Winter is the perfect time to enjoy yummy, warming soups. HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson has created an easy guide so you know how to find and enjoy the best, healthy options.
Soup can be an easy way of getting some more vegies into your day, as well as giving you a beautiful, warming burst of flavour. But they can also hide a great whack of sodium, kilojoules or even fat. So what should you look for when choosing a soup for your lunch or dinner? There are hundreds of varieties to choose from in the supermarket – from instant soups to sip as a snack; to microwave bowls for an easy work lunch; and cans of chunky, smooth, home-style, café-style or even Asian-inspired options. Follow our guide and discover the healthiest soups to eat over the colder months – and exactly what you should be watching out for when making your choice.
A standard serving size for prepared soups is around 250–350g, yet microwave bowls can be as large as 430g. Cans are often 500g, which is generally two serves – so double-check the label. If you’re having soup as a complete meal (for dinner, for example) it’s important to eat enough soup to feel satisfied, and depending on the soup you choose and your daily energy needs it can be okay to eat a 400–500g serve. If you eat a smaller serve, enjoy a multigrain bread roll too.
Prepared soups are generally quite low in kilojoules, particularly vegetable- and legume-based varieties. However, higher kilojoule levels in soup can come from added fats (as with the creamy varieties), chunky meats, carbohydrates (found in ingredients such as pasta, potato and corn) and added thickeners.
It’s best to look for a soup with less than 200kJ per 100g (around 500–600kJ per 250g–300g serve) if you are going to serve it with a bread roll or toast. If you are choosing a higher-carbohydrate or meaty, chunky-style soup meal, look for those with less than 400kJ per 100g, which translates to 1000–1200kJ per serve. Just make sure you remember to adjust the amount of carbohydrate you eat with it to keep carbohydrate to around 1/4 of your meal. For example, if a soup has pasta or potato in it, you may need only one slice of toast instead of two. If you are looking to have a soup as a snack, then remember to choose one that has less than 600kJ per serve.
Soups tend to be low in fat and saturated fat – unless you choose a meaty or ‘cream of’ variety. Look for total fat levels less than 3g per 100g (7.5–9g per 250–300g serve) or 97% fat-free – be sure to check the label. Try to avoid creamy soups as they tend to be higher in fat, especially if they also contain meat. If preparing your own soups at home or making up a condensed soup from a can (which has water removed), use skim milk, light evaporated milk or natural low-fat yoghurt to make it creamy without the added fat and kilojoules.
Sodium is a key concern when it comes to pre-prepared or manufactured soups, as salt is used as a preservative (and of course, to add flavour!). Choose soups that contain less than 300mg sodium per 100g. Keep an eye out for the increasing number of reduced-salt soups on offer, which are a better choice. It’s wise not to rely on pre-prepared soups every day and to keep your sodium intake in check by having them only a few times a week – this is particularly important if you have high blood pressure. Look for varieties that use herbs and spices for added flavour, rather than salt and stock – or make your own at home and freeze for later!
Varieties of soup
Canned soups are one of the most popular options, with so many flavours to choose from. When buying canned soup, make sure you check the label for sodium content. Canned condensed soup is generally the most economical ready-made soup – usually providing four serves per can.
Soups in Tetra Paks have been heated to preserve them, then stored on-shelf without the need for refrigeration. They tend to be similar nutrition-wise to canned soups.
Cup-a-soups simply require the addition of hot water to reconstitute the soup. They may not necessarily fill you up, as they lack bulk, but they can make a nice warming savoury beverage or snack. Check the label – these soups tend to be particularly high in sodium, containing up to 450mg per 100g or 1125mg per cup – almost half the daily limit!
These bowls are convenient for work lunches and come in a variety of flavours. Choose chunky vegetable and legume-based soups to fill you up without the added kilojoules and fat that often accompany creamy varieties.
Created to be similar to homemade, these soups generally have fewer additives, but do require refrigeration.
Our dietitian’s picks
La Zuppa pumpkin Per 100g it contains 130kJ, 0.1g fat, 1.2g fibre and 212mg sodium. A serve is 430g.
Darikay Parzotta Per 100g there’s 46kJ, 0.2g fat, 0.9g protein and 150mg sodium. A serve is 280g.
Campbell’s Country Ladle Lunch Specials creamy pumpkin with chives Per 100g it contains 195kJ, 1.7g fat, 1g fibre and 201mg sodium. It has only 2.5% cream, compared to other brands that contain around 5.5% cream. A serve is 430g.
Campbell’s Country Ladle minestrone with pasta Per 100g it has 162kJ, 2.0g protein, 0.2g fat, 1.5g fibre and 227mg sodium. The serving size is 250g.
Campbell’s Chunky Fully Loaded roast lamb & rosemary Per 100g it contains 260kJ, 3.4g protein, 1.9g fat and 236mg sodium. The serving size is 250g.
Heinz condensed Big Red Tomato salt reduced Per 100g prepared soup there’s 120kJ, 0.1g fat and 130mg sodium (half their original version). The serving size is 250g, or 1/4 can.
Coles cream of mushroom with croutons Per 100g prepared soup there is 173kJ, 1g fat and 211mg sodium. The serving size is 250g.
Continental Cup-a-Soup cream of chicken Per 100g prepared soup there is 147kJ, 1.2g fat and 234mg sodium. The serving size is 250g.
Things to look for
Energy: Less than 200kJ per 100g, or less than 400kJ per 100g if chunky or contains carbohydrate (like potato or pasta)