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Soup good for body and soul

This nutrient-rich meal can help to also reduce your calorie intake

March 04, 2011|Melissa Tewes and Joe Fleischman | Your Health Matters
  • Meritus Medical Center Executive Chef Joe Fleischman prepares ginger tofu soup. Colleague Melissa Tewes, clinical nutrition manager at Meritus, says soup is a good source of nutrients.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

What makes a more "souper" meal than a nice hot bowl of soup? Soup is more than just a comfort food — it can provide many health benefits.  

Soup is first food that comes to mind when cooking for someone who is sick. But is there any truth to the idea that soup can make people feel better? Yes.

Soup is easy to digest and is often used for people who do not feel well or those who have trouble chewing, swallowing or are recovering from an illness. Vitamins and minerals are retained in the broth during the cooking process making a nutrient-rich liquid. Many of these vitamins and minerals are helpful for recuperation, but soups aren't just for treating colds anymore.

Consuming soup as the first course of a meal or as a meal replacement can significantly help decrease total calorie intake. Why? The right kind of soup is nutrient rich, which will help satisfy your hunger and will physically fill up your stomach.   

Preparing soup is an easy way to add vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains into your diet to increase dietary fiber. Dietary fiber not only helps satisfy hunger but has also been shown to prevent and treat certain types of cancer and heart disease.  

Adding functional foods, such as soy protein, may also provide additional health benefits. By adding a protein source such as beef, chicken, pork or fish to soup, it can provide all of the nutrients needed for a complete meal at a fraction of the calories.

But not all soups are created equal. Canned soup is convenient and can make a quick, healthful meal, but some can provide excessive calories, fat and sodium. Beware of soups that are made from a cream base as they tend to be high in fat and calories; choose broth or tomato based soups instead. Reading nutrition labels can help you choose a more healthful canned soup. Search for the can that provides at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving, less than 5 grams of fat and no more than 800 milligrams of sodium, if it is your main course.  

There are many tips that can maximize the nutritional content of your homemade soups. Choose lean cuts of meat such as boneless, skinless chicken breast.  

A good rule of thumb is to seek out a protein source that has "loin" or "round" in the name to ensure you are choosing leaner cuts. Trim visible fat off of meat prior to cooking. Remember, all nutrients are retained during the cooking process, including fat.  

 If a recipe calls for sauteed vegetables, try using water, broth, cooking wine or cooking spray in place of butter or oil to further reduce the fat content. Recipes that call for added fat such as butter, margarine, or oil can usually be made with half the amount without a noticeable difference in the flavor.  

Choose low-fat dairy products such as skim or 1-percent milk in place of whole milk or cream. Increase the dietary fiber content of soups by adding extra vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Using herbs is a healthful alternative to salt for seasoning soups. Add fresh herbs toward the end of cooking or dried herbs at the beginning to maximize flavor.  

Soup is also not just a winter meal. Try cold soups such as gazpacho or borscht for a healthful summertime meal.

Soup's on.

Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.

Ginger tofu soup


1 tablespoons minced ginger root

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 cups reduced sodium chicken stock

1 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 14-ounce package of firm tofu, cut into cubes

1/4 cup medium mushrooms, sliced

2 cups shredded carrots

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced

 In medium sauce pan, combine ginger and garlic. Heat until it is fragrant. Add chicken stock, water, soy sauce and bring to a boil.

  Stir in tofu, mushrooms, carrots and red pepper. Simmer until vegetables are tender.

Add parsley, green onion and serve.

 Time: about 10 minutes.

 Serves 4.

— Recipe by Joe Fleischman, executive chef at Meritus Medical Center. He has 20 years of experience as a professional chef, culinary instructor and speaker.

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