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As with frozen vegetables, fiber and nutrient content usually stay high in canned foods. Some research indicates that carotenes, which can reduce cancer rates and eye problems, may be more available to the body following the routine heat treatment. What's more, canned foods are bargain foods. In an April study led by dietitian Cathy Kapica of Tufts University, nutritionists crunched the cost-per-serving numbers of some canned foods vs. their fresh counterparts, factoring in the time needed to prepare and the amount of waste generated (the husks and cobs of fresh corn, for example). Again and again, canned foods came up the winner, with protein-rich canned pinto beans costing $1 less per serving than dried, for example, and canned spinach a full 85% cheaper than fresh.
Food on the Hoof, Fin and Wing
I live in a vegetarian household, so I simply don't have the opportunity to eat a lot of meat at family meals. But I am not opposed to meats that are served in an appropriate portion size and are well prepared. Your first step is deciding what kind of meat you want and how you want to cook it.
There's no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed, pasture-dwelling cows lead happier--if not appreciably longer--lives than animals raised on factory farms. They are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics and are less likely to carry communicable bacteria like E. coli, which are common on crowded feedlots. If these things are important to you and you have the money to spend, then by all means opt for pricier organic meats.
But for the most part, it's O.K. to skip the meat boutiques and the high-end butchers. Nutritionally, there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety. The calories, sodium and protein content are all very close. Any lean meats are generally fine as long as the serving size is correct--and that means 4 to 6 oz., roughly the size of your palm. A modest serving like that can be difficult in a country with as deep a meat tradition as ours, where steak houses serve up 24-oz. portions and the term meat and potatoes is a synonym for good eating. But good eating isn't always healthy eating, and we're not even built to handle so much animal protein, since early humans simply did not have meat available at every meal. Sticking with reasonable portions two or three times a week will keep you in step with evolution.
Preparation is another matter, and here there are no secrets. Those burgers your kids (and probably you) love can be fine if they're lean and grilled, the fat is drained and you're not burying them under cheese, bacon and high-fructose ketchup and then packing them into a bun the size of a catcher's mitt.
Chicken is a separate issue. In my mind, there is nothing that better captures where we have gone wrong as a food culture than the countless fried-chicken fast-food outlets that dot highways. Fried chicken is consumed literally in buckets--and that's got to be a bad sign. What's more, even at home, frying chicken wrecks the nutritional quality of the meat.