Description: Eating fresh local produce is far and away the healthiest food choice available. Purchase fresh and vibrant fruits and vegetables as well as high quality meats at local farmer’s markets or natural food stores. Eat raw salads and/or minimally cooked vegetable dishes. Eating this way involves the least amount of processing; food that has been washed and prepared at home through steaming, braising, or other light cooking will contain a very high proportion of naturally occurring vitamins, fiber, and minerals.

In contrast, the food processing procedures involved in bottling and canning fresh foods lower the nutritional value found in them. Often food preservatives such as nitrites or sulfites are added or created during processing which may contribute to adverse health. If possible, avoid bottled and canned food altogether; however, there are occasions when they may be moderately incorporated into a healthy diet. As a general rule, if faced with a decision between bottled or canned tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, etc., go with the bottled alternative. This option often yields higher nutritional content and the clear glass allows a more accurate perception of what’s being purchased. Bottled and canned food can be most advantageous for winter and emergency food storage. It should be noted that although these food processing measures increase a food’s shelf life, they are not infallible as canned and bottled food may still spoil due to heat or transportation conditions.

What to look for: Be sure to check the expiration date on canned and bottled foods. In general, canned and bottled foods should be consumed within a one year time frame. Low acid foods should be consumed within 8-12 months. High acid foods such as tomatoes can be expected to last 11-18 months. Basically, the longer food is stored, the more it may deteriorate in nutritional value, color, and flavor.

Uses: There are occasions when bottled and canned food can be utilized well for convenience and/or nutrition. These alternatively processed foods make good kitchen supplements for occasional use in cooking. All the nut butters are an excellent bottled good to keep in one’s kitchen. For instance, high quality tahini is well suited for use in salad dressings, sandwich spreads, and as a principal ingredient in hummus. Coconut milk is another excellently packaged staple good that is difficult for one to make from scratch. Coconut milk is wonderful to add to sautes and Thai curry dishes. Canned garbanzo or black beans are a nice ingredient to have stored in the kitchen for those occasions when time does not allow for soaking and cooking beans from scratch. On occasion it is truly fantastic to simply add bottled or canned tomatoes to a simmering vegetable soup or whip up a batch of hummus with canned garbanzo beans and bottled tahini. Of course, the soup or hummus will not have the same sublime nature of the entirely home-made dish, but it does satisfy the taste buds while still offering nutritional value with optimum ease.

Where to find: Canned and bottled foods are commonplace and are found in virtually every grocery store across America. Find quality bottled nut butters and healthful bottled foods at local natural food stores or through online resources.

Avoid: Avoid processed bottled and canned food as a general rule. When incorporating these processed foods, be sure to avoid any cans or metal lids that have corroded, developed rust, any sign of holes, bulging lids or dents of any kind. Avoid any canned or bottled foods that have experienced temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Obviously, if you do not observe any of these signs but detect a foul odor after opening, do not eat the contents. In order to maintain the highest food integrity, it is important that bottled foods and oils not be exposed to light. Therefore avoid storing glass jars and containers anywhere with high amounts of light.