Getting Canned: Is Canned Soup Really that Bad for You?

Although we’re slowly edging into spring, there’s still enough cold days left on the calendar that are sure to find you reaching for a can of soup. I mean honestly, could a meal be any easier? Simply pop open a can, throw it in the microwave (or a saucepan if you’re feeling particularly culinary) and then sit back, relax and enjoy that bowl of dying vegetables and meat juice smothered in salt and preservatives. Wait? What? Yeah, you heard us…that canned soup you’re digging into? Probably not so good.

And here’s why…

Let’s start with the most obvious here: the salt content. The average cup of soup (and lets be honest here, who actually measures out one cup and, more to the point, is satisfied by one cup?) packs in a whopping 1,000 milligrams of salt. Need to put it into perspective? Current dietary guidelines recommend consuming no more than 2,400 milligrams for the entire day (and actually recommend that you keep it to between 500 and 600 milligrams). But what’s the harm in salt? Well, beyond the obvious fluid retention (and believe us, a couple of pounds of fluid retention is not going to feel great), salt directly impacts blood pressure and has also been linked to osteoporosis, asthma, kidney disease and stomach cancer. Furthermore, a recent study from researchers at St. George’s University of London in England suggested that reducing children’s salt intake could help decrease childhood obesity because children would reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Most soups contain artificial preservatives such as MSG (Monosodium glutamate), a flavor enhancer that is added to food to accentuate its “meatiness.” Beyond the ick factor associated with jazzing up meat, MSG, when in its purest form, is thought to act as a potent neurotoxin that can cause damage to the cells of the nervous system. Although the FDA has previously classified MSG as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) substance, reports of reactions to MSG – a condition characterized by headaches, tightness in the chest, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness and several other symptoms – have led them in recent years to issue tougher label requirements for foods that contain MSG. The debate over MSG is long and varied, and has been covered by us in the past.

The good news is, however, that there are some relatively healthy soups on the market, particularly those that are natural, organic brands (although you should still read the label!). Some good soups that are worth a shot include ShariAnn’s Organics and Healthy Valley’s Organic soup lines (just watch the carbs on some of these as they can skew high!).

But let’s not overlook the benefits of making your own soup. Although sometimes a little time consuming (despite being relatively hands off!), making a pot of soup can put that left over pot-roast to work or salvage the vegetables at the bottom of the crisper! In addition, making your own soup at home (particularly if you use your own stock recipes) can allow you to control the salt content and eliminate altogether the need for preservatives!

The following are a few quick (and healthy) soup recipes:

Easy Chicken Stock:
We offer this one up simply because knowing how to make a good stock can be half the battle when making soup from scratch!

4 to 5.5 pounds of chicken pieces (backs, necks, wings, legs, thighs), or one whole roasting chicken
16 cups cold water (or enough to cover chicken pieces)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 stalk of celery, coarsely chopped

Put chicken and water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, for roughly 3 hours, adding water as needed to keep ingredients submerged. Strain into a clean pot or heatproof plastic container. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 12 cups.

Creamy Mexican Avocado soup with Chicken:
Bored of the ol’ tried and true soup recipes? Spice this up with this Mexican-twist on hearty chicken soup!

2 medium-sized chicken breasts, poached or grilled
3 ripe avocados
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (extra credit if you use the above recipe!)
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and pit avocados. Place all ingredients (excluding the chicken), in blender and blend till smooth. Pour into pan and heat until just bubbling. Chop chicken breasts into bite-size pieces and add to soup. Allow to simmer for 15-30 minutes. Serve either as is, or top with shredded cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Makes about 4 hearty servings.

Seinfeld’s Crab Bisque:
The Soup Nazi probably wouldn’t object to this healthy spin on his famed crab bisque!

4 pounds snow crab clusters (legs)
16 cups water
1 small onion, chopped
1 1/2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2 small turnips, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley
2 tsp mustard seed
1 tbsp chopped pimento
1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup sugar-free tomato sauce
2 tbsp half and half
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp basil
1/8 tsp marjoram

Remove all the crab meat from the shells and set it aside. Put half of the shells into a large pot with 4 quarts of water over high heat. Add onion, 1 stalk of chopped celery, and garlic and bring to boil. Continue to boil for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain and keep only the stock. Measure 12 cups of the stock into a large sauce pan or cooking pot (top up with water if you don’t have enough!). Add turnips and bring to a boil. Add ½ of the crab and remaining ingredients and bring back to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 4 hours uncovered until it reduces by about half and begins to visibly thicken. Add the remaining crab, simmer for another hour until the soup becomes very thick.

Martin Deutsch Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Eat This Today, Feel Better Tomorrow

Choose Your Own Salad Adventure

Healthy Party Appetizers

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