Dinner doesn’t get much easier than opening a can of soup, dumping it in a pot and letting the stovetop do the rest. But is it nutritious? We spoke to Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist about how to choose healthy canned soups at the supermarket, as well as a few of her favorite brands to look for.
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“Soups are a wonderful way to get more plant-based foods into your body, like grains and vegetables,” says Stoler. Even better, the proteins can be animal- or plant-based, meaning anyone can get in on the quickest, easiest dinner of all time, no matter their dietary preferences. (Plus, they’re just plain handy to have in case of a power outage or a late night at the office.)
Stoler’s rules of thumb for choosing a healthy canned soup are pretty simple. First and foremost, take a look at what’s actually in the soup before obsessing over the nutrition facts. “My general guidelines include flavor, taste and ingredients,” she says. And that’s good advice—why buy a “healthier” soup you’re not going to genuinely enjoy? She also says broth-based soups are just about always a better choice than cream-based ones. (Fun fact, soup broth can also be used for sports hydration: “It’s flavored water with sodium; some athletes get flavor fatigue from all the sweet beverages,” says Stoler.)
If you’re intent on checking out the nutrition label, follow her lead: “I like to look at the calories per serving and if there’s any fiber in each serving.” But before you keep yourself from your favorite creamy clam chowder, ask yourself: How am I going to eat this? “One should consider if the soup is meant to be a stand-alone meal or part of a meal. This way calories and macronutrients can be factored into the meal or days’ calorie budget,” says Stoler.
Canned soup has gotten a bad rap over the years, namely for its high sodium content. But there were reasons for all that salt initially, the first being preservation. “Canned foods are better preserved in a salty or sweet medium. However, vacuum packing has eliminated the need for sodium as the sole mineral to inhibit bacterial growth.” explains Stoler. “The second reason is to please the typical American’s palate, which tends to prefer saltier foods.”
But the most interesting tidbit of all? Despite Americans’ concerns over high-sodium soups, food companies had significant trouble getting low-sodium soups off the shelves. “An industry secret is that most larger companies have reduced their sodium content over the years without notifying consumers,” says Stoler. “When canned soups were labeled as low or no sodium, they didn’t sell well because consumers assumed the taste would be compromised.”
Nowadays, there are tons of low-sodium soups on the market, many of them legitimately delicious. But if you’re worried that a low-sodium soup will have less flavor, remember that you can always add your own ingredients to prepare it more to your liking. “The truth is, if someone wants more salt, they can always add it. If a soup is too salty, add more water. It’s really that simple,” says Stoler.
Here are 14 healthy canned soups to look for the next time you’re grocery shopping.
Best fall soup
When it comes to her favorite brands, Stoler is most impressed with Campbell’s innovation over the years. This pick has butternut squash, onions, celery and carrots, as well as sweet potato and apple juice concentrates and a dash of cream.
Per serving: 140 calories, 5g fat, 2g protein, 22g carbs, 9g sugar, 590mg sodium, 1g fiber
$2 at Amazon
Best tomato soup
Another one of Stoler’s favorite brands, Progresso has plenty of reduced-sodium soups to choose from. We like this pick for its short ingredient list and low calories. (Go ahead and serve it with grilled cheese).
Per serving: 110 calories, 3g fat, 3g protein, 18g carbs, 10g sugar, 490mg sodium, 3g fiber
$26/six-pack at Amazon
Best chicken noodle soup
Come cold and flu season, you’ll want this classic in your corner. Each one-can serving has a bit more sodium than some of the others on our list, but the protein and fiber count makes this soup satisfying enough to be the main course, so it’s a trade we’re willing to make.
Per serving: 180 calories, 3.5g fat, 13g protein, 25g carbs, 2g sugar, 680mg sodium, 2g fiber
$31/12-pack at Amazon
Thanks to naturally fiber-rich peas, a bowl of this beauty will keep you full all afternoon. It’s made with a short list of wholesome ingredients, including uncured ham that’s free of added nitrates.
Per serving: 160 calories, 2g fat, 11g protein, 26g carbs, 4g sugar, 510mg sodium, 10g fiber
$56/12-pack at Amazon
Best microwaveable soup line
Stoler is a big fan of Target’s affordable soups, and this one had us at tortilla chips. While it isn’t canned, we don’t think you’ll mind slurping it down before its expiration date. Plus, its plastic container is microwave-safe, so it’ll spare you a dirty bowl.
Per serving: 240 calories, 6g fat, 15g protein, 32g carbs, 9g sugar, 750mg sodium, 5g fiber
Buy it ($4.50)
Best organic soup line
You already know (and love) Amy’s veggie-crust pizzas, vegan mac and cheese and roasted poblano enchiladas. It’s about time you let this gluten-, soy- and dairy-free vegan soup into your life. It’s made with organic produce (think corn, potatoes, carrots and onions) and spices.
Per serving: 210 calories, 4g fat, 9g protein, 35g carbs, 4g sugar, 540mg sodium, 7g fiber
$29/12-pack at Amazon
Best soup free of added salt
If you need to track your sodium intake due to high blood pressure or another condition, look no further than this satisfying number, which is chock-full of fiber-rich lentils. It’s free of GMOs and artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, too.
Per serving: 150 calories, 1.5g fat, 9g protein, 27g carbs, 5g sugar, 20mg sodium, 9g fiber
$28/12-pack at Amazon
Best potato soup
We don’t care what diet we’re on—there’s no way we’d give up spud soup. While it’s not necessarily hearty on its own given its calorie, protein and fiber counts, you can always add a few toppings to make it more filling (aka cheddar cheese, sour cream and bacon bits).
Per serving: 90 calories, 2.5g fat, 2g protein, 14g carbs, 1g sugar, 440mg sodium, 2g fiber
$3.50 at Amazon
Best seafood soup
We love lobster bisque just as much as the next guy, but creamy seafood soups are usually super high in both fat and sodium. That’s why we’re into this heart-healthy alternative. It’s full of big pieces of potatoes and clams and made with both cream and butter, so you won’t even know the difference.
Per serving: 130 calories, 3g fat, 5g protein, 21g carbs, 2g sugar, 410mg sodium, 1g fiber
$2 at Amazon
Best broccoli cheese soup
We order it 10/10 times from Panera Bread, but you seriously don’t want to know the sodium count (OK, scroll down if you really want to know). This one is a decidedly healthier option that’s decadent in its own right, thanks to cheddar cheese, cream and butter. It’s pretty similar to Progresso Light’s broccoli cheese soup, but has fewer calories, fat and sodium.
Per serving: 80 calories, 2g fat, 2g protein, 12g carbs, 3g sugar, 740mg sodium, 1g fiber
$21/12-pack at Amazon
Best chicken and rice soup
Why should pasta have all the fun? Chicken and rice soup is like chicken noodle’s super cool older sibling. In even better news, Healthy Choice’s chicken and rice now has 20 percent more chicken.
Per serving: 110 calories, 2g fat, 6g protein, 17g carbs, 0g sugar, 390mg sodium, 2g fiber
$30/12-pack on Amazon
Best cream of mushroom
We see a green bean casserole in your future. This low-fat pick uses rice flour instead of all-purpose, and it stars hearty, organic portobello mushrooms.
Per serving: 80 calories, 1.5g fat, 4g protein, 16g carbs, 0g sugar, 390mg sodium, <1g fiber
$2 at Amazon
Best bone broth
It turns out that bone broth is naturally way lower in sodium than traditional stocks and broths. Whether you drink it straight or use it as a homemade soup base, this pick is super lean while also being a solid source of protein.
Per serving: 45 calories, .5g fat, 9g protein, 0g carbs, 0g sugar, 90mg sodium, 0g fiber
$59/twelve 32-ounce cartons at Amazon
Stoler doesn’t believe in saying certain foods are off the table. “While there are recommendations to reduce overall sodium intake, I don’t believe in creating disordered eating by being obsessed with food labels. After all, when we dine out at a restaurant, we don’t see the full nutrition facts panel, and for those who cook at home, most don’t analyze their ingredients to determine the nutrient profile per serving,” she says.
That said, there are some canned soups out there that you may want to avoid if you’re watching your salt intake. The FDA recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day or less (the American Heart Association says 1,500 milligrams a day is actually ideal), though most Americans average about 3,400 milligrams a day.
Here are a few higher-sodium soups to be aware of…but hear Stoler out: “At the end of the day, it’s about affordability and access. We can’t be food elitists and set the bar so high that people think healthy eating is unattainable. It is. It’s affordable and can come out of a can.”
7 High-Sodium Soups to Avoid:
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