Going to the Grocery Store With Diabetes: Canned Goods Can Be Good

We now make our way into the tried-and-true canned section of the grocery store: soups, tomato sauce, canned veggies ready to heat and serve, even old-school SpaghettiOs — they are all simple solutions for parts of a quick dinner, and they are often packaged in pretty containers in easy-to-grab four-packs, looking healthy and convenient. However, it is often difficult to determine which types of canned products are healthy and which are void of nutrients and filled with preservatives. Let’s go through the list and talk about what the best options are for people with diabetes in this area of the grocery store.

Sodium is the biggest offender in this aisle. The Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA, for sodium for the average adult who is not on a sodium-restricted diet is less than 2,300 milligrams a day (or 1,500 milligrams if you are age 51 or older; if you are African-American; or if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or chronic kidney disease). Most Americans consume roughly 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. Restaurant meals and processed foods are a significant source of sodium, with the average American getting more than 75% of his daily sodium from these sources. So as you can see, sodium adds up quickly, and it’s important for people with diabetes to keep an eye on their intake, especially if they already have an issue with their kidneys or blood pressure.

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Soups
Many items that come in cans are very high in sodium to mask changes in taste related to age and heating. Luckily, soup (and other canned food) companies have caught on to the fact that Americans are now watching their sodium intake closely and so they have offered low-sodium versions of everything from clam chowder to beef stew. This is great, especially for people with diabetes, who have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. If you haven’t tried a low-sodium version of your favorite soup, I dare you. You may not even be able to tell the difference.

This also goes for the stocks and broths. When you need chicken stock or vegetable stock for your next slow-cooker meal, grab the low-sodium and low-fat version. Most people think that they taste no different, and if you do detect a difference, you can enhance soups and other dishes with fresh herbs to add more flavor.

Soup is a great way to get lots of good nutrients in one bowl. Keep in mind, however, that there are carbohydrates in most soups. Whether they be from noodles, potatoes, or other starchy vegetables, make sure you are looking at the carb content and taking its affects on your blood sugar into account.

Canned vegetables
The same advice goes for canned vegetables as it does for soup. Low sodium is better. Keep in mind that canning processes have changed over the years, and while before many canned veggies lost their color and much of their nutrition during the processing, food producers are now able to keep these items more in their original state. Canned veggies and potatoes are cheap, last long, and are easy to serve. But do remember that large quantities of starchy veggies such as potatoes, corn, and squash are fairly high in carbs, so make sure to look at the label.

My advice would be that if you have a choice between canned or frozen veggies and cost is not a factor, go with the frozen. This way you know that the veggies are likely flash frozen (preserving their nutrient content), that there are typically no additives, and that their content is not altered one bit. (I’m not talking about the frozen veggies in a butter or cream sauce, by the way — I’m talking about good old spinach, peas, carrots, and such.)

Canned tomatoes
What better comfort food than a homemade tomato sauce (or gravy, as we Italians call it). No one really wants to skimp on this comfort food, and you can rest assured that many brands now have low-sodium as well as organic versions. If you have the time, try replacing half of your sauce recipe with some fresh tomatoes. (Idea: Make a sauce in the late summer when tomatoes are at their peak, and freeze in large batches for those cold winter days). Keep an eye on the nutrition label once again, as canned tomatoes can sometimes be high in sugar.

Fruit cups
Applesauce, peach slices, and pineapple chunks are all quick fixes for your kids’ lunch (or for your own lunch, even!). The best choice health-wise would be the unsweetened version of your favorite applesauce brand, but that may lack the flavor you desire. In a pinch, the more natural versions of applesauce will have less sugar, and the sugar they do have is usually naturally derived from the apple processing itself, not added.

As for fruit cups, even those that claim to be packed in 100% natural fruit juice are not the best bet. Don’t be fooled by the labeling and read the small print. Try to seek out fruits that are packed in water or light versions that are packed in less juice.

Obviously, fresh veggies and fruits are going to be the healthiest options, but they are not always practical for those of us with big families, small budgets, and busy schedules. Keep this information in mind next time you go down the canned food aisle.

How can taking good care of your oral health improve your diabetes control? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from nurse David Spero.