What's not to like about soup? It can be convenient (just open a can), it can be comforting (it's hot, savory food on a cold day), and it can even help you eat fewer total calories in a meal. Pretty powerful stuff!
(And that's not to mention that soup is a great way to sneak in a few of those high-nutrient/high-fiber food groups we know we need more of -- whole grains, veggies, and beans.)
Studies have shown that eating broth- or vegetable-based soups (either hot or cold) as the first course of a meal decreases the amount of total calories consumed at that meal. The key is to stick to lower-calorie, higher-fiber soups like vegetable bean or minestrone. Creamy or other high-fat soups need not apply for this job! A cup of broth- or tomato-based soup only has around 75 to 125 calories (depending on the recipe and type of soup).
We've just established what Campbell's has been saying for years -- "soup is good food." But can soup be not so good at times? You betcha. The way I see it, you have two main choices when it comes to soup: You can choose homemade vs. canned soup; and you can choose creamy soup vs. broth- or tomato-based soup. When you go the homemade route, you can make your soup even more super by choosing high-nutrient and lower-fat and -calorie ingredients. If you're cruising the canned soup aisle, you can look for soups that are lower in sodium, fat, and saturated fat, and higher in fiber.
6 Soup Tips
1. Soup tricks your stomach.
Even though broth- and tomato-based soups are mostly water, our bodies register it as a food, not a drink. Researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, found that when women ate a 270-calorie first course before lunch (either in the form of a casserole, a soup containing 10 ounces of water, or a casserole plus 10 ounces of water to drink), the soup-eating group consumed about 100 fewer calories total at lunch. These women did not report feeling any hungrier later; nor did they eat more at dinner to make up the calorie difference. And cold soup worked just as well as hot soup.
2. Soup is synonymous with satiety.
There are several reasons soup is so satisfying:
- Even though soup is mostly water and tends to be relatively low in calories, the visual cue of sitting in front of a bowl of soup suggests it will be filling.
- Soup offers a plethora of sensory stimulations (aroma, taste, warmth, visual interest from all sorts of different ingredients). And the more sensory stimulation you get from a food, the more satisfying it is.
- Soup is a "slow" food to eat. Eating soup generally involves a certain amount of slurping, savoring, smelling, tasting, chewing, and swallowing.
- Soup's high water content gives it a relatively high volume. This activates the stomach's stretch receptors, which send messages of satiety to your brain.
Chunky soups tend to be more satisfying over the long term than strained soup. This is probably because the stomach needs more time to break down the pieces of solid food in chunky soups. Soup with high-fiber whole grains, beans, vegetables, and/or lean meat, will generally leave the stomach slowly.
3. Eating more soup helps you keep weight off.
Overweight men and women who were told to lose weight by eating soup every day preferred this method to being told to reduce calories, according to research from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The group who ate soup daily better maintained their weight loss over the following year, too. "It helps people eat less," explains Baylor researcher John Foreyt.
4. If you're sensitive to MSG (monosodium glutamate), you can find brands that tend not to use it.
The following soup brands do not list MSG on their labels (Keep in mind that companies are constantly reformulating their products, so make sure to read labels before you buy):
- Nile Spice Soup Cups
- Spice Hunter Soup Cups
- Andersen's Soups
- Campbell's Healthy Request soups
- Dominique's Soups
- Healthy Choice Soups
- Swanson broth
- Natural Goodness 33% Less sodium
- 100% Fat-Free Chicken Broth
- Certified Organic Chicken Broth
- Certified Organic Vegetable Broth
- Wolfgang Puck's Hearty Soups
5. Spices and herbs can beef up the flavor of reduced-sodium soups.
Try garlic, ginger, oregano, or parsley. You can sprinkle in one of the Mrs. Dash's salt-free seasoning blends, too.
6. You can keep it healthy by keeping track of the fiber, sodium, and fat.
Look for canned soups and soup recipes that have at least 3 grams of fiber per cup, but not more than 600-800 mg of sodium.
Make sure the grams of total fat and saturated fat aren't too high, either (lower-calorie soups tend to have 2-3 grams of fat per cup). If the calories go much higher than 250 per cup, you're probably dealing with a creamy or higher-fat soup, or a soup with an extra dose of starch or beans.
Speaking of recipes, here are a couple of hearty ones that fit the bill.
Slow Cooker Taco Soup
Journal as: 1 cup of "hearty stew, chili"
Serve this Tex-Mex soup with homemade half-whole wheat flour tortillas, shredded reduced-fat Cheddar or Jack cheese, and a dollop of fat-free sour cream, if desired. You could make this meatless by using a tofu or soy product in place of the ground sirloin.
1 pound ground sirloin (around 6%-9% fat), or ground turkey with around 6% fat
1 cup chopped onions
1 16-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
8 ounces canned tomato sauce
2 cups water
2 14.5-ounce cans peeled and diced tomatoes
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles (buy mild, if you prefer)
1 ounce packet taco seasoning mix
1 cup shredded, reduced-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
- In a medium skillet, cook the ground beef or turkey over medium heat until browned. Drain, and set aside.
- Place the ground meat, onion, chili beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, green chile peppers, and taco seasoning mix in a slow cooker. Mix to blend, and cook on low setting for 8 hours.
- Ladle into individual serving bowls, and top each with 1/8 cup shredded cheese and a tablespoon of fat-free sour cream. Serve with homemade flour tortillas.
Yield: 8 servings
Per serving: 288 calories, 20 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 2.7 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 10 g fiber, 730 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 22%.
Lean & Mean Chili
Journal as: 1 cup "hearty stew, chili."
This dish has quite a few interesting ingredients. The flavors come together to make a delicious chili.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced or chopped garlic
1.3 to 1.4 pounds beef round tip pieces, trimmed of visible fat
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in tomato puree
1 12-ounce bottle or can of nonalcoholic or light beer
2/3 cup strong coffee (decaf or regular)
1/3 cup lite pancake syrup
2 tablespoons chili powder (or add more to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (or add more to taste)
2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup shredded, reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onion
- Heat canola oil in a large, nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, and beef pieces and sauté for about 10 minutes, or until meat is well browned.
- Stir in the tomatoes, beer, coffee, and pancake syrup. Then stir in the seasonings (chili powder, cumin, cocoa, oregano, cayenne pepper, and coriander). Stir in the beans. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about an hour.
- Top each serving with a sprinkle of reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese and fresh chopped green onion, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Per serving: 275 calories, 25 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (1.6 g saturated fat), 43 mg cholesterol, 8.5 g fiber, 239 mg sodium (if lower sodium canned beans are used). Calories from fat: 20%.