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January 31, 2006
posted online February 9, 2006

Start your meal with nutritious soup to lose weight

By Beverly Combs

Soup is the ultimate comfort food, dispensed like medicine by mothers around the world for generations. It looks like those moms knew a thing or two, because soup definitely has its nutritional advantages.

Not only can it be a hearty source of nutrient-rich vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, often it can even help you to lose weight. Consuming soup as a first course in a meal helps reduce the calorie intake of the total meal because soup can help you feel satiated with a smaller amount of food.

Processed soup has been under fire in recent years because manufacturers have been stirring in too much sodium and fat. New types of healthier soups have since become available. Still with the growing number of products, it's become more confusing to wade down the soup aisle of the supermarket because of the ever-growing number of choices.

Can you tell how healthy a can of soup is by the label? Not necessarily! Carb-friendly soups can be anything but friendly. While a soup might be light in carbohydrates, it might be high in total fat and/or saturated fat. Food manufacturers know how to paint the product the way they want it to look.

So what does a healthy soup label look like? If you need to reduce your sodium intake because of health reasons, then choose soups that have less than 300 milligrams per serving. If you are not sodium-restricted and simply want to eat healthier, soups with 400-500 milligrams of sodium per serving are good choices. And, even those are not so easy to find when regular processed soups hover in the neighborhood of 800-1000 milligrams per serving, some reaching as high as nearly 1700 milligrams per serving!

When it comes to trimming the fat in soups, choose broth-based over cream-based soups, as the latter can have more than 20% of the Daily Value for fat in a single serving. Look for those soups containing 5% or less of the Daily Value of fat. When soup packages call for additional milk during preparation, choose fat-free milk to improve the nutritional lineup, but be cautious. Many nutrition labels are based on what's in the package, not on what you may be stirring into the soup pot.

While you are on your quest for healthy soups, look for soups that contain the real thing – whole foods. Read the ingredients list, watching out for names that you can't pronounce. Dry soup mixes tend to be highly processed, containing few real food sources and lots of sodium. Look for soups that incorporate fiber-rich whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

And soup is no longer relegated only to cans. You can find instant soup in pouches, soup starter mixes, frozen soups, and single-serving microwaveable soups you can eat on the go. Also, be aware of the listed serving size. A lot of times it is 1/2 cup, so if you consume the whole can, you have to multiply the nutrient amounts listed on the label by at least two or even more!

If you are weary of scanning the labels of processed soup products, why not stir up you own soup pot? Start with a can of low sodium broth or canned tomatoes. Mix in vegetables, leftover brown rice, spices, and herbs for a quick home-cooked soup that is packed with nutrition and low in fat and sodium. Then dig in and comfort your body and soul.

Source: Beverly Combs, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness,

© 2005 The Cairo Gate