A lot of us have seen our first snow (or frost, at least) of the winter and we enjoy warming ourselves up with a tasty, steamy bowl of soup. But is it a good idea to make soup a regular part of our diet? The short answers are no, maybe, and yes! “No” on regular canned soup, “maybe” on nutrient-modified canned soup, and “yes!” on prepared-at-home soup with the right ingredients.
Are canned soups healthy? The culprit on regular canned soup, of course, is excessive sodium. Elevated sodium in the body can contribute to some serious concerns in several health conditions , more specifically, renal disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, to mention a few.
So how did canned soups end up with so much salt and why does it get picked on more than other processed foods? The answer requires a very quick history lesson.
Unfortunate History: Salt For Flavor AND As Preservative
Canned soups are one of the oldest processed foods. Campbell’s, for instance, was established over 100 yrs ago. Because canned soups have been around so long, they get entrenched in the American diet. We’ve all grown up with it. Processed foods obviously require preservatives. Salt has been used for centuries as an effective, inexpensive preservative. The sodium issue is compounded by the fact that not only is it used as the preservative, but doubles to add flavor. This is the case for several processed foods. If you read your label on processed foods, what you find is multiple mentions of the word sodium.
The unfortunate result is that the milligrams of sodium in many food products approach about half of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for most of the population. That is not counting the salt shaker, beverages (yes, some beverages), and other hidden sources.
So what is a person who loves soup to do?
All foods can fit within your diet on occasion, especially if you do not have the previously mentioned health conditions. If it is your birthday, and canned chicken noodle soup makes you happy, have a bowl! Just don’t make it a habit. Regular canned soup on a day-in, day-out basis is not a wise choice for anybody, even very healthy folks.
If you want convenience of canned soup, use nutrient-modified soups. Look for “reduced sodium” on the label. Some even meet the “low sodium” label definition.
Prepare your soup at home. That way you control the contribution sodium makes to your diet. It is always better to use the freshest ingredients you can.
A Few Salt Alternatives
We’ll make another blog post soon on flavoring alternatives for salt, but here is a quick punch list of spices to pick up at the store and experiment with in your cooking.
- Fresh garlic
- Fresh onions
- Cumin (a spice that gives Spanish, Mexican, and Latin foods a lot of their flavor)
- Coarse ground pepper. I always say “course ground” when referring to pepper in my recipes because you get more flavor when it is freshly ground.
Be cautious about “lite salt” and salt substitutes if you have or are progressing toward kidney disease which are often made of potassium chloride. Potassium may even harm your kidneys more than sodium. We suggest you move away from salt flavor period.