Dinner doesn’t get much easier than opening a can of soup, dumping it in a pot and letting the stovetop do the rest. But is it nutritious? We spoke to Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist about how to choose healthy canned soups at the supermarket, as well as a few of her favorite brands to look for.
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“Soups are a wonderful way to get more plant-based foods into your body, like grains and vegetables,” says Stoler. Even better, the proteins can be animal- or plant-based, meaning anyone can get in on the quickest, easiest dinner of all time, no matter their dietary preferences. (Plus, they’re just plain handy to have in case of a power outage or a late night at the office.)
Stoler’s rules of thumb for choosing a healthy canned soup are pretty simple. First and foremost, take a look at what’s actually in the soup before obsessing over the nutrition facts. “My general guidelines include flavor, taste and ingredients,” she says. And that’s good advice—why buy a “healthier” soup you’re not going to genuinely enjoy? She also says broth-based soups are just about always a better choice than cream-based ones. (Fun fact, soup broth can also be used for sports hydration: “It’s flavored water with sodium; some athletes get flavor fatigue from all the sweet beverages,” says Stoler.)
If you’re intent on checking out the nutrition label, follow her lead: “I like to look at the calories per serving and if there’s any fiber in each serving.” But before you keep yourself from your favorite creamy clam chowder, ask yourself: How am I going to eat this? “One should consider if the soup is meant to be a stand-alone meal or part of a meal. This way calories and macronutrients can be factored into the meal or days’ calorie budget,” says Stoler.
Canned soup has gotten a bad rap over the years, namely for its high sodium content. But there were reasons for all that salt initially, the first being preservation. “Canned foods are better preserved in a salty or sweet medium. However, vacuum packing has eliminated the need for sodium as the sole mineral to inhibit bacterial growth.” explains Stoler. “The second reason is to please the typical American’s palate, which tends to prefer saltier foods.”
But the most interesting tidbit of all? Despite Americans’ concerns over high-sodium soups, food companies had significant trouble getting low-sodium soups off the shelves. “An industry secret is that most larger companies have reduced their sodium content over the years without notifying consumers,” says Stoler. “When canned soups were labeled as low or no sodium, they didn’t sell well because consumers assumed the taste would be compromised.”
Nowadays, there are tons of low-sodium soups on the market, many of them legitimately delicious. But if you’re worried that a low-sodium soup…