“What kinds of things are people looking for in labels when purchasing things like canned beans, fish, veg etc??“
Canned food is one of the easiest kitchen hacks. It’s inexpensive. It preserves way more of the nutritional value than you might think. Stores for basically forever. Takes up no space in the fridge or freezer—hey, it can even be stored under the bed—is impenetrable for mice and bugs. What could be better?!
Okay, the trick with canning is: there’s not always just the food you’re looking for in there. So when you see people (me, that would be me) comparing labels of different companies’ black beans (just hypothetically, as an example), I’m looking to see how much extra salt they added.
Don’t get me wrong, salt is important to our diet. It is nutritionally necessary, and a wonderful supercharger of flavor. However, it also can ruin our perception of flavor where everything just tastes salty. And, as with most things in the world, too much can literally kill you. (I mean, way too much. I don’t lie awake at night terrified of death by salt.)
Generally speaking, I prefer to add most of the salt to my food myself. This allows me to control the process and include other salty ingredients like parmesan or olives. Since I am also cooking for people who are supremely careful of how much salt they use, this becomes important on another level.
If you’re just starting to reduce your salt intake, you may find for a while that you can’t taste food very well. Don’t worry, your palate will adjust and in a month or so you’ll find that there were whole layers of flavor underneath that you’d been missing for years.
Another common “extra” ingredient in canned food is sugar. Like salt, sugar is a preservative. Sugar in fruits is wonderful! However, we don’t need to add it to our food in any amount. And again, eating too much of it changes the way we perceive flavor and makes it harder and harder to enjoy food in its natural state.
A few others things to be aware of with canned food and labels:
Mercury (from fish). This isn’t added in the canning process, so you have to be careful of the fish itself. Salmon is a good choice overall, and canned light tuna is a safe bet. Other forms of tuna have more mercury and should be consumed less frequently.
BPA. Most cans used for foods these days are BPA free, so this is less of a concern than it used to be.
GMOs. Genetically modified food is of great concern to a lot of people. The reasons why would take a lot longer to explain than I have room for here. For our purposes, you can know that when it comes to canned food, corn is most likely to be genetically modified, but it can be avoided with a little label searching.
Artificial preservatives. Look, canning itself is a preserving mechanism, so adding this is going to be about preserving a familiar texture and flavor. Since I tend to use canned foods primarily for stewps and other cooked dishes, this is not a priority for me.
Unlabeled ingredients. The FDA is getting better about requiring all ingredients to be included in the labeling, so this is less of a concern than it used to be. However, when I have the option, I will still defer sometimes to food that is canned in the EU, which has stricter regulations around food labels.