The most wholesome, nutrient-dense soups are those that use a basic broth/stock, a lean protein source, and a variety of vegetables.
Last week I talked about some of the health benefits of Pho, a Vietnamese staple, and one of my favorite soups. During this time of year, we naturally crave warm, comforting foods and soup certainly fits the bill. Soup can be a nourishing, hearty meal if you make it right. If you don’t, it can be severely lacking in protein and/or loaded with unnecessary saturated fats.
Keep cream-based soups or cheese-topped soups to a minimum.
In addition to being good for you, soup is an easy option for a quick dinner, as it is a terrific vessel for leftovers. Most good soup recipes are fairly foolproof and you can easily adapt them to suit your taste by adding various proteins, spices, etc. Don’t be hindered by long cooking times. You can prepare a flavorful soup in minutes, and while it cooks you will be free to do other things such as help your kids with homework…or take 20 minutes to yourselfJ. Don’t feel like “less of a human being” if you opt for prepared broth and some frozen vegetables. Those still yield a healthy nutrient-dense soup.
Do you have picky eaters or “veggie haters?”
- Nutrient-dense soups are an easy way to boost the vegetable intake of any picky eater.
- Dice vegetables up into small pieces or purée them into the soup to mask them completely.
- Don’t lose hope on your picky eaters!
- Research shows that regular exposure to certain foods can improve a person’s tolerance.
A recent Dutch study showed that when healthy toddlers were given vegetable soups containing endive and spinach twice a week over a seven-week period, there was a marked difference in the acceptance compared to those who didn’t undergo the soup exposure.
As a Dietitian, I’m frequently asked about the nutrient value of raw vs. cooked vegetables. Believe it or not, some nutrients are better absorbed when a food has been heated rather than when eaten raw. For example, cooked carrots yield more absorbable beta carotene – the orange pigment or carotenoid – than when eaten raw. It’s the same for lycopene, the red pigment responsible for the color of tomatoes, which happens to be extremely beneficial for prostate health. Men— eat up (or slurp) up!
Registered Dietitian, Rosie Schwartz pointed out that when you cook your vegetables and consume the cooking water, as you do with soup, you’re not spilling out the water-soluble vitamins as you might do otherwise. As a result, cooking kale, spinach or Swiss chard in a soup rather than steaming them in water increases the amount of the B vitamin folate.
Nutrient-dense Soup can also be beneficial for weight loss/ maintenance because of its volume.
- Soup contains so much water and high fiber veggies and therefore it fills you up with fewer calories.
- According to a research study conducted at Penn State University by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D, she discovered that students who ate chicken and rice soup instead of a chicken and rice casserole, consumed fewer calories yet reported being equally satisfied.
- Try starting your holiday meals with a nutrient-dense broth-based, high veggie soup to curb over-eating.
I encourage you to make large portions of nutrient-dense soup at once and store some for later!
- Refrigerate or freeze for a quick meal when you don’t feel like cooking.
- It’s a much better option than the drive through and will make your winter night feel nice and cozy with minimal effort.
- This is a great thing to have on hand as you get busy with holiday preparations as well!
- Small healthy choices add up over time and enable you to see long term success (not weight gain) over the indulgent season.
- Rather than relying on your favorite restaurant to satisfy your soup desire, make your own nutrient-dense soup at home.
Here are building blocks for a nutrient-dense, satisfying, flavorful soup:
- Stock (Chicken, Turkey, Beef)
- Broth (Vegetable, Chicken, Turkey, Beef)
- Bone Broth (higher protein option)
- Veggie Puree (pumpkin, tomato, butternut squash, etc)
- If you’re feeling adventurous and would like to try making your own stock from scratch venture over to Food and Nutrition Magazine for detailed instructions, otherwise brands like Pacific Foods, Simple Truth, or Whole 365 provide excellent quick options.
- Beans (black, garbanzo, pinto)
- Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Shrimp
- Greens (spinach, kale, chard, arugula, etc)
- Squash (kambocha, butternut, pumpkin, zucchini)
- Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks
- Green beans
A pinch of spice can go a long way in soups and add character. In addition to providing flavor, certain spices provide key health benefits. Get creative and flavor according to your ethnic food desire 😉
Thai: add fresh garlic and ginger and ground coriander
Indian: add a pinch of cumin, turmeric, fenugreek or garam masala.
Mexican or Spanish: cumin and pinch of sweet smoked paprika to a tomato base.
Italian: basil, oregano, marjoram,
Give these nutrient-dense soups a try:
Chicken Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ Vidalia onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ tablespoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cups chopped kale
- 3 pre-cooked Italian-flavored chicken sausages, sliced
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 14½-ounce can low-sodium great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
- Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic, cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in tomatoes, pepper, thyme, oregano and bay leaf. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add kale and chicken sausage, stirring to ensure kale is coated with oil. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until kale is slightly wilted.
- Add broth, water and beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve. Serves 4.
SERVING SIZE: 1 cup
CALORIES 222; TOTAL FAT 10g; SAT. FAT 2g; CHOL. 33mg; SODIUM 330mg; CARB. 20g; FIBER 7g; SUGARS 3g; PROTEIN 15g;
Another great nutrient-dense soup option:
Moroccan Farro and Lentil Soup
BY BRIEANNA CASPERSON
This cozy and aromatic vegan soup is packed with nutrient-dense vegetables, legumes and grains.
- ¼ cup red lentils, dry (or ½ cup red lentils, cooked)
- ¾ cup water
- ½ tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup yellow onion, diced
- ½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- ¼ cup farro, dry
- ½ cup sweet potato, diced into small cubes
- ½ cup red bell pepper, diced
- ½ cup globe tomatoes, diced
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- ¼ cup raisins
- In a 1½-quart pot, add dry lentils and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium-high heat. Cook for 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
- While lentils cook, heat oil, garlic, onion and ginger in a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Once lentils are cooked, drain excess water and add to 3-quart pot.
- Add vegetable broth, farro, sweet potato, red pepper, tomato, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, spinach and raisins. Cover with lid, bring to a boil and immediately reduce to medium heat. Cook for 30 minutes or until farro is tender. Serves 4.
SERVING SIZE: 1 cup
CALORIES 182; TOTAL FAT 2g; SAT. FAT 2g; CHOL. 0mg; SODIUM 96mg; CARB. 36g; FIBER 7g; SUGARS 11g; PROTEIN 7g;
The options are endless with soup. I regularly throw any leftover veggie I have in with chicken broth, garlic, thyme, oregano and turkey meatballs for a satisfying, protein-rich nutrient-dense meal.
Jump on the soup bandwagon and simplify your cooking routine! I promise, you’ll thank me later 😉
Resources for Nutrient-Dense Soup: