By Charlotte Mei
Nutritionist-cook Charlotte Mei explains why canned food should be embraced, and how to use it in three satisfying Asian recipes
With stay-home orders still in place around the world, canned food has become a lifesaver for many. Still, some say they are unhealthy and less nutritious compared to fresh foods due to their processing methods and ingredients. But others disagree. So, who's right?
As a nutritionist and chef, let me answer some of these questions, tell you how to shop for canned products, and, give you a few ideas for using them in Asian dishes.
Why I Love Canned Food
In short - not only does canned food provide a worthy source of nutrition, they have a long shelf life and are convenient to use. Most can be eaten straight out of the can so that saves on prep-time, they’re affordable, and they come in a wide variety of options!
But what is canned food? First off, canning food goes way back to the wartime, where it was used to preserve foods for long periods of time for soldiers and sailors. Generally, the steps include processing: where the food gets prepared and cooked (where needed); sealing: where the food is sealed in a can to prevent microorganisms from entering; and heating where the canned food gets heated to high temperatures to kill any harmful bacteria.
These steps are what allows the food to be shelf-stable for a number of years.
Sure, they may seem less fresh compared to their counterparts seen at the chiller or fresh produce sections of the supermarket, but most canned foods are still a worthy source of nutrition!
That's because studies have shown that canning preserves most nutrients in food. Macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fat are unaffected, as are fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. On the other hand, heat-sensitive vitamins like B1 and C could be damaged due to the high heat.
That said, if you are consuming a varied diet, the changes in some individual nutrients should not be a concern. Overall, canned foods can still be good sources of important nutrients, depending on the types you’re consuming.
But as with all foods, there are a few things to look out for when incorporating canned foods in your diet.
Here are some tips!
My biggest tip would be to read the label!
Many canned foods have added salt, which would be a concern especially if you have hypertension. If so, look for options which state “no added sodium/salt” or “low sodium/salt”. Most options which state “in water” (e.g. beans in water, tuna flakes in water) may still contain some salt, so do make sure to read the ingredients list to know what has been added! All is not lost if there has been added salt, as you can always discard the soaking liquids to get rid of some additional salt.
The same goes for canned fruits. Try to go for those that are canned in water or their own juice, instead of a sugar syrup. Otherwise, draining also helps to reduce the sugar.
Canned meats such as luncheon meat and corned beef contain sodium nitrite, a preservative used for meats. It has been found to have links to cancer if consumed in high amounts, so try to limit these to once a week.
Armed with these tips, how then can you use them in your cooking?
Three Inspired Ways for Asian Cooking
I added canned mackerel to a spicy, savoury Canned Mackerel Mapo Tofu, check out my recipe here
Tuna, sardines, mackerel, you name it! These fish are good sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart and brain health.
One of my favourites is sardines in black bean sauce, which I love to use as porridge topping. You can find it easily in any supermarket, remember to drain off the oil though! If I have a little more time on my hands, I make a quick stir-fry with some long beans and minced ginger for some fibre and added nutrients. Pro tip: sardines contain soft bones that are edible! They’re a great source of calcium to help maintain healthy bones and teeth.
Mapo tofu is another of my go-to comfort dishes. It is traditionally made with minced pork, however here’s a twist on that, using canned mackerel, I've made a quick Canned Mackerel Mapo Tofu, making it perfect for pescatarians too!
Canned tuna is really versatile too! Aside from using it in your favourite Kimchi Fried Rice, how about making your own Canned Tuna Roti John, or Spicy Tuna Rice Rolls at home?
2. Canned Vegetables
Canned corn, bamboo shoots, peas, french beans, mushrooms are all great ways to add more nutrients to your dishes without much effort!
How about adding a can of braised mushrooms and bamboo shoots into your vegetarian bee hoon fry-up?
Or open up a can of corn kernels to amp up your next pot of Kimchi Jiggae or Army Stew?
Canned corn is one of the most versatile options as you can even use it for dessert, paired with your favourite can of coconut milk, like in this Coconut Milk Boba Corn Dessert!
3. Canned Meats
Options for canned meats stretch from luncheon meat and corned beef, to a full meal like chicken curry and chicken rendang!
For foods like luncheon meat and corned beef, they’re great to add into quick vegetable stir-fries or omelettes as they pack a flavourful punch. However since they’re a preserved food and are high in saturated fat and sodium, it would be a good idea to limit these to once a week!
It may be a little unconventional for a chicken curry, but if you would like to boost the nutritional value of canned curry, and also make a bigger portion serve more people, throw in some fresh/frozen carrots, tau kwa (firm tofu) and boiled quail eggs for extra fibre, vitamins, and protein.
Canned' Live Without It!
With its incredible ease of use and versatility, canned foods have a huge role to play in our kitchen pantries!
They can certainly be a part of a healthy diet, as long as you’re shopping for the right ones (read the labels!) and are pairing them with a variety of other foods for a balanced meal.
Source from: asianfoodnetwork.com