Nutrition Column – Soup’s On

It’s been promoted as a diet food, mom’s favorite comfort food, even a cure for the common cold. Soup truly is part of America’s nutritional folklore. And soup’s image of wholesome goodness holds true for many varieties. Broth and tomato-based soups, like chicken noodle and vegetable soup, often contain less than 30 percent of their calories as fat and provide less than 100 calories per cup, yet offer respectable doses of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Cream and cheese-based soups, on the other hand, can be quite high in fat and calories. For example, a 2-cup bowl of New England clam chowder provides 330 calories and 14 grams of fat compared to 160 calories and 4 grams of fat in a 2-cup bowl of Manhattan clam chowder.

Sodium is another dietary downfall of many soup selections. Except for specially marked, low-sodium varieties, almost all canned and dehydrated soups contain 600 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounce serving.

Whether you’re ordering soup off the menu, selecting a can at the grocery store or stirring up your own creation, the choices are many. Here are some tips to help make your next bowl of soup a healthy one.

  • Read labels to evaluate sodium, fat and calorie information. Check serving sizes to make sure you’re comparing like sizes. When reading labels, look out for palm, palm kernel and coconut oils, chicken or beef fat and butter – all highly saturated fats.
  • To better control fat and sodium, make your own soups then freeze leftovers in meal-size portions.
  • De-fat both homemade and canned soups by chilling them until the fat congeals on top. Remove the fat layer, then heat the soup to serving temperature. Canned soups can even be chilled right in the can.
  • Whether starting with homemade, canned or dehydrated soups, boost carbohydrate and fiber content by adding leftover pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables, beans or lentils.
  • When reconstituting soups, use skim or 1 percent milk instead of 2 percent or whole milk.
  • If calories are a concern, be careful about soups labeled "homestyle" or "chunky," which generally contain more fat and calories than traditional styles.
  • If sodium is a concern, try reduced-sodium versions of your favorite varieties. To spice up low-sodium soups, add a dash of cayenne pepper, basil, oregano or garlic powder.
  • Finally, make soup the focus of low-fat meals. Round out your meal with a salad, bread or crackers and fruit.