No food is quite as versatile as soup: It pairs well with a soft blanket on a cold evening or with a salad on a busy workday. While researching my book Stop & Drop Diet, I realized it’s also a great option when you’re trying to drop pounds: Researchers at Penn State University found that when 66 people drank soup at the beginning of a meal, they ate 20 percent fewer calories.
But not all soups are created equal. Some are incredibly high in calories—I’m looking at you, creamy, cheesy soups. To keep calories in check, opt for tomato-based or broth-based soups. If you’re craving New England clam chowder, cream of mushroom, or broccoli and cheddar soup, look for products or recipes that are marked “lower if fat” or that are made with milk instead of cream.
Some soups (especially canned varieties) are extremely high in sodium. We’ve hand-picked the best low-sodium options, but you can also try watering soups down by adding an extra 1/2 cup of water. Another healthy soup tweak: Sneak in extra fiber and nutrients! Keep frozen vegetables and beans on hand to add to skimpy soups. Drain canned beans first to nix about half the sodium.
Keep frozen vegetables and beans on hand to add to skimpy soups.
Finally, beware of toppings. Restaurants typically hand you an entire pile of crackers, but resist. Take just one packet of four saltines (64 calories) or a 1/2-ounce bag of oyster crackers (60 calories). Top soups with reduced-fat shredded cheese rather than a blanket of melted regular cheese. And instead of relying on sour cream, crumbled bacon, and greasy croutons for extra flavor, garnish with vegetables such as finely chopped scallions, chives, and red onions.
Here, find out which calorie-loaded soups to skip, and which flavorful soups will keep you satiated for fewer calories, fat, and sodium.
Stop: 1 cup Panera Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup (330 calories, 23 g fat)
Start: 1 cup Panera Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto (90 calories, 3.5 g fat) (pictured below)
Stop: 1 cup Legal Sea Foods Refrigerated New England Clam Chowder (290 calories, 20 g fat)
Start: 1 cup Progresso Traditional New England Clam Chowder (180 calories, 8 g fat) (pictured below)
Stop: 1 cup (1/2 can) Amy’s Organic Fire Roasted Southwestern Vegetable Soup (140 calories)
Start: 1 cup (1/2 can) Health Valley No Salt Added Minestrone (90 calories) (pictured below)
Stop: 1 block Nissin Top Ramen Chicken Flavor (380 calories, 1820 mg sodium)
Start: 1 cup soup prepared from Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup Mix (50 calories, 540 mg sodium) (pictured below)
Stop: 1 cup Wolf Brand Chili No Beans (400 calories, 29 g fat)
Start: Small Wendy’s Rich and Meaty Chili (170 calories, 5 g fat) (pictured below)
Reader’s Digest’s Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello calls her latest book, Stop & Drop Diet, her easiest plan ever. The book and online course teach you how to stop eating unhealthy versions of the foods you love so you can drop up to five pounds in the first five days—and keep losing. You’ll get a mix-and-match 21-day meal plan designed for weight loss and balanced nutrition, plus hundreds of easy weight loss tips and tricks via videos, quizzes, slideshows, and other interactive tools. Learn more and buy the book and course here.