling, pitting, removing stems and other steps, which reduce the amount of food available for eating. Therefore, the cost of this waste was factored into the actual cost of a serving of those foods.
Each of the food samples in the study also was analyzed to determine the cost of several key nutrients, including protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. The nutrient content for each was obtained from the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, Standard Release 24. The nutrients selected for comparison were included because they are either noted as "nutrients of concern" for children, adolescents and adults in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and/or are those commonly found in these foods.