How healthy is my seemingly healthy soup diet?
July 18, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Just how healthy is my Chunky Campell's Vegetable soup?

I've taken to eating a lot more canned soup lately, which at roughly $3/meal (or less on sale) seems like a good alternative to the expensive salad bars in my office's neighborhood. The soup is filling and the ones I choose are packed with vegetables.

Therein lies my question: just what type of trade off am I making here with regards to the health benefits of those carrots, peas, green beans etc. that I eat in my soup rather than eating them fresh?

I realize fresh is typically better and there might be other health trade-offs in the soup I'm buying, such as high levels of salt (?). Aside from that I really know next to nothing about nutrition, so just looking for some guidance.

Bonus question: If there's a way to replicate this kind of soup at home in a healthier way and at a lower or similar cost, I would love your recipes. Thanks!
posted by the foreground to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I love veggie soup, and unfortunately the Campbells is just crap. Sodium, weird chemicals, and not nice tasting.

Here is my recipe for veggie soup. I make it in a crock pot, but you can do it on the stove just as easily.

2 cans tomatoes with tomato sauce (I use italian cherry tomatoes and crush them with my hands before putting them in the pot.)

2 packages frozen Soup Veggies. If your grocery doesn't carry these, pick up any mixed veggie combo that sounds good to you. (carrots, corn, peas, green beans and lima beans) My soup combo contains okra, but I pick it out. Blargh!

1 can of canneloni or kidney beans. Again, I prefer Italian, but most will do just fine.

Whatever is about to die in the crisper, but especially some chopped cabbage and/or zucchini.

Tomato juice or water to make it soupy.

Just cook it down and voila! Soup. Yum!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Canned soup (like all other processed foods) is extremely high in salt, and likely in fat too.

If you're spending $3 a day on soup, that's $15 a week, or $60 a month. That's a lot of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots and parsley.

You could probably halve your lunch bill by making fresh.

I'm not sure if salt is bad for you, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's my secret recipe for instant vegetable soup:

1 qt chicken (or veggie) broth (~$2)
1 bag mixed frozen vegetables (a few dollars, depends on where you shop and what kind of veg you want).

Combine in microwave-safe bowl. Heat until hot.

If you want to go CRAZY add a can of beans. Or some leftover/frozen/canned chicken.
posted by mskyle at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Because you can make a large vat of soup in bulk, homemade soup will definitely be cheaper and IMO tastier. Here's a cost comparison for some popular canned soups. Actually, the examples she used all include meat, so your homemade soup will be even cheaper.

Regarding salt... I'm not up-to-date on the latest studies, but I can definitely say as someone who eats homemade food 99% of the time, the salt content of canned soup instantly makes my body feel really uncomfortable.
posted by acidic at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you boil/process vegetables, a lot of the nutrition goes out with the cooking water. It's still got some nutrition though, so good for you! You can make a big batch fresh and then freeze in lunch-size containers for MUCH cheaper and healthier if you are really concerned about it.
posted by Kimberly at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2012

My favorite recipe for soup is spicy:

I know it's a recipe from a book and that's a pretty silly idea, but the soup is amazing and can be cheap to make.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2012

Read the label.

How many calories are in the quantity of soup you're eating? How does this stack up against a realistic look at the calories in a salad that you would typically eat?

A lot of salads are deceptively "healthy". People hear salad and equate that with Good For You regardless of what is actually in the salad. If you're eating a salad with meat slathered in creamy dressing, that's probably at least an even trade with the soup (if the soup doesn't actually come out ahead).

Going back to the label - how much sodium is in your soup? I never used to really look at this, and then I had my blood pressure tested and it turns out I'm at the upper range of healthy. When, a couple years ago, I used to have borderline low blood pressure. Turns out all that cured meat and salty cheese and processed junk really does have an impact, even if all my clothes still fit.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2012

Vitamin and mineral-wise, you're probably doing just about the same. The picked-to-canning time is probably pretty equivalent to the picked-to-serving time at the salad bar. Depending on the vitamin/mineral, you'll gain/lose some absorbency based on whether the vector is cooked or raw.

Fat-wise, you're probably doing yourself quite a service with the switch to soup (assuming you occasionally give in to the temptation of full-fat salad dressings, cheeses, or croutons on those salads). Campbell's soups are many bad things, but fatty is not typically one of them. There's about 2 grams of fat in a can of Chunky savory vegetable soup - far less than is in even just a tablespoon of full-fat salad dressing.

Protein-wise, you're not getting a lot out of a typical Campbell's veggie soup. You can do much better here.

Calorie-wise, I'd be willing to bet your salad bar box has way more calories than the 220ish in a can (assuming 2 servings/can) of the same soup I mentioned above.

Salt-wise, well, it really only depends on how your own body responds to salt. If it doesn't make you swell up, and it doesn't impact your blood pressure, well, how concerned are you, anyway?

That all being said, you'll save yourself some serious cash, and have much more delicious soup, by batch cooking some veggie soups yourself. It will also probably provide you more protein, if you throw in some beans.
posted by amelioration at 10:11 AM on July 18, 2012

When you boil/process vegetables, a lot of the nutrition goes out with the cooking water

The presence of stock counteracts this, though. Eating a plate of boiled vegetables is going to be neither appetizing nor as healthy as a salad. Eating a bowl of soup with both vegetables and broth should be nutritious enough not to be a real concern.

The question is really how processed the soup is, and whether you can reasonably expect that this is a can of boiled vegetables in their juices, plus maybe some chicken fat and seasonings, or whether this is a can of lab-created fakeness.

If you can't make your own, what about transitioning from Campbell's Chunky to something a little less processed? There are plenty of organic, all-natural soups out there.
posted by Sara C. at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2012

I'm not sure how they process the vegetables in canned soup, but I wouldn't eat it as often as you are only because of the BPA. Most canned food has a liner that is basically a plastic bag. The BPA in the plastic leeches into the food and soup is one of the worst offenders. Some companies, like Eden Organic, use BPA free liners. I would look for a product with a BPA free liner if you are set on the convenience of canned soup on a regular basis. Let's not even talk about the salt - one can can be more than your RDA for the entire day, depending on the brand.

I think you can do a lot better price and nutrition wise making your own. Here's what I do to keep our freezer stocked with made from scratch soup:

- Save all your chicken bones and veg. scraps (onion, celery, and carrot tops/peels, green bean ends, leek tops, tomato cores, leftover herbs/herb stems, etc) in a ziploc in your freezer. I don't recommend using peppers or asparagus.

- When the bag is full, dump it in a big pot and cover with water. Simmer on low for several hours and strain. Now you have homemade chicken/veggie broth.

- Add hardy vegetables to the stock (carrots, potatoes) and cook them until they're about half done. Add more delicate vegetables (green beans, tomatoes, spinach) and take everything off the heat.

- Portion into freezable containers.
posted by tealcake at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, the canning process is going to kick the crap out of a lot of the nutrients in the veggies. If you look at the nutritional information on canned carrots vs. cooked fresh carrots or even cooked frozen carrots (be sure to you choose 100 grams of each to compare) you can see the hit your taking on vitamin A and vitamin C.

Another problem is that canned soups tend to be very high in sodium, which you may need to watch out for if you have certain types of high blood pressure.

It's very easy to make good soup at home.

Chop 1 medium onion and mince 1-2 cloves of garlic (if you like garlic) in 1 Tbsp of hot olive oil in the bottom of a big pot. Add 2 chopped carrots and 2 chopped ribs of celery, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add a 1-quart carton of broth (I like Pacific Foods Mushroom Broth) and 2-3 cups of your favorite vegetables like green beans, peas, or corn. You can use fresh or frozen. Add 1 tsp of dried oregano or 1/2 tsp of dried dill and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender (20-30 minutes.)

You can delicate vegetables (like spinach) or fresh herbs at the very end.

Variations: With the broth, add 1/2 cup of uncooked rice or pasta , a can of beans (drained and rinsed), and/or a can of chopped tomatoes (yes, canned; fresh supermarket tomatoes tend to be worse than flavorless; use a low-sodium brand if you need to watch your sodium)—or use a 28-oz can of chopped tomatoes and additional water as needed in place of the broth.

This should make 3-4 servings, will reheat fabulously, and will cost considerably less than $9 to put together. If you use mixed frozen vegetables, the only labor is in the onion and garlic, and once you figure out where to set your stove burner to a achieve a simmer, you don't have to stand over it while it cooks.
posted by BrashTech at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that salt and sodium are NOT the same thing, and are not interchangeable. Sodium is a component of salt: ¼ teaspoon of salt equals about 600 milligrams of sodium.

Anyhow, those soups are pretty high in sodium (870 mg per serving, which is 1740 mg per 18.8 oz can!), and you're going to get sodium in almost everything else you eat as well. Not good.

Making your own soup, as others have pointed out, is easy and cheap and tasty. And it's not going to have the highly processed oils, hydrolyzed wheat gluten, and high fructose corn syrup that Campbell's contains.
posted by Specklet at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2012

Yes, definitely, read the label. That's why it's there.

I think you'll find that the fat content varies a lot from product to product. Regular vegetable soup is unlikely to be high fat. "New England clam chowder" is a different matter.

Salt content is probably high across the board unless it's called out as a low-salt or low-sodium product (and even then, read the label).

Added sugar or corn syrup may be a concern with some products like tomato soup. Yet again, read the label.

But overall, if you're looking for unhealthy items at the supermarket to criticize, there are a lot more worthy targets than canned vegetable soup, which honestly, is kind of innocuous and plain.

One thing to consider in buying a "can of soup" is that you're getting immediate portion control. Sure, you could make a big pot of soup at home, and it's probably delicious and healthy, but are you going to eat the whole tureen of it at once? You hear about people losing weight by eating canned soup--it's not the quality of the soup so much, I'd suspect, but the self-limiting quantity.
posted by gimonca at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is controversy about sodium in your diet and how good or bad it is for you, but the amount in canned soups and frozen dinners is high enough that I would still be concerned about eating it every day.

(the first link, from the NYT, and the second, from the Harvard School of Public Health, present very different stories about dietary sodium and what the research shows)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you're on a sodium-restricted diet, salt will not kill you. However, you're getting awful lot of the stuff (a day's worth, sometimes) in a single can of soup.

It's probably there as a preservative. You will want a little salt-- salt is seasoning, and seasoning is goooood, you definitely don't want to make soup in brine.

If you're thinking of shortcutting the veggie stock with bouillion, that stuff is really full of salt. Not worth it-- get real stock or make your own (and just use water if you fall short). Stock should be, if possible, bought salt-free, primarily so you can control your salt-level to taste.

Add beans for proteins, add pasta for carbs (surrender to the fact that you aren't going to get al dente every time if you're storing and transporting soups). Pre-brown any meat you decide to add, if any.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2012

Nutrition facts at for Chunky Savory Vegetable Soup.
posted by gimonca at 10:37 AM on July 18, 2012

Protein-wise, you're not getting a lot out of a typical Campbell's veggie soup. You can do much better here.

meh...adults tend to overestimate the amount of protein that they's much more necessary for growing kids and the values shown in 'nutrition facts' reflect this...generally only strict vegetarians need to keep an eye on their protein intake

saltwise, your blood pressure is important to know...most local drugstores have a testing machine in the back...ask the don't really have to remember the number, just if it's high or low...too high and you want to cut back on the salt. the campbells has 770mg of sodium or about 1/3 of your daily intake...not HORRIBLE, but not great either...sorry wait...that's per cup/serving...a whole can is 2/3 of your daily intake of salt...that's pretty bad. unless you have REALLY low blood pressure or don't eat any salt other than this, i wouldn't eat this every day.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:50 AM on July 18, 2012

I've got two words for you: Dietary Fibre

That's one of your trade-offs. Cooking and processing the vegetables as much as is done in that soup means that you're losing something that's really good for your system and digestion. The vegetables in those soups are pretty mushy, and that makes you prone to eating faster.

Dietary fibre is important, from the beginning to the end of the digestion process.
Chewing and eating slowly helps you to feel more full, and fibre slows digestion so you feel full longer. It affects your glucose levels by keeping them more even, so you don't crash (canned soups often have sugar added too - under names like Dextrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Probably because they're not made with only the best, most ripe and flavourful vegetables. Those are the ones that are going to go to the supermarket where eyes can see them and people will taste them without things being added to them. The Fresh Vegetable Market Gardening Industry is very different than the one for processed produce.)

The fibre also keeps things moving in your system. Roughage is so good for you and fresh veg is an easy way to get it. Lunch is the easiest time for most people to eat it too, and if you're not getting it at your other meals, this isn't a good substitute. If you make your own soup, you can "sweat" the vegetables in a little oil with garlic, then add them to your stock. That will give you more to chew on. In making soup, don't cook the heck out of the vegetables for the eating of them - do it only for the ones you're turning into stock.

Campbells often adds back in cellulose gum and cellulose gel, for mouth feel, and to help you feel fuller after having what is really quite a small serving, and they consider it "dietary fibre". Wouldn't you rather just eat it from food? And, is that soup keeping you full until dinner? Or, do you find you need to snack to keep your energy up?

They also sneak in MSG sometimes. I get headaches for that, so I never believe the "No MSG" labels until I look further. If you're eating vegetable soup as a vegetarian, some have a beef or chicken base, so you have to check.

The sodium's been mentioned - if you look in the ingredient glossary for Campbells, you'll see that they name a whole bunch of different sodium ingredients that contribute to it. And if you're looking at the percentages on the can, and eating "a can" for lunch, remember that some cans are considered 2.5 servings and so the nutritional information given is per serving, not per can. My father has to watch his salt, and he was eating insane amounts because he never actually read the label and did the math for his beloved Hormel chili.

So, if you want vegetable soup, make it with just vegetables and broth, and not a lot of weird ingredients. And remember that digestion starts with chewing.

One more thing - when you go to the salad bars, you're making good choices, right? And you're getting a walk and fresh air, right? That's also better for you. If you're nuking and eating soup at your place of work more often, you may not be getting a good mental break. When I worked in the office, there were plenty of times I ate at my desk to push through a deadline, but it sustained me more than revived me. A salad is portable, if you pack it from home, so that you can get out and eat somewhere else and clear your head. But even if you go back to using the salad bar, remember that your lunch break is good for your mental health too.
posted by peagood at 11:00 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My personal tastes run to the boring and would horrify practically every foodie on earth... but I agree that you can make tastier, cheaper, easier, healthier soups at home. And you don't have to go to Whole Foods or whatever to get unsalted/low-salt broth/stock - even Swanson makes the stuff, for heaven's sake.

I do low-sodium chicken broth, about two handfuls of egg noodles, about two cups of frozen veggies (usually corn, peas, and carrots), a little bit (like 2 or 3 oz.) of chicken, and Mrs. Dash for very very very easy chicken noodle soup. That's two or three lunches, more if I'm good and eat some fruit at the same meal. :) If you can, freeze the broth and veggies and meat and spices, but leave the (cooked & drained) noodles out, separately, and just refrigerate them. At work, nuke the cold-not-frozen noodles for fifteen seconds while waiting for the once-frozen soup to cool down enough to eat - add the noodles and enjoy. Noodles, especially egg noodles, are freakishly sensitive.

Strictly speaking, you can actually make the soup at work - you just have to bring a smaller amount of broth, or have a place to store half of it. Nuke the frozen veggies in their own container with a bit of broth, nuke the rest of the broth with the chicken in it, mix up the broth and the veggies while the noodles are nuking by themselves, and enjoy. It's a lot trickier to get everything hot at the same time this way, but it works - I've been able to pick up the ingredients for soup at the store (other than the pre-cooked noodles) and use nothing but a microwave to heat the whole thing up for lunch right then.

Oh... and the secret to salad-bar eating at work in a hurry, without spending a fortune, is to pack the freaking vegetables and other ingredients separately. Get teeny tiny plastic containers for each part of the salad - you can pack up to two or three days in advance for most things - and mix it all together in a larger bowl when you get to work. I found that for me personally it was most effective to keep the salad dressings and cheese in the work fridge, to slice the tomatoes and other fragile fruits/veggies on site, and to have enough big mixing bowls (at least four or five), kept at work, that after using one I would be able to cart it home, stick it in the dishwasher, and wait till the dishwasher was full - and that wouldn't keep me from making a salad tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I also grate my cheese at work, but that's because I'm kind of obsessive about the texture/taste of my cheese, and even a few hours of sitting in the fridge, makes me unhappy with the results.

The same rules apply to sandwiches, incidentally. The "I'll cut everything up, build the whole thing, and then let it sit for 16 hours before eating it" thing is what made me think I hated packed lunches. When I realized I also don't like pre-packaged sandwiches from delis and such, I realized that the problem had more to do with what happens when you let cheese and lettuce and meat and bread and mustard get cozy with one another, than with anything magically strange about my own skills as a sandwich maker.
posted by SMPA at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

My favorite, simple way to bolster canned soups is to add a significant helping of frozen mixed veggies. I'll add half of a one-pound bag to a can of soup.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:33 PM on July 18, 2012

To add to the chorus of alternatives: I like to buy random turkey parts from my local organic farm (they come to the market in my neighbourhood). They're just bags of frozen bones, skin and meat that they can't sell otherwise. They're super cheap and make for delicious soup. You could probably get something similar from a butcher.
posted by klanawa at 3:09 PM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: If you google any kind of recipe for minestrone it's very easy to make a delicious, homemade soup. Once you've got a basic veggie soup recipe down you can start tweaking it. I used to make soup almost weekly and as long as you at least somewhat enjoy cooking, it was actually relaxing for me to chop a bunch of veggies on sunday while watching tv and make a huge pot of soup for the week.

If you google a basic minestrone, I think the first recipe I used came from and then I just started using whatever veggies I had, or getting new veggies to try, putting in different beans, experimenting with various spices, etc. Then I usually had a block of nice parmigiano to grate on it since a little goes a long way.

Then you can branch out into different types of soup...pureed soups, etc. I love pureed carrot soup.

Anyway, put it this way, after eating my own soup for awhile, when I tried canned again it was just unappetizing.

This may not be exactly what you are looking for, but the most popular dish for the US Olympic team is Thai Chicken Soup....recipe looks pretty easy.
posted by fromageball at 4:16 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd be concerned about if the can is lined with Bisphenol A plastic. So many of them are.

I buy a chunk of beef shank and throw it into a slow cooker on low with lots of water overnight. If I am organized I throw in a minced onion, and some celery and maybe a half handful of dried peas, or lentils or something. Next morning I tear up the meat with two forks, cool it and stand it in the fridge so any fat rises to the top and solidifies and can put taken out. If I put big beans into it they are cooked by this stage, but if I put lentils or small split peas or barley or rice into it they have cooked into moosh and thicken the broth. It is better to keep the quick cooking lentils and rice to a minimum so I don't end up with porridge.

Then I throw stuff I like into it. This is where I can add lentils or rice or noodles, and of course whatever vegetables and spices I've got and are cheap and need to be cooked. If I throw in peppers it probably is going to want oregano, tomatoes and noodles and be some kind of an italian soup. Potatoes and carrots and onions is another standard variation. If you put in chunks of squash and carrot it makes another sort of flavour. Beets add colour and a nice smokey taste. Not being a vegetarian I am happy to throw a handful of sausage like chorizo, or paprika sausage, if it is full of beets.

Oddly you can add dairy products when you serve it, if you like that. Little cubes of cream cheese work, but a dollop of sour cream in the top of the bowl is much more traditional.

You might prefer to use caramelized onions to add more colour and flavour than just minced onion. The easiest way to make caramelized onions is to toss diced onions and butter into a very small slow cooker and get them to a rich golden brown. The flavour of caramelized onions is very different from boiled onions. Once they are caramelized you add them to the soup at any stage you like.

I do not do this with chicken or turkey instead of the shank because you need a big chunk of bone to ensure that you don't end up with splinters and little rubbery bits of bone in the bottom. I don't do it with pork either as a pork bone seems to give it a soapy flavour. However some mutton bones work just fine instead of the shank.

If you want vegetarian soup just make up the initial broth with a bunch of different vegetables and cook them until they disappear.

You can make all kinds of variations on this, such as adding some soy sauce and shrimp.

It freezes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:15 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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