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Canned and Frozen Foods as Part of Diabetes Self-Management

When managing your diabetes, fresh foods are marvelous, but canned and frozen foods are, for the most part, equal in nutritional value. The nutrition profile of some foods, in fact, is improved in the canning process. Canned and frozen foods can be kept for a much longer time than fresh foods, meaning you can stock up when these foods are on sale.

Canning food dates back to the early 1800s, and the general idea is to kill microorganisms that can spoil food or cause illness by heating and sealing the food in an airtight enclosure to prevent contamination. Most foods are canned under pressure to achieve temperatures high enough to kill the spores of the organism that causes botulism.

Clostridium botulinum is an organism that lives naturally in soil, but can grow in environments with no oxygen, like a sealed can, and produces a powerful toxin. Botulism intoxication from commercially canned foods is extremely rare, but always reject cans with dents in the seams or bulging ends. If you’re considering home canning, make sure you get a high quality and safe home canned product.

You can get just about any vegetable canned, but don’t forget canned fruits, soups, and canned meats and fish, especially tuna and salmon. The key to selecting the healthiest canned goods is to read the labels and ingredients, a common theme in shopping for food.

Many canned goods include added salt or sugar, so compare labels to get the least added sodium, always buy canned fruit packed in its own juice, and buy canned fish packed in water.

Frozen foods come in a wide variety of options, too, but plain frozen vegetables are particularly handy for healthy eating. Frozen vegetables are generally blanched with steam and frozen within hours of harvest. Because freezing temperatures inhibit microorganism growth, further processing or preservatives are not required.

The plainer the food, the more likely the food is to be healthier. Frozen vegetables also come in butter sauce, cheese sauce, and with other seasonings. Often, these varieties have — you guessed it — added fat, salt, and sugar. Once again, grab your reading glasses, and check the nutrition facts labels.

The same goes for carbohydrate containing vegetables and fruits — great options for convenient meals, as long as you count the carbohydrate and avoid added fat, salt, or sugar. Look for fruit with no sugar added — the nutrition facts label always shows sugar content because fruit has natural sugar, but if you see sugar in the ingredients, make a different selection.

For frozen entrées, don’t be surprised to find that the ingredients list reads like a chemistry lab stock room and the sodium content very high. Even low-calorie entrées with names that include lean or healthy can pack 600 to 800 milligrams of sodium into a frozen dinner.

Frozen entrées demonstrate the importance of knowing the meaning of nutrition facts. Again, these aren’t forbidden, and there are healthier choices, but don’t put on the healthy halo — evaluate the information yourself.

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