Once a staple part of our food culture, kicking the canned food habit has now become as critical to our health as quitting smoking, getting off of fast food and ditching soda, thanks to BPA (bisphenol-A), the toxic chemical used to make polymers and resins common in canned foods.
Connected with numerous health issues including birth defects, weight gain and cancer, BPA has been banned in several countries, and the FDA recently banned it from some baby products. But it's still found in many types of plastics, including the lining of soda cans and canned foods.
Iconic natural food brands like Amy's and Muir Glen have begun to transition away from BPA in their canned foods (and Eden is totally BPA-free). But the key word is "transition," which means, yes, BPA was in those products at one point—even those labeled organic. Nearly all of the conventional brands of canned goods contain BPA, and studies confirm that virtually all Americans have traces of BPA in their urine or blood.
That's definitely unnerving and disheartening, especially if you assumed canned organic foods were both healthy and easy. But don't panic. Research does show that BPA can be relatively easily eliminated from the body with a fresh food diet. So while those cans were certainly convenient, they now serve to remind us that true health is not a matter of convenience; it requires making intelligent choices, and investing a little time and energy. The payoff in ditching canned foods is actually pretty huge. Not only do we get foods free from the incidental chemical bath, but we also reduce our risks of foodborne illnesses. We cut down on packaging waste, transport cost, and that means we save money. We reduce our sodium intake and other unnecessary ingredients like stabilizers and preservatives that are connected with health issues. And making it from scratch simply tastes better, too.
Carving out time to cook from scratch is just one way to stay connected to human traditions, to the earth and how important it is to connect with the food we eat. It's a great way to unplug from our busy electronic worlds, even if just for an hour or so a day.
So, how to do it? Check out these tips on kicking the canned food habit for good.
Soaking beans is not a big deal. Here's a secret: It's kind of hard to cook beans wrong. You have a few options: soak your beans before bed or before you leave for work in the morning. Rinse the beans. In a large stock pot, bring beans and fresh water – enough to cover them 2 to 3 times over to a low boil. Let simmer 45 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the beans). You can do this too over the weekend if the workdays are too hectic. Cook a variety. Store in glass mason jars in your fridge and then parse out into recipes throughout the week. Getting the hang of this is so easy you'll be shocked you ever bought canned beans. Really. You can also start out with beans that don't need soaking like mungs, adzukis and even lentils (technically a legume).
Canned soups suck. You may not know this yet, but once you start making your own, it will hit you like a Progresso can to the head. And it is so easy. Stock. Veggies. Beans. Spices. Heat. You can make a delicious soup in under an hour. Split pea, mushroom barley, tomato, vegetable, creamy soups—making soup is fun and delicious. Make giant batches. Freeze extras. Share with friends. Eat soup for breakfast. Sell it on the corner. You will be so happy you did this!
3. Fruits and Vegetables
Hopefully you're not buying canned fruits or vegetables anyway! They lose their nutrients when canned. Always buy fresh or frozen. Buy fresh and freeze your own. There's simply no reason to buy canned produce when fresh is readily available (like, two aisles over, to be exact).
4. Coconut Milk
You can't have Thai curry without it. But in addition to BPA, most canned coconut milk contains added stabilizers and gelling agents. You can buy mature (brown) coconuts and mix the existing milk inside with the coconut pulp, puree and strain. It won't have quite the texture of the canned stuff, but it will taste creamy and delicious.
Of course every once in a while, it's nice to let bubbles coalesce on your tongue. Try bottled brews made with natural ingredients (no, high fructose corn syrup, you already lost that battle).
This is the toughest. To make your own tomato products requires a lot of tomatoes. Seeing as they are a very, very seasonal item, if you're not already canning your own tomatoes every summer, you may have to wait until it comes around on the sundial again. (Question of the day: Why is it no one sells frozen tomatoes?!) Bionature sells jarred strained tomatoes and Pomi sells them in cardboard cartons, but perhaps the best option is simply cutting back on your spaghetti nights in the first place. Use the opportunity to get creative and find other ingredients and menu items. Try pasta with a butternut squash sauce or pesto. Make pizza with sundried tomato sauce or olive oil and herbs.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger