With soup sales flat, companies are looking for a bounce. Some are making their offerings sound fresh. Some are ditching cans for cartons, pouches, and refrigerated tubs. Some are turning out “chef inspired” flavors like Portobello Mushroom & Madeira Bisque and Roasted Chicken & Chardonnay. And some are even marketing “fresh-brewed” soups that you can make in your Keurig coffeemaker.
The problem: many soups still have half a day’s sodium in every cup. And cream is filling up the gourmet-soup shelves. Just what our bellies and arteries need!
Here are some tips to help you sort through soups and find the healthiest ones:
Check the serving size first.
On Nutrition Facts labels, a serving of soup is just one cup. But in a 2010 survey we commissioned, nearly two out of three consumers said that they typically ate an entire can of Campbell’s Chunky or Condensed Soup at one sitting. If that’s you, remember to multiply the calories, sodium, and other numbers.
Most single-serve microwaveable bowls and cups also hold more than one cup. So that bowl of Campbell’s Chunky Sausage & Pepper Rigatoni Soup, for example, has 370 calories, not
the 200 that are listed on the label.
Look for less sodium.
Just one cup of most Campbell’s or Progresso soups has 600 to 900 milligrams of sodium (40 to 60 percent of a day’s worth). Look for soups with no more than 410 mg or, better yet, with no more than 300 mg. Among the best-tasting less-sodium soups we sampled: Amy’s organic split pea, McDougall’s lentil, Imagine’s butternut squash, Campbell Healthy Request’s savory vegetable, Trader Joe’s organic tomato & roasted red pepper, and Tabatchnick’s black bean soup.
Soups that call themselves “healthy” aren’t allowed to have more than 480 mg per cup. Most flavors of Campbell’s Healthy Request, Healthy Choice, Progresso Heart Healthy, and Trader Joe’s Low Sodium, and about half of Progresso’s Lights, replace some of their salt (sodium chloride) with potassium chloride. That’s a plus, since potassium can lower blood pressure, and most of us don’t get enough.
Watch the sat fat.
Most soups have no more than 2½ grams of saturated fat per cup. Exceptions: bisque, Thai, and some other soups that are made with butter, cream, cheese, or coconut milk can hit 9 grams (half a day’s worth) or more. Tip: saturated fat is more likely to show up in frozen or refrigerated soups like Panera’s.
Don’t be impressed by veggie claims.
“½ cup of vegetables per serving,” says the Progresso Vegetable Classics Tomato Basil Soup label. A half cup of vegetables isn’t something to crow about, even if the U.S. Department of
Agriculture considers it a “serving.” Ditto for a quarter cup of tomato paste.
Instead, look for soups made of puréed nutrient-rich butternut squash, carrots, or sweet potatoes. Or add baby kale or spinach or frozen veggies yourself.
Now that’s “M’m M’m good.”
Find this article about food and health interesting and useful? Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about staying healthy with diet and exercise, delicious recipes, and detailed analyses of the healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you’re not already subscribing to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-minded consumers.