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From vivid green asparagus soup in spring, to cool and spicy gazpacho in the summer or a comforting bowl of chicken noodle as the weather gets cold, to a hot and sour soup for Chinese New Year, soup is versatile and tasty year-round. But more than just a delicious way to start your meal (or sometimes a satisfying meal in itself), soup can offer important nutritional benefits and be part of a healthy eating plan…if you fill your bowl right.

“Soup is a great way to get a boost of key nutrients while helping you to control your appetite,” says registered dietitian Stephanie Boutette. “In addition to helping you get more vegetables in your diet, you could end up eating less if you have soup, which is a low-calorie, high-volume food.”

There are many different soup preparations and varieties available on grocery store shelves, from powdered mixes or soup-and-noodles in a cup, to canned varieties. No matter which you choose, preparation is a breeze: For some, you add just boiling water or milk, while others come ready to eat. Many grocery stores also offer fresh prepared soups in the deli section.

Read the label

Whatever option you choose, it is important to read the product’s nutrition facts table to understand its benefits and drawbacks. “Often, with packaged foods, salt is used to maintain safety and freshness,” Boutette says, “which is why packaged soups can be high in sodium.”

While people generally should avoid too much dietary sodium, this is even more important for people with diabetes, who have an increased risk of heart disease. Some soups, particularly creamy options, can also be higher in saturated fat, which Diabetes Canada also recommends limiting.

“In general, if a nutrient, like sodium, has a per cent daily value [%DV] of less than five per cent, it means that there’s little of it in the product, while 15 per cent means there’s a lot of it in the food,” Boutette says. Her rule of thumb: Stick to the lower %DV ranges for nutrients like sodium and saturated fat. She also offers this tip: “Check the ingredients for celery salt, garlic salt or onion salt, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate [MSG] and sodium nitrate, which are some other ways of saying salt.”

Boutette cautions that people are sometimes fooled by claims on the front of the can. “If it says ‘sodium reduced,’ that means the soup contains 25 per cent less sodium compared to the original product,” she says. “But if the original product has a lot of sodium, the reduced product still might have a lot.” This is why it is important to check the nutrition facts table.

Enjoy the benefits

A study published by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information found that soup eaters had better overall diets than non-soup eaters. Research has also shown that people who eat soup consume fewer calories and have lower body weights, in part because soup makes you feel full compared to other foods. This means that if you eat soup—whether before a meal or as a meal in itself—you are likely to eat less of other, less healthy foods.

“Between vegetables, meat and alternatives, and whole grains, you can get nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K; B vitamins; antioxidants; iron; and lots of fibre [in soup],” Boutette says. “In general, it is recommended to have at least three of the four key food groups at every meal—fruits and vegetables, meat and alternatives, starches, and milk and alternatives. Soup can often fit that standard.

If you choose or make a soup with lots of vegetables; a lean protein such as beans, lentils, or chicken; and a whole grain such as barley, quinoa, or brown rice; you’re getting three of the four food groups.

Even if your soup does not contain all of the food groups, it is easy to top it up with veggies or a lean protein to make it a complete meal.

“Try to eat creamy and higher-sodium canned soups less often,” says Boutette. However, “if you’re making your own soup, puréeing beans or lentils can give a creamy texture without the saturated fat.” Her picks? “Broth-based and tomato soups can be a great way to get nutrients and increase the amount of vegetables you’re eating.” This vegetarian hot and sour soup, which provides a twist on the traditional offering, fits the bills and is perfect for Chinese New Year (or any occasion).

Try this recipe

Traditional hot and sour soup is meat-based, but this vegetarian version gets its protein boost from tofu and eggs. This recipe, from, appeared in the 2015 Healthy Living Calendar produced by the Canadian Diabetes Association (now Diabetes Canada).

Vegetarian hot and sour soup

  • 4 dried Chinese black (shiitake) mushrooms
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) canola oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 5 cups (1.25 L) vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) canned bamboo shoots, drained and julienned
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) cornstarch, dissolved in ¼ cup (50 mL) cold water
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) low-sodium soy sauce
  • ⅓ cup (75 mL) plain rice vinegar
  • ¾ tsp (4 mL) ground white pepper
  • 6 oz. (170 g) savoury baked or firm tofu, julienned
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 stalks green onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, soak dried mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes or until softened. Cut off stems and any hard areas, and discard. Cut caps into thin slices. Set aside.

In stock pot, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and carrots, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add broth and bamboo shoots; bring to a boil. Add cornstarch mixture and stir until soup thickens, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, and white pepper. Stir.

Add tofu and bring soup back to a boil. While stirring soup in circular motion in one direction, pour eggs in thin stream into soup. Remove soup from heat. Stir in green onions. Adjust flavour to taste. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings (each 1 cup/250 mL).

Nutritional breakdown per serving: 8 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 3.5 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 2 g fibre, 450 mg sodium, 80 calories

Did you know?

Diabetes Canada offers a range of healthy meal plans, including vegetarian, gluten-free, low-carb, cultural (Chinese, Caribbean, South Asian) and more, in our Nutrition & Fitness section where you’ll also find delicious recipes.

This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Spring 2016.

Author: Alyssa Schwartz

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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