Soup is back on the menu. Now sold in supermarkets around the world, soups are being served up as a healthy option for quick lunch breaks, for savoring in soup bars or for family meals. However, soup isn't always the light meal it may seem, and some concoctions are wiser choices than others for dieters. Here are a few ways to cut through the marketing spiel and make healthy choices when shopping for soup.
From pumpkin and tomato to vegetable and carrot, the supermarket shelves are full of pre-prepared soups of all kinds. Whether in cartons, cans or served fresh in the chiller cabinet, there are certainly some good-quality soups out there. However, there's also a fair share of soups that are laden with salt and additives with little nutritional value or health benefit. Taking a closer look at the labels is the best way for savvy shoppers to cut through marketing claims like "Mediterranean style" or "Traditional recipe" and pick healthier or lighter options.
Look for 50 per cent vegetables, water, herbs, spices and no additives
Soup has grown in popularity in line with a general desire to eat more healthily and keep waistlines trim. The golden rule when choosing soup is to look at how much of the product is actually made up of vegetables! A vegetable content of at least 50 per cent is the sign of a real soup that won't need to be thickened with artificial additives. If the ingredients are organic and in season, the only additives that should be needed are natural herbs and spices (like coriander, mint, chives, basil, etc.) and a touch of cream for certain recipes. Ingredients like "modified cornstarch, flavors, skim milk powder" should set alarm bells ringing. Another additive to watch out for is a flavor enhancer called glutamate. This is often found in soups, sauces and ready meals, but is considered toxic by certain nutritionists.
Cheaper options load up on additives and thickeners
Price is a good indicator of quality. At the lower end of the scale, products are made quickly and easily with lots of cheap potatoes. Mid-range or luxury options are more likely to be decent-quality soups that won't lead to weight gain. Some brands also now sell innovative recipes concocted by renowned chefs, all made with quality seasonal produce. Made with fragrant herbs and unusual combinations of ingredients, they can make a nice change from classics like leek and potato, with options including strawberry and tomato gazpacho, chicory and orange soup, curried red lentil soup, etc. Frozen soups are an option too, but stick to blends that use plain, unseasoned or "all natural" vegetables to ensure the same nutritional value as with fresh vegetables.
Tips for keeping homemade soups light and healthy
- Replace potato with zucchini.
- Thicken creamier soups with a little corn flour or starch.
- Don't add any fats (cream, butter, etc.) or grated cheese, try a dash of milk or some reduced-fat soft cheese.
- Boost flavor with a pinch of celery salt, plus herbs and spices like coriander, nutmeg, curry powder, etc.
- Steam vegetables at a low temperature.