4 Dietitian Hacks for Making Healthier Soup

Stephanie Skinner-Lucas - The Upside Blog

by | Updated: February 7th, 2023 | Read time: 4 minutes

As winter wind whips outside, nothing sounds better than a steaming hot, nourishing bowl of soup. But before you put the pot on the stove, you may wonder: is soup healthy? Is there something I can do to make it better for me?

Soup is notorious for its high sodium content, not to mention calories and fat (especially in hearty, creamy varieties). It may be a comfort food, but these negative associations aren’t very comforting. No need to drop the spoon. Your kitchen likely already has ingredients that can help improve the nutrition content of soup, allowing you to create a more wholesome meal.

Smiling Woman Learning How to Make Healthy Soup Ladling Soup Into BowlHow to make healthy soup: getting started

Soup bases are the perfect place to start. Soups with broth foundations are typically lower in calories than creamier soups that have cream as their liquid base. When shopping for soup, choose types made with low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable broth. Or, try making your own! Vegetable stock is easy to make. Simply roast a batch of assorted vegetables. When they’re browned, transfer to a pot of boiling water, let simmer for an hour over low heat, then pour the stock through a strainer. You can make a big batch and use some right away, and freeze the rest for later.

If you’re in the mood for a creamier soup, starchy vegetables such as butternut squash and potatoes make great thickeners to get the desired consistency. You might also use a tried-and-true thickening method: combine flour and cornstarch with stock or a hint of butter to thicken the soup to a slurry or roux texture.

What can I do to reduce fat?

For luscious creamy soups, typically made with heavy cream and butter, you’ll need to make some substitutions. Replace heavy cream with whole or reduced fat (2%) milk or half and half, and you’ll still get the creamy, rich texture that you crave without excess calories and fat.

If you still prefer heavy cream, consider using less. Just replace some of the cream with non-fat Greek yogurt or coconut milk. Same great taste, yet slightly better in the fat and calorie department.

Another way to make creamy soup healthier is to puree cooked cauliflower, potatoes, rice or oats with your soup base.

What can I do to reduce sodium?

Many Americans consume too much sodium. The American Heart Association recommends keeping sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams daily. This is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt!

If you’re buying premade soup, check the Nutrition Facts panel on the product’s label. Foods with 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving can be labeled as low sodium. Look for soups that call out ‘low in sodium’ or ‘very low in sodium’ as identifiers for lower salt choices.

How can you reduce or eliminate salt when making your own soup at home? Herbs and spices are the secret! Use savory types that add excitement, depending on your palette. Options include black pepper, cayenne, cumin, curry powder, garlic powder, oregano, onion, basil and cilantro.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to use low-sodium broth for your base. Right before you’re ready to serve, add fresh herbs as a garnish to boost the flavor and appearance.

What are some other ways to improve soup nutrition?

Consider adding more vegetables to your soup for health’s sake. They’re an easy way to up the nutrition content (especially fiber), while adding unique and exciting flavor. Fresh veggies like mushrooms, broccoli, onions, celery, carrots, squash and parsnips are all good options. Greens, too! But, add them toward the end to avoid overcooking. This is a great way to use up leftover veggies – you get extra nutrition and reduce food waste!

(Remember, if you purchase soup, vegetables can be added to increase the nutrient content and add bulk.)

Beyond veggies, other fibrous foods like beans, peas, lentils and whole grains, can be added to soup. Many of these power-packed complex carbohydrates come with the bonus of protein. Grains such as barley, quinoa, farro and bulgur wheat are also smart additions. Not sure how to use them in soup? Check out these soup recipes on The Upside blog, and have fun exploring new dishes that nourish, comfort and make a lasting impression!

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