When the weather gets colder, everyone wants soup ― but not everyone has the time to make it. If you’re short on culinary motivation, there are plenty of soup options in the grocery store aisles, from cans to Tetra Paks to frozen selections. But canned soup doesn’t have the best reputation, especially when it comes to sodium levels.
Pulling our cardigans a little closer and wondering about the possibility of a hot lunch, we checked in with nutritionists to see how they feel about soup and what they look for when they’re stocking up for the chilly days ahead.
First, it’s clear that soup is something food experts love. “Good soup makes everything perfect,” said registered dietician nutritionist Amanda Frankeny. And she’s not opposed to having the packaged stuff on hand.
“It’s definitely a timesaver,” Frankeny said. “During tightly scheduled workdays, when sickness hits, or when a busy fall schedule takes over, sometimes I’m just in the mood to pull soup out of my pantry.”
In a busy time of year, packaged soup can be a lifesaver. “A lot of people get so distracted by work and end up missing meals,” said registered dietitian Vanessa Rissetto. “Having soup on hand can help lessen the burden of preparation and can help stabilize your blood sugar, if you time it right.”
Amy Gorin, a registered dietician nutritionist and inclusive plant-based dietitian, agreed. “Soup is one of the easiest, best meals in a pinch,” she said. “You can get a balanced meal — including veggies, protein and whole grains — all in one dish. And soup is hydrating, too.”
Another plus: Soup is “very comforting, especially during the colder months,” said registered dietician nutritionist Jerlyn Jones. “Soups have the potential to include a variety of healthful ingredients in a single meal, providing different nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and antioxidants,” she noted.
For registered dietician nutritionist Chelsey Amer, soup’s cozy qualities make a big difference, especially at this time of year. “It’s such a comforting meal, with tons of nutritious potential, so it’s a winter staple for me,” she said.
Scouting For Sodium
The American Heart Association encourages people to limit sodium to a maximum of 2,300 milligrams each day, as Frankeny noted. “There are tons of low-sodium soups on the market, and many hit the mark for tastiness,” she added.
Packaged foods, including soups, make up most of many people’s sodium consumption, Jones said. And that can be a concern. “Diets higher in sodium are associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease,” she said.
“When you’re reading labels, as a general guide: 5% DV [Daily Value] or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20% “DV or more of sodium per serving is considered high,” Jones explained. “Look for words like ‘no-salt-added’ and ‘low-sodium.’ Your best bets are hearty, broth-based soups that are full of colorful vegetables, whole grains and beans.”
Packaged soups can be high in sodium, so look carefully. “Many packaged soups are just brimming with sodium — sometimes as much as 1,000 milligrams per serving,” said registered dietician nutritionist Sharon Palmer. “That could be nearly half your sodium goal for the day. Also watch out for the ingredients that can be less healthful, such as bacon, cream and cheese.”
Make Sure It’s Filling
“If your soup is going to be a meal, check that it contains an ample amount of protein and fiber,” Gorin said. Rissetto added: “A tomato soup, while delicious, isn’t going to hold you over, so soups that have beans or chicken are my go-tos.”
“Fat is especially important if soup alone will be your meal,” Amer said. “Fat is digested slowly, so it will keep you full longer.”
Now that you’ve made a choice, feel free to personalize your bowl. “If you need more flavor, add your own ingredients, like a splash of citrus juice or zest, vinegar, caramelized vegetables, herbs or a dollop of tomato paste,” Frankeny said. “If you need to reduce the salty flavor of the average soup, add water or extra fresh or frozen vegetables to the mix.”
Rissetto said she also adds “dark greens like spinach to soup for extra fiber, flavor and fullness.”
“Enjoyment and satisfaction are the top priorities,” Frankeny said. “Give yourself permission to eat the foods you love, soup included. If health is your priority, you can still find something that will satiate your hunger and warm your bones.”
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