Time to can the old ideas about cans Nutrition: The packaging process does not take away as much as public thinks, industry and experts say.

March 19, 1997|By Creators SyndicateCOOKING LIGHT

More healthful and tastier than you may think, canned vegetables are shedding their dowdy image. After evaluating their flavors and textures, we picked our favorites and updated their look with jazzy recipes.

Canned vegetables have an image problem. Market research shows that although consumers enjoy their convenience and long shelf life, many think they're less nutritious than fresh. So the industry is waging an information campaign to let you know that canned veggies have about the same amount of nutrients as fresh-cooked.

Formidable research backs the canners' claims. Government studies in the 1980s found little difference between fresh-cooked, canned and frozen vegetables, says David Haytowitz, a nutritionist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Data Laboratory in Riverdale.

"There is a feeling that processing takes something away, that fresh must be better, but that's not what we found," Haytowitz says. About the only time fresh produce has more nutrients, he says, is if you eat it raw as you pick it from a garden, or if you buy it very soon after it has been picked.

"Consumers can feel good about choosing canned vegetables along with fresh and frozen," says Barbara Klein, a University of Illinois professor of nutrition.

After comparing current nutritional data on food labels with that of government data for fresh-cooked food, she found that canned food is nutritionally quite similar to fresh-cooked. In her // review, she even discovered that some brands of canned carrots, potatoes, spinach and pumpkin are slightly higher in vitamins A and C than their fresh-cooked counterparts.

"The message," says Klein, "is just 'Eat your vegetables,' however you prefer them."

There's hardly any preparation for this quiche-like dish -- a little chopping and opening a few cans.

Four-corn pie

Makes 4 servings

cooking spray

1 cup chopped onion

2 (8 3/4 -ounce) cans no-salt-added whole-kernel corn, drained

1 (8.5-ounce) can no-salt-added cream-style corn

1 (15.5-ounce) can white hominy, drained

1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Colby-Jack cheese, divided

3/4 cup egg substitute

1 cup cornflakes, finely crushed

4 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat until hot. Add onion; saute 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Combine onion, whole-kernel corn, cream-style corn, hominy, chilies and cilantro in a large bowl; stir in 1/2 cup cheese and egg substitute. Spoon mixture into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Combine 1/4 cup cheese and cornflakes; toss well. Sprinkle over corn mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes or until top is browned and mixture is set. Serve with 1 tablespoon sour cream.

Per serving: 352 calories (24 percent from fat), 9.3 grams fat (sat 4.5 g, mono 2.3 g, poly 0.8 g); 16.2 grams protein, 51.2 grams carbohydrates, 4.7 grams fiber, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 2.8 milligrams iron, 561 milligrams sodium, 188 milligrams calcium.

Spinach, ham and grits souffle

Makes 6 1-cup servings

cooking spray

1/4 pound lean country ham, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1 (10 1/2 -ounce) can low-salt chicken broth

3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits (do not use instant)

L 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded, reduced-fat, sharp Cheddar cheese

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 (13 1/2 -ounce) can chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry

4 large egg whites (at room temperature)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat until hot. Add ham; saute 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan; set aside.

Combine milk and broth in pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in grits; reduce heat and simmer 7 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Combine grits mixture, ham, cheese, garlic powder, pepper and spinach in a large bowl. Stir well; set aside.

Beat egg whites at high speed of a mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold one-fourth of egg whites into grits mixture; gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart casserole or souffle dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until set and lightly browned.

Note: Substitute cured ham or cooked smoked pork chops for country ham, if desired.

Per serving: 198 calories (25 percent from fat), 5.5 grams fat (sat 2.5 g, mono 1 g, poly 0.1 g); 16.6 grams protein, 20.9 grams carbohydrates, 1.2 grams fiber, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 1.9 milligrams iron, 623 milligrams sodium, 278 milligrams calcium.

We used the liquid from the can of green beans in the next recipe to add flavor and nutrients.

Tomato-green bean risotto with feta cheese

Makes 6 1-cup servings

1/2 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil (about 8)

1 (14 1/2 -ounce) can cut green beans, undrained

2/3 cup dry white wine

3 (10 1/2 -ounce) cans low-salt chicken broth

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, crushed

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