Don’t Be Duped by Your Soup

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Ahhh, a good hot bowl of — not to sound like a commercial, but it brings back fond memories of coming in from shoveling snow to find my mom with a steaming bowl of chicken soup waiting for me. It warmed me up quickly, and was just enough to take the edge off until dinner was ready.

In fact, soup is great if you’re looking for something to fill you up. “Because soups have a water base they tend to make you feel less hungry, and you eat less as a result — which is certainly very helpful in terms of losing weight,” says Barbara Rolls, PhD, Professor of Nutrition, Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan (Harper Mass Market Paperbacks, 2002). Dr. Rolls led a study which found that soup prior to your meal could reduce your mealtime consumption by as much as 100 calories. However, “the soup must be fairly low in calories to be the most effective — otherwise you can end up eating two meals,” cautions Rolls.

So don’t run for that ladle just yet — even though they might sound healthy, not all soups are created equal — you have to be aware of what’s actually in the bowl. And since most of us don’t have time to pull out the saucepan and prepare a homemade pot of soup from scratch, we’re left at the mercy of soup from a can or restaurant.

Canned soups, at least, have nutritional information on the label — which is more than can be said for Outback and TGI Friday’s, which would not even tell us how many ounces of cheese they served, much less the calories and fat in their French Onion Soup.

Keep in mind that chefs and restaurateurs want to make their taste great — most are not concerned about your waistline. “Although there are many ways for chefs to provide flavorful soups that are low in calories and fat, many resort to the old stand-by of adding creams, butter, sugar, and excessive amounts of sauces,” says Marianne Turow, R.D., C.H.E., Professor of Nutrition at The Culinary Institute of America.

Here are some for choosing super soups, instead of soups that dupe (all serving sizes are 1 cup unless otherwise noted):

CLEAR THE WAY: Clear broth or tomato-based soups are generally very low in calories.

  • Campbell’s Select Chicken Vegetable: 110 calories / 1.5 grams of fat
  • Campbell’s Select Tomato Garden: 100 calories / .5 grams of fat
  • Campbell’s Soup at Hand, Hand Blended Vegetable Medley: 88 calories / 1.6 grams of fat (this soup was also a taste favorite in a recent test done by Consumer Reports)

AVOID CREAM AND CHEESE: Whole milk, cream, and cheese pack on the calories. Creamy soups and chowders are a double whammy with heavy cream adding over 14 grams of saturated fat per serving — that’s 75% of your recommended daily limit of this heart-unhealthy fat.

  • Au Bon Pain Lobster Bisque: 250 calories / 18 grams of fat
  • Denny’s Cream of Broccoli Soup, bowl: 574 calories / 43 grams of fat
  • Denny’s New England Clam Chowder, bowl: 624 calories / 42 grams of fat

FANCY = FAT: The further you stray from the basics like vegetable and chicken soups, the more likely they are to be fattening.

  • Creole Gumbo (with chicken, sausage and shrimp): 300 calories / 20 grams of fat
  • Au Bon Pain Southern Black-Eyed Pea Soup: 320 calories / 1 gram of fat
  • Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup): 355 calories / 36 grams of fat
  • Hot and Sour Soup: 210 calories / 10 grams of fat

WATCH OUT FOR EXTRAS: Just one cup (a handful) of those seemingly low-calorie oyster crackers or saltines has 195 calories and 5 grams of fat, while croutons have about 186 calories and 7 grams of fat. And don’t fall for this trap: Au Bon Pain has soup bowls that are actually made of bread — believe it or not, the bowl alone, without any soup, has 600 calories and 2.0 grams of fat!

And then there’s my personal favorite — French Onion Soup. With that big hunk of bread and gooey cheese browned on top, you’ve got 700 calories and about 60 grams of fat in one large crock.

LOOK FOR HEALTH: Plenty of the canned soups out there are great for the health conscious, including Healthy Choice, Progresso’s 99% Fat Free and even Campbell’s Healthy Request soups. For instance, Healthy Choice New England Clam Chowder has only 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. Plus, soups with “healthy” on the label must have less than 480 mg of sodium per serving — a boon when many canned soups have more than 1000 mg per serving.

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