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July 31, 2017 | 4 minute read

Cancer Prevention in a Can

With summer in full swing, one of the last things I want to do is turn on the oven. But when grilling outside is not an option, I rely on canned foods.

Many things that you can get fresh – fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish – you can also find in a can. If you shop with a discerning eye and make sure to check labels for added sugars and sodium, canned foods can be a fast, easy, and inexpensive way to prepare a nutritious and cancer-protective meal.

If you shop with a discerning eye and make sure to check labels for added sugars and sodium, canned foods can be a fast, easy, and inexpensive way to prepare a nutritious and cancer-protective meal.

These are some staple canned goods that I always have on hand:

Tomatoes – No surprises here, tomatoes are far and away the most common canned vegetable people eat. No wonder canned tomatoes get their own section in the grocery store! I throw crushed tomatoes in with farro to make a delicious, protein packed farro risotto. Canned tomatoes also serve as the base for many pasta and pizza sauces.

Beans – For me, black beans are a must-have. They’re a great way to add protein to any dish, whether it’s bulking up tacos, a vegetarian chili or dips. I usually look for a low or no sodium option but if I can’t find one, rinsing the beans also works. This South of the Border Beans and Rice requires a little stove-top action, but it’s well worth it since it makes eight servings and you can warm up leftovers without heating your kitchen for another meal!

Chickpeas – Also known as Garbanzo beans, I use these creamy legumes for stews, making hummus, or adding protein and texture to a green salad. These Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Lettuce Wraps are quick, delicious, and will keep you nice and cool. For my other go-to favorite, especially for picnics, I toss chickpeas with avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, lemon, cumin, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Most grocery stores carry the familiar cans of corn, peas, peaches, pineapple, pears, tuna, salmon, and chicken. But did you know you can also buy lentils, butternut squash, and jackfruit? Grab a can to experiment.

Canned foods are an easy and affordable way to try new foods and ethnic cuisines without investing too much time, money, or equipment.

Canned foods are an easy and affordable way to try new foods and ethnic cuisines. If you’ve heard of the vegetable okra, for example, but don’t know much about it, buy it in a can to try. It has a seedy texture, but a creamy mouth feel and is great in stews and curries since it tends to take on the flavor of whatever it is combined with. My favorite way to eat it is stewed with tomatoes, onions, and cubes of beef over rice.

I tried jackfruit, a fruit that is unique to say the least, by buying a can of it first. Jackfruit is popular in the meat-less world because of its consistency – it can be shredded and is closest in texture to pulled pork – and I had read it holds flavors well.

Canned jackfruit, before and after cooking.

The canned jackfruit was already peeled and chopped, so I simply tossed it in a mix of brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, salt and pepper and cooked it in a skillet with olive oil. Once it had some nice color, I shredded it with two forks and added some thinned out BBQ sauce and cooked it on low with a lid to really infuse the flavor.

Topped with a homemade slaw and stacked on a seedy bun, I see why this is a popular alternative for non meat-eaters. Remember when eating it though, that it does not contain any protein, so don’t forget to include that in your meal!

3 comments on “Cancer Prevention in a Can

  1. Christopher Springmann on

    Nicely done, Rose, and right on the protein spot. I often shop at so-called “ethnic” food stores where I purchase mystery cans of . . . whatever, just for fun. Speaking of exotic foods, at least for gringos like me, local chains stores here in Portland OR typically carry fresh jicama, Mexican yam bean, which is a hoot to eat with a squooze of lime juice or shredded into a salad.

  2. Camella Rising on

    Hi Ms. Hoffman,
    This post caught my eye because I like the focus from an economical standpoint but also because I am concerned that it might confuse people in light of other messages going out from the NIH/NIEHS (namely, cancer risk associated with BPA found in the lining of some food cans). Please see, e.g., https://bcerp.org/parents-caregivers/what-you-can-do/. I am a registered dietitian and part of a NIH/NIEHS funded study about messaging and environmental risks associated with breast cancer. I think that a brief line about being aware of the BPA in the lining of some food cans would be one resolution.
    Thank you for listening!

    • Alice RD on

      Hi Camella,
      Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND – AICR’s Nutrition Advisor, has responded with the following:
      I appreciate the helpful input from Camella. And as a registered dietitian nutritionist who works in communication about nutrition for cancer prevention, I appreciate the important work she is doing.
      How much risk is posed by exposure to BPA (Bisphenol A) from certain canned foods is a complicated question. Studies in isolated cells and rats do show potential for increased risk of breast cancer related to BPA. But considering effects of human absorption and metabolism adds complications. And it’s hard to look at exposure from one specific diet choice when we are also exposed to BPA from multiple environmental sources. All this means we can’t directly translate those animal studies into recommendations for healthy eating. Statements from U.S. and European organizations charged with reviewing safe food practices suggest that while human research continues, current intake may be below earlier estimates.
      More research is still needed to identify the optimal way to provide healthful foods in economical, accessible forms that meet people’s differing needs. Meanwhile, people who want to be extra-vigilant can choose products in glass or cardboard containers as a different option. But only certain canned foods use the resin lining that is in question. And most people use canned as just one of many forms to get the vegetables so vital for health. We each need to make sure we put greatest effort where evidence provides clear support — the importance of eating a variety of healthy plant foods.
      Some helpful resources for those who would like to read more about BPA:
      FDA Consumer information on BPA (note focus on plastic choice & proper use, not so much on canned food): https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm297954.htm
      European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/bisphenol


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