Canned Tomatoes, an American Favorite

by Sharon Palmer, RD

In an ideal world, most of us would eat a diet emphasizing minimally processed whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, unrefined whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and heart healthy fats. These foods – the ones that have spent the bare minimum (if any) time in a processing plant before they reach your taste buds – are packed with the “good” stuff that provide a bevy of health benefits. These “whole food” benefits range from protection against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive decline to promotion of a healthy body weight.  They support a long, healthy life, all without any harmful side effects.

But, there’s a catch. Not all “processed” foods are bad. And not all “processed” foods are created equal.

There’s a spectrum of food processing, ranging from those foods that are unrecognizable to anything grown in nature to whole plant foods that are simply frozen, preserved, or packaged for convenience. Canned fruits and vegetables, for example, are processed at their seasonal peak with the nutrients locked in and ready to be un-locked the moment they are added to a recipe. The process began in 1795, when Nicolas Appert of France discovered that food sealed in glass bottles in combination with heat was an effective food preservation method. Now, canning vegetables is a common practice that makes eating your fruits and vegetables a much more do-able task.

Some processed foods have actually been documented to be more beneficial in unleashing the beneficial components within the plant food. Canned tomatoes are the perfect example. When fresh tomatoes are heated, their nutritive benefits become more available to the body making processed tomatoes one step above even the fresh variety. And since in-season, perfectly ripe tomatoes are perishable and not always available, canned tomatoes are an excellent way to reap the benefits of America’s favorite non-potato vegetable year-round.

America’s favorite non-potato vegetable is also found in many of America’s favorite dishes. Think: lasagna, chili, and spaghetti.

For dinner tonight, why not try this American classic meal?


Whole Wheat Spaghetti & Tomato Sauce

Nothing says “classic family dinner” quite like spaghetti. This ultimate crowd-pleasing meal is guaranteed to put a smile on all family members’ faces – while sneaking in some nutrition, too! Serving your homemade tomato sauce over whole wheat noodles is another easy way to boost the meal’s nutritional profile. 

This particular recipe makes a large batch, but the extra sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer – and can be used as needed.

For Tomato Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/3 cup red wine

2 large cans (28oz) crushed tomatoes

3 oz tomato paste

1 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, about 10-12 turns

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

Makes 24 servings.

Pasta & the Fixings:

Whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Fresh grated parmesan (optional)

Whole basil leaves, reserved for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for about 3 – 4 minutes, or until onion begins to be translucent. Add garlic, red bell pepper and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté for another 2 – 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer until wine is reduced by half.

While vegetables are cooking, open cans of tomatoes and tomatoes paste. Add to pot and stir.  Add salt and black pepper. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least an hour.

Serve hot on cooked spaghetti. Garnish with basil leaves and cheese, if using.

Nutritional analysis per serving of tomato sauce: Calories: 43, Fat: 2g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 188mg, Carbohydrates: 7g, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Protein: 1g, Vitamin A: 5%, Vitamin C: 19%, Calcium: 3%, Iron: 6%