Canned food gets a bad rap sometimes. But it can actually be just fine—and even good for you. There are some canned things I love, especially beans, because all you have to do is stir them into whatever you want, or season them and heat them up for a bit (a slice of bacon in a can of black beans goes a long, long way). But not all canned food is created equal, so Huff Post asked some nutritionists to rank prepared items from best to worst.
At the top of the list? Canned fruit or vegetables. Registered dietitian nutritionist Karen Ansel says, “Hardly anyone eats enough produce, and canned fruits and vegetables make it easy. The key is to look for those closest to their natural state as possible, with little to no added salt or sugars.” In my experience, the labels don’t always make it easy to identify a canned fruit or vegetable that hasn’t been pre-salted or doused in syrup.
The next few acceptable items on the list are jarred pasta sauces (provided there’s not an excess of sugar added) and pestos (though they’re calorie dense, they contain lots of healthy fat—just watch out for salt!). Canned soup follows; the nutritionist suggest you get one loaded with veggies for fiber. And surprisingly, bottled salad dressing is okay for you because the fat in salad dressing helps our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins in vegetables. Mayonnaise is on this list on the not-so-bad for you side, but for moderate use only, and not for eating like pudding, the way normal people enjoy it. Wait. Just me?
At this point, the list moves into the warning category—starting with barbecue sauce. While this might come as a surprise,a lot of barbecue sauce is loaded in sugar, whether it’s corn syrup or pineapple juice concentrate or molasses (Sweet Baby Ray’s, I’m looking sternly at you). Those watching their blood sugar, take note.
Next comes pizza dough and pre-made pastries, which are flagged due to their high refined carbohydrate and fats. And as much as you may love your bouillon cubes, be aware that they are a landmine of sodium, which is not very good for those looking out for their blood pressure, myself included.
The final and least healthy option on the list, came as a surprise to me: pre-made cornbread and pancake mixes. The dietitians warn that it’s less about avoiding them than it is about the necessity of adding other nutritious elements to your plate, like something with protein, say. So really, the key takeaway from this list is balance: there’s nothing on here that’s a complete no-no, but try your best to add fresh stuff where there’s room.