For many areas in the Northern Hemisphere, eating soup rises in popularity during February –which continually ranks as one of the coldest months of the year. Besides being known for its relatively short duration and low temperatures, February is also heart awareness month, when various types of public health campaigns take aim at educating people on the prevalence and prevention of heart disease. At first thought, soup may seem to be a good choice for supporting heart health, but many soups do just the opposite. In honor of American Heart Month, learn how to satisfy the desire for a warm and comforting liquid meal without putting any stress on your cardiovascular system.
Soup is the ideal meal when the weather outside is bitter cold; its temperature warms you up from the inside out, while its steam defrosts your nose and eases congested sinuses. In addition, soup is effortlessly loaded with healthy vegetables and grains that we often skimp on. Although there are many ways that soup can be both satisfying and healthy, a surprising number of canned, frozen, boxed and restaurant-prepared soups are loaded with salt, sugar and fat – three heart health nutrition bombs.
Eating Heart Healthy
According to experts in the field, choosing healthful meals can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Four important components of eating wisely for your heart include consuming plenty of produce while keeping meals low in fat, low in sodium and low in sugar:
- Produce – The mainstay of a heart healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Because they are full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, enzymes and minerals, nutritionists urge us to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
- Low-fat – Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can help prevent high cholesterol. Just as it’s hard to wash the grease of fatty foods off a plate, your cardiovascular system’s vessels easily become sticky with excessive grease.
- Low-sodium – Salt, otherwise known as sodium chloride, directly affects blood pressure. While some sodium is needed for our body to function properly, most of us consume way too much. Eating less sodium is one of the most important lifestyle changes for lowering blood pressure and, thus, reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Low-sugar – Eating a lot of sugar is unhealthy for several reasons, including its effect on cardiovascular health. According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Japan, adults who consume high levels of sugar have a significantly elevated risk for heart disease.
Not So Heart Healthy Soups
Unfortunately, many soups have surprisingly high levels of sodium, fat and sugar.
Salt is one of the biggest problems faced by consumers of canned soup. Even soup labeled as low sodium may not be low enough. A popular brand of reduced-sodium soups lists their sodium content as 470 mg per serving. Since many of us consume at least two servings at a time, that is over 900 mg for a bowl of soup! This sodium total is more than half of the U.S. dietary guidelines of 1,500 mg per day for those with heart disease.
Many upscale restaurants add cream or bacon to their soups in an effort to produce a creamy texture or rich flavor. While these additions can be sinfully delicious, they also add a sinful amount of unnecessary, artery-clogging fat to your bowl of soup.
We don’t usually think to check the sugar content of soup, but perhaps we should. A popular brand of tomato soup contains 12 grams of sugar per serving. Again, since most of us consume at least two servings at a time, that is equivalent to 24 grams of sugar in a bowl of soup. To put that into perspective, there are 24 grams of sugar in a package of two Twix cookie bars.
Heart Healthy Soups
Even though manufacturers and chefs often add sugar, fat and salt to boost soup’s palatability and longevity, they are not necessary for tasty creations. Thankfully, it’s easy to make soups that are heart-healthy: full of vegetables, low in fat, low in sodium and low in sugar. There are plenty of delicious soup recipes that focus only on healthful ingredients. Some ideas include:
- Carrot ginger soup
- Roasted butternut squash soup
- Vegetable bean soup
- Black bean soup
- Lentil soup
- Vegan potato leek soup
- Thai seafood soup
- Mushroom barley soup
- Chicken soup with wild rice
- Curried pumpkin soup
- Vegan cream of broccoli
- Tomato soup
When made in your home, each one of these soups can be prepared with very little fat, sugar or salt. In fact, making soup is one of the easiest ways to create a heart healthy meal. As we look for ways to warm up during this frigid February, soup can provide a welcome, nourishing, comforting respite from the cold. By reading labels and/or preparing it yourself, consuming veggie-packed, low sodium, low sugar soup is the perfect way to practice heart health awareness.