When the weather gets colder, everyone wants soup – but not everyone has time to make it. If you lack culinary motivation, there are plenty of soup options in the grocery 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.
As we pulled our cardigans a little closer and wondered 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 fueling up for the chilly days ahead.
First, it’s clear that soup is something food experts love. “Good soup makes everything perfect,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Amanda Frankeny. And she doesn’t mind having the packaged items on hand.
“It’s definitely a time saver,” Frankeny said. “During tightly scheduled workdays, when illness strikes, or when a busy fall schedule takes over, sometimes I’m just in the mood to pull soup out of my pantry.”
During 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 one 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 dietitian 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 vegetables, protein, and whole grains—all in one dish. And soup is hydrating, too.”
Another plus: Soup is “very comforting, especially in the colder months,” said a registered dietitian nutritionist Jerlyn Jones. “Soups have the potential to include a variety of healthy ingredients in a single meal that provide various nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and antioxidants,” she noted.
For registered dietitian nutritionist Chelsea Amer, the soup’s cozy qualities make a big difference, especially at this time of year. “It’s such a comforting meal with lots of nutritional 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, Frankeny noted. “There are tons of low-sodium soups on the market, and many hit the mark for flavor,” she added.
Packaged foods, including soups, make up most of many people’s sodium consumption, Jones said. And that can be a concern. “Higher sodium diets are associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease,” she said.
“When reading labels, as a general guideline: 5% DV [Daily Value] or less 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 added salt’ 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 watch carefully. “Many packaged soups are just loaded with sodium — sometimes as much as 1,000 milligrams per serving,” said the registered dietitian nutritionist Sharon Palmer. “That could be almost half of your sodium goal for the day. Also, watch out for ingredients that may be less healthy, such as bacon, cream and cheese.”
Make sure it fills
“If your soup is going to be a meal, make sure it contains an ample amount of protein and fiber,” Gorin said. Rissetto added, “A tomato soup, even if it’s delicious, won’t hold you back, so soups with beans or chicken are my go-tos.”
“Fat is especially important if soup alone is going to be your meal,” Amer said. “Fat is digested slowly, so it will keep you full longer.”
Now that you have 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 taste 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 body.”
“Enjoyment and satisfaction are the top priorities,” Frankeny said. “Give yourself permission to eat the foods you love, including soup. If health is your priority, you can still find something that will satisfy your hunger and warm your bones.”
These are the brands that our experts recommended.
“These soups are my brand of choice,” Jones said. “They’re delicious and there are options for everyone. I can buy vegan and plant-based soups or ones that are free of gluten, dairy, soy or corn. I also like to support brands like Amy’s Kitchen because it’s a family-owned business committed to sourcing fresh, organic ingredients from local farmers.”
Campbell is fine Yes!
Kettle & Fire
Kettle and Fire
“This is one of my favorite brands of bone broth,” said Amer. “Bone broth contains more protein than chicken or beef broth, so they are good to sip as a snack.”