With this simple trick, you can make canned chicken healthier and reduce the sodium. ~ by Serena Ball, MS, RD
What am I going to feed the kids for lunch? Summer mornings seem to fly by and ALL OF A SUDDEN, it’s lunchtime. That’s happened, like 38 times already this summer.
So I grabbed a couple cans of chicken the other day at the supermarket. Yes, canned chicken. Back in the day, my mom used to buy it along with canned lima beans. (And that seems to be the stereotype that remains.) Normally, when chicken is on my menu, I opt to buy a ‘natural’ whole bird and roast it in the oven or slow cooker. But guess what? There are 30+ more need-ASAP-summer lunches to feed my kids before school begins. And canned chicken has great protein and nutrition bang for your buck (about $0.36 per ounce). While it’s certainly not an “everyday food,” my kids have been LOVING this Creamy Basil Chicken Salad made with canned chicken.
But wait. “Isn’t canned chicken full of preservatives?” That’s what a mom-friend asked me. Here’s my humble dietitian opinion on: Is canned chicken healthy?
According to my chart above, canned chicken does contain “less than 2%” of these ingredients:
- Salt – which is obviously used when I can pickles or green beans. It’s the world’s oldest preservative.
- Modified food starch – a basic thickener for the chicken juices – possibly corn starch or tapioca – very similar to the food starches I use when thickening pudding or fruit pies
- Sodium phosphate – Used to keep the chicken tender. Too much of it or plus other sources of phosphorus may not be healthy (which is why I looked up the amounts of phosphorus in each of the other chicken sources for comparison.)
BUT, and this is a BIG but…
Here’s the trick to make canned chicken healthier: Drain and rinse it thoroughly!
Studies have shown that rinsing canned beans removes up to 40% of the sodium. So if this holds true, the 2 ounce serving of canned chicken would contain:
Before rinsing: 260 mg sodium
After rinsing: 156 mg sodium
Since the chicken is packed in water, I’m also assuming much of the food starch and sodium phosphate would also wash right down the drain too.
And while many healthy recipe often recommend using rotisserie chicken, you can see (above) it also contains preservatives and more sodium per ounce than canned chicken (140 mg/oz vs. 130 mg/oz for canned chicken WITHOUT rinsing.) Plus most folks don’t think of rinsing rotisserie chicken – but rinsing canned chicken is easy because you already have it in a colander to drain off the liquid!
Finally, here’s how I updated quick chicken salad to make it healthier and more kid-friendly.
- Rinsed the canned chicken to reduce the sodium
- Replaced most of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt
- Added sweet kid-friendly mix-ins: Raisins and or/mango
- Added more veggies: Chickpeas, carrots, bell peppers, serve on lots of lettuce
So what do you think… would you buy canned chicken?