Canned Tomatoes: Good or Bad?
We're celebrating fresh tomatoes this week, but we can't forget about that standby substitute: canned tomatoes. Many of our readers have expressed concern over using canned goods, including BPA risks, nutritional value and of course, food safety. So, how safe is this pantry staple? We've got the scoop.
Canned tomatoes (just like fresh, in season ones) are low in calories and packed with vitamin C and fiber. The canning process destroys some of the vitamin C and fiber, so be sure to read the labels to get the most from your canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes (as opposed to fresh) are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, shown to help lower the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and macular degeneration (poor eyesight as you get older).
No time to blanch and peel tomatoes for homemade sauce, chili or soup? That’s when the canned stuff comes in handy. They’re especially useful during the winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season, and can be stored in your pantry for up to 18 months.
We've talked about BPA in plastic containers, but now concern over BPA in canned goods is growing. A report released by Consumer Reports found that 19 brand-name foods contained some amount of BPA, which is used in the lining of the can. The National Institute of Health invested over 30 million dollars to determine if BPA effects our health, especially low-dose exposure (like from canned goods). BPA-free brands like Eden foods are available in many markets.
Canned tomatoes often contain lots of salt. If you check the label, you’ll typically find anywhere from 100 to 300 milligrams of sodium per serving – that’s 4 to 13 percent of the daily recommendation. Look for “No Salt Added” versions to reduce sodium by a third.
You may also find preservatives like citric acid and calcium chloride on some products. Both are considered safe to eat. Citric acid helps preserve color, while calcium chloride helps keep diced tomatoes nice and firm. You can also opt for boxed tomatoes (like Pomi) -- they're BPA-free, and the only ingredient listed on the label is tomatoes.
Botulism is a concern with all canned goods, and tomatoes are no exception. Although the bacteria don't thrive in acidic environments, cases of botulism have cropped up in canned tomatoes. Avoid cans that are dented, leaky, rusted or swollen, and discard those that are foamy, cloudy or foul-smelling upon opening. Store in the pantry and follow the “use by” date. Once opened, don’t store food in opened cans -- the contents end up tasting like metal, and the cans weren’t designed for refrigeration. Transfer to a refrigerator-safe container and store for up to 4 days.
Bottom Line: There are many pros and cons to using canned tomatoes. They’re quick, convenient and full of nutrients, but additives and growing BPA concerns may make you think twice. We stick to our motto of "all things in moderation," but now that you’re informed, use the information to decide what’s right for you.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »