In the can: a healthy diet

Judith Wills / 25 September 2015

Our diet expert cheers on those hidden treasures in the larder, and shares an easy store-cupboard recipe.

I'm an average sort of person; something I've suspected for a long while.

I know this because every week I open around four cans of food from my larder, four cans being precisely what the average Briton uses*.

And my averageness also extends to the fact that at certain times of year, at least two of these cans will contain baked beans or tomatoes – beans, tomatoes and tuna being the three most popular canned items in the UK.

It's easy to assume that with the growth of chilled counter foods and freezers, and the huge push for us to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, that our store cupboards will naturally contain very few foods in cans. But apparently that isn't the case.

While the peak for purchasing cans came in the 1980s at around 6 billion cans a year, we're still managing to buy 5.5 billion today, with around 1500 products to choose from.

And yes, we all know that not every can that's bought will actually ever get opened – we all have one or two ancient specimens lurking at the back of the shelf, unseen and untouched, except by dust, for many a long year.

But having a good range of tinned foods can be incredibly useful on many levels – when you're feeling lazy, or when you haven't been able to get out and shop, for example.

Storing food in tins can also save on your energy bills; and, because canned foods also last for a long time (that lurking tin may still contain usable food even now), they can help save the huge mountain of food wastage.

But a lot of people I talk to seem to think that buying much in the way of canned produce is somehow both naff and unhealthy.

Some of my friends did not want even to admit to having a single can in the kitchen, other than tomatoes or olives, both of which seem OK even for the food fashion police.

So I'm here to stick up for the tin. Yes, some things in cans do seem a bit old-fashioned or unappetizing these days – I'm thinking canned meat pies, spam, peas (processed peas!), plus things that lose their looks, colour, flavour and/or texture in the can too, such as some fruits. I'll happily give these a miss and find something else to eat.

But there is a huge range of really good tinned foods, most of which are also perfectly good for your health, which taste good and offer versatility to your diet -  from canned pulses of all kinds through to canned crab, mackerel and sardines, various types of fruits and vegetables, pasta sauces, cooking pastes and powders.

Research shows that the canning process does not destroy all the good vitamins and minerals in the food – fruits and vegetables should end up in the can with as much vitamin C, for example, as that found in most fresh or frozen items.

Also there is no need for a long list of E number preservatives as the canning process itself is all the preservative the food needs.

And, while produce with added salt or sugar is still around, a quick read of the can contents and you can choose a salt- and sugar-free version every time.

So don't be ashamed of your cans – they're a real boon for us all, even if some may protest otherwise.

Here's a very quick and healthy tuna pate using tuna from your store-cupboard:

Tuna Pate

Serves 4

  • 1 x 200g can tuna in springwater, well drained
  • 150g Quark or fromage frais
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • Black pepper

Simply combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl with a fork. Chill for half an hour and serve with wholegrain crackers or toast and a side salad.

* survey from Canned Food UK

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