Take a look through a grocery aisle of canned goods or a glance at your own home pantry, and you’ll notice that non-perishables aren’t the healthiest foods. In order for them to keep long-term, they’re packed full of sodium and other preservatives, and they tend to run a little light on nutrients. But there are things that we can do to maximize the nutrient value of our food shelf donations.
- Choose whole-grains: White rice and pasta fill your belly and provide energy-giving simple carbohydrates, but not much else. Complex carbohydrates from whole grains have a lot more to offer, like higher amounts of fiber, selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
- Watch out for sugar: If you’re a label-reader, you know that they put sugar in EVERYTHING! Some sugar is natural, of course, but a lot of it is added and unnecessary, and most Americans eat way too much of it. They put sugar in ketchup, salsa, salad dressings, cereal, juice, and canned fruit. It can really add up! Read labels, for yourself and your food shelf donations.
Ingredient list from a name-brand ketchup bottle
(also note the sodium. 160 mg just for a condiment!?!)
- Choose low-sodium options: Like sugar, sodium is in everything, and most of us are getting way more than is healthy for us. Sodium is added to canned goods as an inexpensive preservative. It’s an important nutrient the body needs to regulate hydration, but too much can cause, or at least exacerbate health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. Avoid donating high-sodium, low-nutrient foods like ramen noodles, and instead pick reduced-sodium foods with nutritional value, like vegetables.
Nutrition label from ramen noodles
Image borrowed from fitness blog http://www.howdoigetripped.com – clicking the image will take you to the original source.
- Support food shelves that offer fresh foods: Obviously, if you live in a small town there probably won’t be a variety of food shelf options, and operations of all sized offer valuable services that deserve our support. But in most metropolitan areas there are food shelves that offer more than just canned goods. Bigger operations offer fresh veggies and meats, breads, baby care items, and more. If possible, support food shelf efforts to provide their clients with nutritious foods.
Eating a healthy diet when you depend on the food shelf’s non-perishable offerings is a challenge, but mindful donors can take steps to minimize the supply of salt- and sugar-laden canned goods and instead offer more nutritious fare. Share your additional ideas and experiences in the comments!