Food & Fluids

Can it! – how nutritious are canned products?

Open any kitchen cupboard around the country and you will most likely come across a can of food somewhere. In our Bach’s, boat’s, pantries, the City Mission, hospitals, student flats there they are waiting for you to open them.


First discovered, by the French in 1790 and patented by Englishman Peter Durand in 1810, canned foods came to New Zealand in the late 1800s. Our most famous can food producer Sir James Wattie started his fruit processing cannery in 1934 and by 1937 was producing 25,000 cans per day. Today the Heinz Wattie group own 65% share of the processed food market in New Zealand.

Varieties of Canned Goods

Today almost any food can be canned. From fruit and vegetables; milks and milk puddings; meat, fish, chicken and vegetarian products; soups; baby and pet foods; jams and sponge puddings; sauces and ready made meals- all waiting for the can opener.

How Nutritious are they?

Food labeling

All canned foods in New Zealand are subject to the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards that govern food labeling. So things such as nutrient information; ingredient list; use by date; country of origin; batch numbers etc are all mandatory.

Fruits and Vegetables

All fruits and vegetables that are canned contain around 50% of the vitamin C content of the fresh cooked product. However there is very little difference in the protein and fibre content of these foods.

Meat, Fish and Chicken

The actual protein and iron content of these foods is pretty close to that of the same food when cooked fresh and in some cases the sodium content is lower in the canned variety.

Milk Products

The calcium and protein content of canned milk products is very similar to foods that are cooked fresh and in the case of evapourated milk the canned variety is available in low fat forms and has roughly double the calcium and protein content of whole fresh milk and so could be diluted with water to go further.

Ready Made Meals

Products to which cheese and bacon have been added such as canned spaghetti; baked beans; macaroni cheese and also soups and sauces often have quite high salt levels so check the label and look out for low salt varieties.

Pick the Tick®

The Heart Foundations Certification of good nutrition is also carried on many canned foods and also, to their credit, the canned food industry has been working over recent years to lower the salt and sugar content of many of their foods.

Disaster Relief

If you are planning to stock pile some rations for the eventuality of a disaster; or wish to donate food to the City Mission; or just to help stock up your child’s student flat then choose food with the following qualities:

  • It can be eaten cold if necessary
  • Requires little knowledge to prepare
  • The food can form the basis of a healthy meal
  • It has as high protein value – such foods could include canned fish, meat, chicken, beans (e.g. baked beans, cannellini beans, bean salad), chick peas, lentils, vegetarian products; cans of creamy rice are all useful.

Also in winter when vegetable prices can be high canned peas, corn, vegetable soups (with meat) beetroot and canned tomatoes can also form the basis of a healthy meal.

Safety Note

If stored in a dark place, at a moderate temperature of 75°F or below, canned foods can last for two years from the date of purchase. Remember to rotate your stock to ensure the oldest products are used first and avoid buying or discard any cans that are dented or bulging.

If you have any concerns about the healthiness of foods in your pantry then contact Lea to check.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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