Being a native New Englander, I’m beginning to brace myself for the cold weather ahead. I admit — I’m not a big fan of frigid temperatures, sleet, or snow, but one thing I really can appreciate about the big chill is soup. Granted, one can eat soup at any time of the year, but there’s nothing like a steaming bowl of nourishing soup on a cold winter’s night. Soup has a lot of good things going for it, but not all soups are created equally nutrition-wise.
Sure, some soups are brimming with fat and calories (think chowders or creamy soups). But the reality is that soup has a lot to offer in terms of nutrition.
Vegetables. Not a big fan of vegetables? Reach for soup. Vegetables always taste better when they’re simmering in a chicken or tomato broth. And while the amount of vegetables that you need depends on your gender, age, and activity level, aiming for between 2 and 3 cups of veggies each day is generally the goal. You can help reach that goal by eating soup that contains plenty of vegetables.
Fiber. We need between 25 and 38 grams of fiber each day. To reach that goal, you really do need to eat vegetables (along with fruits and whole grains). But you can help meet your vegetable and fiber quota by eating…you guessed it: soup! For an added bonus, choose soups that contain beans, like kidney beans, cannellini beans, or lentils, which are some of the highest-fiber-foods around.
Vitamins. Most of us probably aren’t deficient in too many vitamins, but it’s still good to know that you can get reasonable amounts of vitamin C, beta carotene, and B vitamins from soup.
Weight control. No, I’m not telling you to go on the cabbage soup diet to lose weight. But there’s credible evidence telling us that kicking off a meal with a bowl of healthy, broth-based soup can fill you up. The result? You eat less of your meal and you consume fewer calories. Also, eating a bowl of hot soup can slow your eating rate, which again, means that you likely will eat less.
Diabetes control. Not only can eating a bowl of soup as your first course help you battle the bulge, it may also help you battle spikes in blood sugar (as long as you choose your soup wisely). For example, eating a bowl of broth-based chicken soup not only fills you up, but it’s low in carbohydrate and, depending on how much chicken is in the soup, may contain a decent amount of protein. Portion control and making sure to include a protein source at each of your meals are two keys to better blood sugars.
While this all may seem good, the reality is that choosing a healthy soup in the grocery store can be a little confusing. There’s no shortage of soup to select, but the trick is knowing what to look for on that label. Many of the cans of soup lining the grocery aisle are loaded with sodium — upwards of 1,000 milligrams (mg) per serving in some cases. And let’s face it — who eats just one serving of soup? Try these tips to make sure you make the best choice when it comes to soup:
1. While not everyone necessarily needs to limit his sodium intake, it’s no secret that we tend to consume way more than is recommended (no more than 2,300 mg per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). If you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or congestive heart failure, you may need to limit your sodium to just 1,500 mg (or lower) per day. Look for soup that contains no more than about 600 mg per serving. You can also try low-sodium soup, which has no more than 140 mg per serving (and may require some getting used to in terms of taste). You can add back flavor by shaking in some black pepper, herbs, or spices of your choosing.
2. Choose broth-based soups (chicken, beef, vegetable) over creamy-style soups, such as clam chowder or cream of broccoli soup. Doing so will save you calories and grams of saturated fat.
3. Try to pick a soup that contains at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Lentil or minestrone soups are good examples of higher-fiber soups. If your favorite soup seems to be lacking in fiber, add your own cooked vegetables, beans, lentils, or whole grains, such as brown rice or barley.
4. If you prefer organic soups, just remember that they may not necessarily be lower in sodium or fat, or higher in fiber than conventional soup. Always read the Nutrition Facts panel.
5. Amy’s, Campbell’s, Healthy Choice, and Progresso all have “healthier” selections of soup.
Finally, consider making your own soup. It really doesn’t take too much time to whip up a batch of nourishing, healthy soup that you can nosh on all week. Try creating your own version of soup on the weekend or your day off, and freeze it in individual containers. For a great way to get started with homemade soup, check out the how-tos from Kansas State University’s extension division.