How to Build a Healthier Soup

How to Build a Healthier Soup

Chicken rice soup with bread stick
By Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN. Originally published by US News & World Report

Winter is the perfect time to cozy up to a bowl of warm soup. Soups are a perfect way to take in a variety of wholesome ingredients, which can lead to a healthier diet. Some soups, however, can easily be transformed into a calorie and fat nightmare.

Traditional bowls of thick and creamy mushroom soup, bisque or clam chowder can rack up the calories very quickly. Typical home portions (about 2 to 3 cups worth) may contain upwards of 450 calories a serving and more than 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of artery-clogging saturated fat. If you look at the numbers, it’s easy to see how this can happen:

  • 1 cup of heavy cream : 414 calories, 44 grams of fat, 28 grams of saturated fat
  • One 10.7-ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup: 258 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat

Sometimes a roux – a combination of flour and butter – may be used to help thicken soup as well. For every tablespoon of butter used, it adds 100 calories, 11 grams of fat and 7 grams of saturated fat. Olive, canola or other oils are sometimes used as well, with 1 tablespoon containing 120 calories, 14 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat.

So how do you make a delicious and nutritious soup without being afraid it will end up on your waistline? Here’s how to build one from the base up:

1. Prepare the base.

Compared to creamy bases, broth and stock have significantly fewer calories. Beef, chicken and vegetable broths are widely available at local markets. Many broths do contain high amounts of sodium, so choose those that are labelled “reduced sodium.” You can also opt to make your own stock. If you can make a double batch over the weekend, you can freeze half to use later.

If you’re a creamy soup lover, there are several tricks to get that creaminess without the calories. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and butternut squash give soups that fabulous consistency. You can also opt to use a slurry – a combination of cornstarch or flour with stock – to help thicken things up.

If you love that dairy flavor in your soup, don’t fret! Using whole milk instead of heavy cream saves 268 calories, 36 grams fat and 23 grams of saturated fat. Reduced fat (2 percent) milk or half-and-half can also create a nice, creamy texture while cutting calories.

2. Add some substance.

Hearty add-ins like beans, lentils, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain pasta are perfect in chicken, tomato or beef soup. They can help boost the good-for-you nutrients in your soup, but portions still need to be kept in check. Aim for a 1/4 cup of cooked grains or pasta as a maximum amount per serving in order to keep calories under control.

Veggies always help bring out the flavor of soups and help meet your daily recommended servings of vegetables, which many Americans fall short on. Some of my favorites include butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, green beans or chunks of tomato. And don’t forget about herbs and spices – they help step up soup’s flavor profile for few calories.

3. Garnish.

Garnishes can bring your soup to a whole new dimension. It also allows you to indulge – just a bit – so calories are kept at bay. Here are several of my favorite garnishes:

  • A dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt or reduced fat sour cream to help cool spicy soups.
  • A teaspoon of pumpkin seeds, chopped peanuts or almonds for a contrasting texture.
  • A tablespoon of salsa such as tomato, pineapple or mango for an extra fresh kick.
  • Grated ginger or orange zest for an extra zing.
  • Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese add a boatload of flavor for few calories.
  • A sprinkle of freshly minced herbs for a burst of flavor without many calories. Use whatever herbs are in the soup to minimize extra ingredients.
  • A few unbuttered croutons or crumbled tortilla chips for a satisfying crunch.

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