Nurse Gail Ingram reminds us that not all soup is healthy. As an expert in nutrition, she helps you make the healthiest soup choices:
You’re starving and cold with 10 minutes to spare and you run into a grocery store cafe or bodega to get something warm to eat. But wait; there are more than six different types of soups to choose from. Is one better than another? Yes. But you’re far too busy wrangling kids or running to a meeting to be bothered with these decisions. This is great for me since I happen to be the kind of nerd who wants to compile a soup guide to help you make healthy choices.
First, avoid cream-based soups which often contain butter. Yes, cream-based soup is delicious but dairy is controversial for many reasons: cows are pumped with antibiotics and hormones, treated inhumanely, and contribute to the greenhouse gas effect. But I’m not even going there. Cream and butter have an incredibly high fat content compared to their nutritional index and casein, a protein in dairy, has been shown to cause inflammation. Inflammation has been identified as the cause or major contributor in all the big killers like cancer and heart disease.
Second, most vegetables lose their nutritional value after being cooked, especially simmering for hours at the bodega. However, there are a few vegetables that actually get better when heated. Carrots and butternut squash are two of them. In both, beta-carotene is trapped inside raw cellulose. The process of cooking melts down cell walls and releases it. Beta-carotene is a form of vitamin A which is an important antioxidant. Tomatoes, technically a fruit, release lycopene, a strong antioxidant, when cooked. Antioxidants are our best defense against inflammation and illness. Antioxidants keep us young and healthy so a pureed carrot, butternut squash or tomato soup would be a great choice.
Bean soups are also a good option. As a general rule, the more colorful the bean, the healthier it is. Black, navy and kidney beans along with red lentils pack the biggest punch, but there is still protein and fiber in white beans used in Italian Wedding soup. Split pea soup is also a good choice if it is made with a broth base.
Broth-based soups are a healthy choice, especially minestrone that contains both carrots and tomatoes. The dark greens in Italian wedding soup release vitamin A, calcium, iron and magnesium. Both types of soup contain onions which release sulfides and antioxidants into the broth. Broth-based soups can be high in sodium, but it is the salt in chicken and matzo ball soup that kills bacteria in the throat making them traditional cold remedies.
Honorable mentions include soups made with quinoa, a grain that is high in antioxidants and protein. Soups made with curry or turmeric (turmeric is an ingredient in curry) also have antioxidant properties.
Unprocessed corn releases lutein, another antioxidant, but the GMO controversy surrounding corn might negate the benefit depending on who you ask. By all means avoid cream-based corn soups, cream of mushroom (although cooked mushrooms are high in B vitamins, potassium, and fiber), and cream of asparagus (cooked asparagus is high in vitamin K, B vitamins, and vitamin A). Cream of broccoli is probably the worst choice since broccoli’s “liver cleansing” enzyme, myrosinase, is destroyed by heat.
Hopefully the slushy scramble to grab a quick bite will be faster, easier, and healthier. Please take care on the ice while juggling a heavy bag, cup of coffee, iPhone, and container of soup. And, by all means, don’t burn your tongue!