As the fall weather gets cooler, the night comes sooner and the leaves start to turn it seems to signal a change in appetite, too. Menus feature more hearty soups and stews and the chilled dishes of summer go out of style like white shoes after Labor Day. Soups are a year round thing, of course. But falling temperatures often mean a rise in soup pots on the stove to help warm us from the inside out. Soups have long been associated with stick to your ribs nourishment and something good-for-what-ails-you; but if your number one health concern is weight control and keeping your cholesterol in check there are a few guidelines to follow when choosing what to ladle into your bowl.
Did you know that eating more soup can help you lose weight- if you choose the right kind? Dr. Barbara Rolls, a weight control researcher at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan, found that eating soup as a first course helped study participants lose weight because they consumed fewer total calories in the rest of the meal. But, that doesn’t mean you can gorge on New England clam chowder made with heavy cream. The broth based soups they consumed, even though they were lower in fat and calories than other foods choices, helped to increase feelings of satiety. Rolls’ theory is that the more water a food contains the more full we feel, “If you don’t like soup, start your meal with a salad, a piece of fruit, or a glass of vegetable juice.” And the lower the energy density of a food (the concentration of fat and calories) the more we can eat. 200 calories will buy you just 1 cup of cream of broccoli soup with cheese; but for the same calorie level you get 2 ½ cups of vegetable beef broth soup.
If you’re watching your sodium intake: Yes! It is really hard to find lower sodium restaurant soups. But, generally if a chef makes their own soups they rely on other ingredients besides salt for flavors.
Broth based: From Japanese miso soup to classic French beef bouillon these broth soups (chicken, beef or vegetable based) are among the lowest in calories. (50-80 calories per cup) French onion soup starts off as an onion broth then they pile on the bread and cheese (360 calories a cup); so maybe just eat half of the gooey cheesy topping.
Tomato based: Vegetable soups, minestrone, Manhattan clam chowder and gazpacho are tomato based and therefore lower in fat than milk or cream based soups. (80-120 calories per cup) And since they’re usually chock- full of vegetables they add healthy fiber to the soup mix which makes them an even healthier choice. The smoked tomato soup made by Chef Hernando Ramos at Mitra restaurant in Midtown is made with organic tomatoes he roasts in the kitchen daily.
Cream based: Cream of “anything” soup will bump the calories up by 100 calories a cup. So, even though cream of broccoli or cream of asparagus soup sound like a good way to eat your vegetables just note that your looking at about 180 calories per cup. The same goes for Lobster Bisque. Note: if a restaurant uses milk and some pureed vegetables to make their “cream soups” that lowers the fat and ups the veggie quotient.
Flour thickened soups: Seafood gumbo is thickened with a mixture of flour and fat called a roux. Many cream based soups are made this way too including New England Clam Chowder. So, every bite may be thick and creamy but count 260 calories a cup or 520 calories for a large 16 ounce bowl.
What’s that in your Soup? Watch the garnishes as they pile up on top. Shredded cheddar cheese, bacon crumbles, fried croutons, a dollop of sour cream or chunks of avocado in tortilla soup add an extra 50 calories per Tablespoon. I saw popcorn served with Butternut Squash soup at Butter restaurant in NY. That’s a great way to add a little crunch with only a few calories.