Canned pork and beans are a staple in many people’s pantries. They’re convenient, have a long shelf life, and can be quite tasty when heated up. But how healthy are canned pork and beans really? Here we’ll take a comprehensive look at the nutritional profile of canned pork and beans and weigh the pros and cons.
Canned pork and beans are packed with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Here is the nutritional profile for a 1 cup serving (258g) of Bush’s Best Original Baked Beans:
As you can see, canned pork and beans provide a good amount of protein and fiber. They also contain vitamins A, C, calcium and iron.
However, they are high in sodium with 850mg per serving. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300mg per day.
The main bean in most pork and beans is navy beans. Navy beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber. Just 1 cup provides:
- 15g fiber – 60% DV
- 15g protein – 30% DV
- 80% DV folate
- 25% DV iron
- 20% DV magnesium
Fiber has many health benefits including promoting digestive health and relieving constipation. Folate, iron, and magnesium are all important nutrients that many Americans may lack in their diets.
The high protein and fiber combo also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer after eating. This can assist with weight management.
So the navy beans themselves pack quite the nutritional punch!
Most canned pork and beans contain a small amount of cured pork. A 1 cup serving may have around 1-3 ounces of pork.
Pork is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals:
- High quality complete protein
- B vitamins including niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12
The protein in pork is complete, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids needed for the growth and maintenance of our bodies.
Pork provides the B vitamins our bodies require for converting food into energy. It also supplies important minerals like zinc for immune function and DNA synthesis.
However, cured pork may also contain added sodium from salt curing methods. This contributes to the high sodium levels in canned pork and beans.
Potential health benefits
Based on their nutritional content, here are some of the possible health benefits of canned pork and beans:
The navy beans provide around 15g of fiber per serving, meeting over half our daily needs. A high fiber intake is associated with:
- Improved digestion and relief from constipation
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Increased feeling of fullness after eating
- Stable blood sugar levels
Thanks to the fiber and protein, canned pork and beans may help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy body weight. Protein requires the most energy for our bodies to digest compared to fats and carbs.
One study found eating 1 serving of beans daily led to greater weight loss compared to not eating beans. The participants lost weight while still feeling satisfied from the bean’s nutrients.
Eating navy beans regularly may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in some individuals. Lower cholesterol reduces plaque buildup in arteries and risk of heart disease.
Potential health risks
However, there are also some potential downsides to canned pork and beans to consider:
The main concern is the very high sodium content, with 850mg per 1 cup serving. Most health authorities recommend limiting sodium to 1500mg-2300mg per day. Just one serving of canned beans provides over a third of the daily limit.
High sodium intake is linked to increased blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney problems.
Not enough potassium
While canned beans supply a lot of sodium, they are relatively lacking in potassium. The balance of sodium and potassium is very important for controlling blood pressure.
Fresh beans contain over twice as much potassium compared to canned beans. Unfortunately, the canning process appears to cause significant potassium losses.
Some brands contain controversial additives like MSG, artificial flavors, and high fructose corn syrup.
MSG is an excitotoxin – a substance that overexcites neurons – and some studies link it to unwanted side effects like headaches, nausea and dizziness.
Artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup also have questionable effects on health. It’s best to check the ingredient list and choose products without these additives.
Acrylamide is a potentially harmful chemical that forms when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. Baked beans are cooked at high heat during the canning process.
Studies on acrylamide are mixed. But there are concerns over its possible links to cancer and nerve damage.
While more research is needed, it may be prudent to consume baked bean products only in moderation as a precaution.
How do canned pork and beans stack up against other canned bean varieties nutrition-wise?
Here’s a comparison of the nutrients in 1 cup servings of various popular canned beans:
|Pork and Beans
|Iron (% DV)
Pork and beans contain slightly less protein compared to other canned bean varieties. They are lower in fiber and iron as well.
On the flip side, pork and beans supply significantly more sodium. Pinto, black and kidney beans all have 460-590mg sodium versus 850mg in pork and beans.
So if your main concern is lowering sodium, choosing another type of canned bean would be better. But pork and beans still come out ahead for convenience since they’re already seasoned.
Ways to make canned pork and beans healthier
The high sodium content is the main drawback of canned pork and beans from a health perspective. However, there are easy ways to make this pantry staple a bit healthier:
Rinse the beans
Draining and thoroughly rinsing the beans can remove up to 40% of the sodium they contain. Remove them from the can, place in a strainer, and rinse for 30 seconds under cold water.
Skip added salt
When heating up canned pork and beans, don’t add any extra salt. The seasoning already present is plenty.
Flavor with spices
Jazz up the beans with salt-free seasonings instead of salt. Spices like chili powder, cumin, onion powder and garlic bring great flavor. A squirt of mustard or vinegar brightens them up too.
Mix in extra vegetables to balance the sodium and increase fiber, potassium, vitamins and antioxidants. Onions, bell peppers, leafy greens or tomatoes make tasty additions.
Use low-sodium beans
Choose low-sodium or no salt added canned beans. These have around 140mg sodium per serving compared to 700-850mg in regular canned beans.
Make from scratch
Soak and cook dry beans from scratch. Homemade baked beans allow you to control sodium and customize with nutritious ingredients.
Healthier pork and bean recipes
Here are some tasty and nutritious ways to prepare canned pork and beans:
BBQ Baked Beans
– 1 15oz can low sodium pork and beans
– 1 bell pepper, diced
– 1 small onion, diced
– 3 tbsp BBQ sauce
– 1 tsp garlic powder
– 1 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp mustard
– Salt & pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Rinse beans to remove excess sodium. Drain well.
3. Mix together all ingredients in a baking dish.
4. Bake for 20 minutes until bubbly.
Southwestern Pork and Beans
– 1 15oz can no salt added pork and beans
– 1 cup corn kernels
– 1/2 cup salsa
– 1 tbsp cumin
– Juice from 1 lime
– 2 green onions, sliced
– Cilantro, chopped
1. Rinse beans well and drain.
2. In pan, stir together beans, corn, salsa, cumin and lime juice.
3. Cook over medium heat until warmed through.
4. Remove from heat and stir in green onions and cilantro.
Pork and Beans Hash
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 russet potato, diced
– 1 bell pepper, diced
– 1 zucchini, diced
– 1 15oz can low sodium pork and beans
– 2 eggs
– S&P to taste
1. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
2. Add potato, bell pepper and zucchini. Cook 5 minutes.
3. Stir in beans until heated through.
4. Form 2 wells in mixture and crack eggs into them. Cook until eggs reach desired doneness.
5. Season with salt and pepper.
Should you eat canned pork and beans?
Canned pork and beans can be part of healthy eating when consumed in moderation. They provide protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Potential benefits include weight management, digestive health, and lower cholesterol.
However, the high sodium content is concerning. Frequently eating canned pork and beans may increase risk of high blood pressure and related issues.
Choosing low sodium beans, rinsing before use, and seasoning with herbs rather than salt are healthier options. Including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables too provides protective nutrients like potassium.
As with most foods, canned pork and beans are fine in moderation while also eating an overall balanced diet. Occasionally enjoying them for convenience is unlikely to negatively impact health. But they may not be the best choice for a regular daily staple meal due to the sodium content.
The bottom line
Canned pork and beans can be a quick nutritious meal when enhanced with extra veggies and spices. But they are high in sodium, so eat them only moderately as part of a varied diet. Rinsing beans before use, choosing low-sodium products, and seasoning with herbs instead of salt are all ways to enjoy canned pork and beans in a healthier way.