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Should I Avoid Shelf-Stable or Packaged Foods?

Canned and packaged meals has a foul status for being much less nutritious than its more energizing counterparts. While it’s actually true in some cases, the way in which we discuss “processed” meals results in plenty of generalizations — a lot of which do extra hurt than good.

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Processed meals 101

Are shelf-stable meals and packaged meals the identical factor? Do each fall below the “processed food” umbrella?

According to registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD, there’s truly no universally accepted definition for “processed food.” That’s partially as a result of there isn’t a regulatory physique accountable for overseeing all of the meals objects which may fall into that class.

“There are established regulations for some of the foods we eat. For example, terms like ‘low-sugar’ or ‘low-fat’ are defined by the FDA, and there are certain criteria foods have to meet before making those claims,” DiMarino explains.

In lieu of a state-sanctioned definition of “processed food,” dietitians have created their very own, and it’s fairly easy.

“Within the dietitian community, it’s kind of become accepted that anything that isn’t straight off the farm is processed,” says DiMarino. “So, you go to an apple orchard, pull an apple off the tree and you go home with it. That’s the only food that’s not processed.”

He continues, “Anything you get at the store, there’s some spectrum of process going on. That apple you buy at the grocery store was picked, cleaned and transported. That’s on the minimally processed end of the spectrum.”

On the opposite finish of the spectrum are meals which are prepackaged. “Maybe there’s a bunch of added ingredients or artificial flavorings to it, maybe it’s manufactured and not just made from nature. That’s the highly processed end of the spectrum,” he continues

Using the definition of processed meals that dietitians make use of, virtually the whole lot we eat in a day is processed. As DiMarino explains, “it just comes down to how much the food is processed and what that particular kind of processing does to the food, and to your health.”

Benefits of packaged meals

While it’s true that some packaged meals go away lots to be desired nutritionally, there’s additionally loads of wholesome fare on the market to select from, and loads of good causes to maintain evenly processed meals in your grocery checklist.


Stocking your fridge with shelf-stable items retains you from making frequent journeys to the shop. That’s nice information for each your schedule and — when you’re driving — the surroundings. It additionally cuts down the quantity of effort and time concerned in incorporating wholesome meals into day by day meals.


It’s robust on the market, people. Standing on the checkout line can really feel like a punch within the intestine below the perfect of circumstances, and it typically feels even worse once you’re making an attempt to eat a different and balanced weight-reduction plan. Shelf-stable meals is one in all some ways we will be wholesome on a finances. Fresh tuna could also be prohibitively costly for many people, however we are able to get a can (or pouch) of the stuff for lower than $2.


Fresh meals is often perfect, however as DiMarino notes, it additionally goes dangerous fairly rapidly. While some nonperishable meals are closely processed, others are staples of a nutritious diet. It’s particularly good to have entry to canned or frozen fruit and veggies which may in any other case be out of season.

The nonperishable nature of many packaged meals additionally makes them important for emergency planning functions. Whether you reside in an space that’s topic to excessive climate, you’re making an attempt to plan for an unusually buys work week or your paycheck isn’t stretching prefer it used to, it’s good to know that you’ve got meals readily available.

Downsides of packaged meals

Most of us know that recent is greatest, nevertheless it may not all the time be instantly clear why. A whole lot of it has to do with the work that goes into making a meals merchandise shelf-stable.

Added components and preservatives

According to DiMarino, “Prepackaged foods are going to be more heavily processed. Maybe manufacturers add some salt or fat to the food to keep it fresh for a longer period of time. Make sure that you’re looking at how the product was packaged and what was added to it. Choose items with fewer calories from fat or sugar and less overall sodium.”

When searching for nonperishable or packaged meals, the overall rule of thumb is the less the components, the higher.

DiMarino’s recommendation is simple: “You want to find shelf-stable, prepackaged foods that have the fewest ingredients possible. Get something like canned tuna. It’s packed in water, so it’s just two ingredients: tuna and water. Choose that as opposed to those convenient pastas that have the powder packet, the pasta and dehydrated vegetables.”

Quality query marks

The extra components you’re coping with, the extra alternatives there are for high quality issues to emerge.

When you select produce out of your native retailer or farmer’s market, you recognize what you’re getting. A bell pepper is a bell pepper — a fast visible inspection will let you know what it’s good to find out about its suitability to your desk.

The identical can’t be stated about many packaged items. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate using phrases like “low-carb,” “made with whole grains” or “natural.” The FDA does regulate some phrases — like “gluten-free” and “zero trans-fats” — but additionally permits meals labeled that solution to include traces of an offending ingredient. When it involves shelf-stable meals, it’s onerous to know when you’re getting precisely what you paid for.

The expiration date dance

Who amongst us can confidently open our cupboard, assured that each one the meals packed away inside remains to be edible? It’s fairly simple to inform when the milk’s off or when it’s time to toss the blueberries. In that respect, the good thing about shelf-stable meals can also be a disadvantage: That stuff can sit round for a lengthy time.

How are you aware if the meals in your pantry is OK to eat? The USDA says that the majority shelf-stable meals are protected indefinitely, however these expiration dates counsel in any other case.

DiMarino encourages us to make use of our greatest judgment. “Check the integrity of the package,” he says, “It’s not dented, is it? Is it broken? Is it oozing? Use your senses: Open it up, smell it. Take a look at it. Is it moldy? Is it green? Is it gross? How’s the texture?”

DiMarino’s recommendation: “If it doesn’t taste right, it’s probably bad. You should dispose of it.”

Pantry staples

For good or for in poor health, shelf-stable and packaged meals are right here to remain. They could not all the time be perfect, nevertheless it’s additionally value remembering that any vegetable is healthier than no vegetable in any respect. At the tip of the day, having the ability to select between recent and shelf-stable meals is a luxurious.

So, how will we make processed meals work for our well being and never towards it?

Whether you’re stocking up in preparation for an extended winter, to refill your earthquake or hurricane provides, or to keep away from an additional journey to the grocery retailer, the next shelf-stable choices are as wholesome as they’re inexpensive:

  • Beans (both canned or dry).
  • Lentils.
  • Tuna (packed in water).
  • Low-sodium soups.
  • Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and oats.
  • Whole wheat pasta or crackers.
  • Canned veggies.
  • Canned pumpkin.
  • Canned tomatoes.
  • Fruit packaged in water or 100% juice.
  • Chicken or vegetable broth.
  • Natural peanut or different nut butters.

The backside line

In an ideal world, all of the meals we eat would all the time be recent and solely minimally processed. It’s a terrific aspiration, however actual folks dwelling actual lives can’t ditch shelf-stable and packaged meals solely. They’re low cost, handy and useful to have readily available. The excellent news is there are many wholesome, minimally processed meals that belong in a well-rounded weight-reduction plan. Doing a bit of homework will get your pantry prepared for its “shelfie” very quickly.

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