NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Hearty & Healthy Soups

Hearty and Healthy Soups


            A piping hot bowl of soup is the ultimate winter comfort food.  Soups don’t have to be creamy and laden with calories though.  Hearty and healthy is always a possible soup combination. Historically, we've been making soups as long as we've been cooking, and this easy method of meal-making is just as useful today. Soups are frugal, satisfying, nourishing, and easily adaptable — all good reasons to enjoy delicious soups this winter. Soup recipes can be lower in calories, fat and sodium, but still be big on taste!

            Fat - Most soups begin with a fat, such as oil, to sauté vegetables and bring out their flavor. Fat isn’t always unhealthy; monounsaturated fats can help improve your blood cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats reduce your risk of type-2 diabetes and also can help improve your blood cholesterol. Healthy fats are usually liquid at room temperature: Peanut oil, corn oil, safflower oil and olive oil are healthful choices. Olive oil is best for Italian-based soups and those containing tomato. For creamy soups or chili, choose corn or safflower oil. Peanut oil works well in many Asian-based soups. Keep the sodium low by avoiding salted butter.

            Base -In high-sodium soups, the base is often a salty stock. Keep the sodium low by using a salt-free stock or making your own at home. Chicken, beef, vegetable and fish stock often are available in salt-free varieties. Plain tomato sauce is low in sodium; it is a fine base for soup on its own or mixed with stock, depending on how thick you want the broth. Milk works for creamy soups. To make soup base creamy without milk, add a splash of half-and-half. Do not add salt or use full-sodium broth. There are 860 milligrams of sodium in 1 cup of full-sodium chicken stock and only 72 milligrams in low-sodium chicken stock.

            Protein and Fiber -Most soups include a source of protein, either meat or legumes. Legumes are also an excellent source of fiber. Lean beef, chicken, pork, turkey or fish are good choices. For legumes, don’t choose a sodium-laden canned variety -- they can have as much as 818 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving. Prepare your own by boiling without salt and each 1-cup serving will only have 2 milligrams of sodium. Almost any legume works in soup. For additional fiber, add whole grains such as barley, quinoa or brown rice, all of which are low-sodium. If your soup has noodles, choose a whole grain variety. In addition, use only fresh -- not canned -- veggies to avoid excess sodium. Onions, carrots, garlic, celery, corn, spinach, kale and potatoes are good choices for soup.

            Seasoning - The seasonings make low-sodium soup tasty. They complement the flavor of the other ingredients and finish your soup. Add seasonings to taste -- stir, taste and then add more if necessary. Most spices and herbs do not contain sodium. Provided it doesn’t have added salt, any seasoning works. Rosemary, thyme and marjoram make a tasty combination, so do chili powder and cumin. Parsley and basil complement almost any type of soup.

            Try the following recipe for a tasty, low-sodium version of the ever popular chicken soup.


Low Sodium Chicken Soup



  • 1 pound chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cooked 
  • 1 tablespoon onion
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fresh carrots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7-1/2 cups water
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables

Dice chicken and set aside. Chop onion, celery and parsley; slice carrots 1/2-inch thick.

Sauté olive oil and onion in a 4-quart pot for 5 minutes, until tender. Add water and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken, celery, parsley and pepper, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add carrots, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add frozen vegetables, cover and simmer 20 minutes longer.  Serving size – 10 ½ cup servings.

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