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An easy way to soup up your diet

Soups with healthy ingredients help boost your nutrition. But watch out for extra salt, sugar, fat, and calories.

soup up your diet
Image: Karissa/ Thinkstock

A bowl of soup is comforting and convenient. Make a big batch at home, and you’ll have enough for extra meals. Stick to healthy ingredients, and it’s an easy way to increase your intake of vegetables, protein, fiber, or even fruit. Maybe that’s behind the popularity of soups, which are increasingly showing up as gourmet restaurant fare; in soup “bars” offering rotating varieties; at tiny take-out windows; and in grocery stores.

But this simple soul food has hidden risks. “You must be careful about the ingredients and what you pair with it,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Health risks

Many prepared soups contain artificial or unhealthy ingredients. Watch for the following:

Saturated fat. Any soup with a cream base, such as cream of tomato, is made with cream and butter, which contain unhealthy saturated fat. For example, just one bowl (about 12 ounces or 1½ cups) of New England clam chowder at cafe-bakery chain Panera contains 27 grams of saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in your diet may drive up your cholesterol and lead to blockages in arteries.

Sodium. Canned soups often contain high amounts of sodium or salt (a combination of sodium and chloride). For example, a container (about 10 ounces) of Campbell’s Soup On the Go, Chicken and Mini Round Noodles variety, contains 980 milligrams (mg) of sodium, more than half of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of 1,500 mg for some individuals. (Federal guidelines limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day for most people.) Restaurant soups push sodium counts even higher. For example, a bowl of French onion soup at Panera contains 1,960 mg of sodium. Too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Sugar. You might expect added sugars in chilled fruit soups. But added sugar is also found in some vegetable soups. For example, a container of Campbell’s Healthy Request Classic Tomato Soup On the Go contains high-fructose corn syrup, which contributes to a total of 20 grams of sugar (some of the sugar is naturally present in the tomatoes). The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men.

Calories. Soups are generally lower in calories than other entrée choices, but that changes when you top soup with cheese, sour cream, or croutons, or pair it with a piece of bread. For example, a bowl of Panera’s low-fat vegetarian black bean soup contains 140 calories and 1,110 mg of sodium. Order it in a bread bowl, and it contains 750 calories (about the same as ordering five bowls of that soup without the bread) and 2,080 mg of sodium.

Keep it healthy

McManus recommends avoiding prepared soups for the most part. “They’re okay in a pinch and on occasion, as long as you set limits. Aim for less than 500 calories, 600 mg of sodium, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 5 grams of added sugar in a bowl of soup,” she says, “and cut that in half for a cup of soup.” You’ll find nutrition information on a product’s Nutrition Facts label. Many restaurants feature nutrition information on their menus or websites. It just takes detective work to find healthier prepared soups. For example, a cup of the “light in sodium” version of Amy’s Organic lentil soup contains 290 mg of sodium, 1 gram of saturated fat, 3 grams of sugar, 180 calories, and no preservatives.

Make your own

The healthiest soups are made from scratch. Avoid using fatty cream-based broths. Use a base of low-sodium chicken or low-sodium vegetable stock, and then add the vegetables and spices that appeal to you. Increase the nutrient power and fiber by adding as many vegetables as possible, such as peppers, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, onions, and carrots. “Make it a complete meal with protein by adding lentils or beans, fish, extra-lean beef, turkey, or chicken,” says McManus.

3 healthy soups in the grocery store


Calories per serving

Sodium (in milligrams)

Saturated fat (in grams)

Sugar (in grams)

Amy’s Organic Light In Sodium Lentil Soup





Dr. McDougall’s Organic Lower Sodium Split Pea Soup





Health Valley Organic No Salt Added Black Bean Soup





Posted by: Dr.Health

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