May 1, 2007 -- Starting a meal with soup may help you cut calories, say nutrition experts at Pennsylvania State University.
They served lunch to 60 normal-weight men and women once a week for five weeks.
For four of those weeks, the lunch menu started with a low-calorie, broth-based vegetable soup. All of the soups were homemade and contained the same ingredients, though some soups were pureed and others contained vegetable chunks.
Fifteen minutes after the soup was served, participants were served cheese tortellini with tomato sauce.
For comparison, no soup was served during one of the five lunches.
Cutting Calories With Soup
The bottom line: Participants consumed 20% fewer calories when they started their meals with soup.
They consumed 150 calories in an average soup serving. Even so, they still averaged 135 fewer calories for the entire lunch when lunch started with soup.
The results were similar for pureed and chunky soups, notes researcher Julie Flood, a nutrition sciences graduate student at Pennsylvania State University.
Starting a meal with soup "can be a good way to still feel satisfied -- you get a second course of food -- but also manage your calorie intake," Flood tells WebMD.
"Ultimately, it may help with weight management as well," she says.
The soup-first strategy may be a good idea when dining in restaurants, Flood says. The same technique also applies at home, provided you don't rush from the soup to the rest of your meal.
Remember, the entrée was served 15 minutes after the soup. That's about the amount of time restaurants take to serve an entree after appetizers, Flood notes.
Flood presented her findings today in Washington at Experimental Biology 2007, an annual meeting of several scientific societies.
Of course, soup calories still count. If your soup is sky-high in calories and swimming in heavy cream, you may lose your calorie advantage.
"I would say in terms of advice, women should make sure that they don't go over 150 calories in their first course and the guys, 200 [calories] maximum," Barbara Rolls, PhD, tells WebMD.
Rolls, a professor of nutritional science at Pennsylvania State University, worked with Flood on the study.
"Fewer calories, bigger volume is the way to go because then that helps fill you up and you eat less of what is usually more calorie-dense in the next course," says Rolls, who is the author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories.