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Rules number one, two, and three of soup? Cut the salt, keep the flavor, and load up on the good stuff (beans, lentils, vegetables). Here’s how to find soups that do all three...and more. Check the photos for some of the best-tasting Best Bites and Honorable Mentions.
1. Figure out what’s in your bowl.
Our chart shows calories, sodium, and saturated fat for the 1-cup serving shown on most multi-serve containers of soup. Thanks to the new Nutrition Facts label, many of those soups now also show numbers for the entire can, jar, or carton in a second column.
So if you eat, say, half a can or the whole can, it’s easier to figure out what’s in your serving.
Too bad many condensed soups—like Campbell’s classic line—are exempt from that rule because they come in smaller cans (with less space for a two-column Nutrition Facts label). So they only show calories, sodium, etc., for 1 cup of prepared soup, even though each can makes 2½ cups, leaving consumers to do their own math.
2. Go light on sodium.
Our chart covers mostly lower-sodium (and some healthy-looking) soups, but we threw in a few of the usual suspects for comparison.
For those, hold on to your blood pressure. A cup of a typical canned soup like Campbell’s Condensed or Chunky can hit a hefty 800 to 900 milligrams of sodium. That’s more than a third of a day’s max (2,300 mg). And with just 100 to 200 calories, a typical cup of soup isn’t a meal.
In contrast, a handful of “light in sodium” and “lower sodium” lines from brands like Amy’s, Pacific, Imagine, Dr. McDougall’s, and Plantstrong slash the sodium to just 350 milligrams per cup or less. Those are our Best Bites.
Even Campbell knows how to cut sodium. The company’s Healthy Request soups have no more than 410 mg per cup. (Too bad its Well Yes! line—which often bumps up the veggies or beans—ranges from 540 to 690 mg per cup or mini bowl.)
Most Progresso Reduced Sodium and all Healthy Choice soups are at 480 mg of sodium per cup or less. That’s the FDA’s limit for “healthy” soups and the max for our Honorable Mentions.
Since Campbell, Healthy Choice, and Progresso replace some of their salt (sodium chloride) with potassium salt (potassium chloride), they still taste plenty salty. That swap also bumps up the potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Looking for a double dose of potassium? How about a salad alongside your soup? Or toss in some baby spinach or frozen vegetables while the soup heats up.
3. For creamy soups, check the saturated fat.
For most soups, it’s a non-issue. But many bisques, chowders, broccoli cheddars, Thai curries, and other creamy soups have enough cream, cheese, butter, or coconut milk to supply a quarter to half a day’s saturated fat (5 to 10 grams) in just a cup.
Pacific’s two new plant-based Oat Milk soups—both Honorable Mentions—are also plenty creamy. Bravo!
The oat milk trend has hit creamy soups...and we’re into it. Mmm.
4. Picking a protein? Give beans a chance.
You can’t rely on most soups for your protein. (Campbell’s Condensed Chicken with Rice, for example, contains so little chicken that it has just two grams of protein per cup.)
But some soups have enough protein to serve as your entrée. Bean-based varieties—from Plantstrong, Dr. McDougall’s, and others, for example—supply plant-based protein and are rich in fiber. Win-win.
Many of them easily deliver 5 to 10 grams of protein and fiber per cup. Bonus: Legumes are also packed with potassium, magnesium, zinc, and folate, which aren’t so easy to come by. Black bean, minestrone, split pea, or lentil vegetable, anyone?
5. Don’t count on whole grains.
The problem: Most noodles are all or partly refined white flour. In contrast, some chicken & rice soups—like Progresso Reduced Sodium and Campbell’s Healthy Request Home Style—have wild and/or brown rice.
A few whole grains (spelt and quinoa) show up in new (salty) Well Yes! Power soups. Keep ’em coming, Campbell!
6. Check outside the soup aisle.
You might get lucky with a small brand of tastes-like-homemade frozen soup—like Tabatchnick—with less salt. Ditto for regional brands like the Mid-Atlantic’s refrigerated Soupergirl. (Its soups vary by season, so they’re not in our chart, but their sodium is often in Best Bite or Honorable Mention territory.)
7. Make your own.
What’s the real secret to flavorful soup that’s heavy on the vegetables and light on the salt? Starting from scratch. The soup recipes from our Healthy Cook are easier to whip up than you might think.
The information for this article was compiled by Kaamilah Mitchell.
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You can't get to healthy without delicious! That's where our recipes from The Healthy Cook, Kate Sherwood, come in. And soups are only the beginning. Search by categories like salads, side dishes, vegetarian, vegan, and more.