(WellnessNova.com) - What could be better than a bowl of hot soup on a cold day? Not only does soup hit the spot when the temperatures drop, it’s bursting with nutrition and health benefits.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, soup eaters tend to weigh less than non-soup eaters and take in fewer fats and more healthy nutrients, like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Soup is also a cheap food that fills you up without weighing you down. Plus it’s gentle on the stomach, full of savory flavor, and one of the most convenient meals around.
But like many comfort foods, soup has a downside: it can be loaded with sodium and other unhealthy ingredients—especially canned soups. So how can you make sure you’re eating a bowlful of hot, healthy nutrition? Here are six steps to a better bowl of soup:
1. Choose a Healthy Base
Lobster bisque, cream of broccoli soup, and New England clam chowder may be mouth-watering, but they’re also full of fat, calories, and carbs.
Instead of cream soups and chowders, opt for broth-based soups. They’re lighter, healthier, and big on flavor. They’re also versatile: you can choose from chicken, beef, vegetable, or fish broth.
Stuck on cream-based soups? You can still get all the creaminess of heavier soups by making them at home, with a few substitutions. Instead of butter and heavy cream in your base, use low-fat milk thickened with whole-wheat flour. Better yet, puree brown rice, boiled potato, white beans, chickpeas, pumpkin, or squash to give soup a thicker texture. Tomato sauce makes a good base, too, and it’s naturally creamy and nutritious.
2. Soup Up With Veggies
You can never get enough veggies, right? So why not toss more into your soup bowl. Studies have shown that adding more vegetables to your diet can boost immunity and improve overall health. A new study indicates that eating veggies can make you happier, too.
According to research by the University of Warwick, going from a produce-empty diet to eight servings of vegetables or fruits a day can improve life satisfaction—to a degree comparable to moving from unemployment to employment.
For optimal health benefits, choose veggies that pack a punch, like arugula, bok choy, kale, and broccoli. These tasty cruciferous greens will add crockfuls of vitamins, fiber, folate, and cancer-preventing glucosinolates to your soup, along with plenty of savory texture.
3. Shun the Salt, Sprinkle on the Herbs
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
If you’re not careful, you can easily swallow a big portion of that in just one bowl of soup. Canned soups are known for their high sodium content, so always read labels. When making fresh soup, use low-sodium broths and naturally salt-free ingredients.
Sodium-free doesn’t mean your soup has to be taste-free. Herbs and spices add zing to soups, along with heaps of nutrients. Sage and garlic, two tasty flavor enhancers, boost immunity and brain health and provide strong anti-inflammatory properties. Parsley, thyme, oregano, and basil are known for their powerful antioxidants.
But don’t overlook Asian herbs, like ginger and ginseng, noted for their unique flavor and ability to lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
4. Heat It for Health
Does chicken soup really help fight a cold? It can—as long as it’s heated. According to Mayo Clinic, warm liquids help move mucus through the nose more quickly and clear congestion.
One study showed that hot chicken soup moved mucus even faster than hot water and that hot liquids were better for managing upper respiratory infections than cold liquids.
Consuming hot liquids, like soup, doesn’t just benefit sick people, though. Heated soup can help boost metabolism, improve digestion, and soothe the stomach.
But be choosy about your soup bowl. Eating hot soup from a melamine bowl can have serious consequences. Melamine dishes, when used to serve heated foods, can release melamine into the food, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association, and that can lead to kidney stones, kidney disease, and even death in kids and adults. For safety, eat hot soup from a ceramic or glass bowl instead.
5. Eat With a Meal
Did you know that consuming a cup of soup before a meal can help you cut calories? That’s what a study by Penn State found. The soups used in the study had similar ingredients—including potatoes, broth, chicken, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower—but varied in how they were prepared. Researchers discovered that whether eaten as separate broth and vegetables, pureed, or chunky style, all soups were filling.
The best part? The participants showed a 20 percent reduction of calories at their lunch meal when they consumed soup as a first course. If you’re looking to shed pounds, slurp down some soup before a meal; you’ll fill up and slim down—without even trying!
6. Ditch the Crackers
Before you reach for a handful of saltines to crumble into your soup, hold on. There are healthier ways to add a tasty crunch to your bowl.
If you’re crazy about crackers, switch to one that’s high in fiber, low in sugar and salt, free of hydrogenated oils, and still full of crunchy flavor. Top picks include brown rice crackers, whole-grain pita chips, and crispbreads made with quinoa, amaranth, or other nutrient-rich superfoods.
For a heartier crunch, chop up a handful of nuts, like almonds, pecans, or walnuts, and toss those in for a burst of protein and vitamin E. Other healthy soup toppers?
- Whole-grain croutons made with herbs and olive oil
- Fresh-ground flaxseed
- Toasted pumpkin seeds
- Roasted chickpeas
- Pomegranate arils
Soup is definitely something to stew over—it’s a soothing, savory food that can be loaded with health benefits. But not all soups are the same. Be a savvy soup eater and give it the nutrition boost it deserves. Then ladle up a bowlful of hot and healthy goodness, and enjoy all the perks this favorite comfort food has to offer.