Canned Soup: Know Your Label Lingo
Remember when the label on a can of soup didn’t say much more than the company, the flavor, and, most likely, “condensed?” Of course I’m talking about the Campbell’s Tomato Soup label, that classic red-and-white design that is so iconic that Andy Warhol immortalized it in paint. (He apparently ate canned soup every day, cooked by his dear old mom.)
But now, as we’re ever more vigilant about our sodium and fat intake, and strive to put more fiber in our diets, canned soups have changed with the times. There are low-sodium varieties and high-fiber types; some are organic and some are extra-hearty.
When you make homemade soup you know every element that goes into it, and it will probably contain far less sodium than a canned variety. But convenience calls: We don’t always have time to make soup from scratch. So here, a little label lingo to help you choose the canned soup that’s right for you.
Condensed: Far less water is added to a condensed soup, so it’s concentrated. Water is added by the consumer at home, and the strength of the soup’s flavor can be regulated. Condensed soups typically come in cans that are half the size of “heat and eat” soups that come premixed.
Light or Low-Fat: Soups that typically have 100 calories or less per one-cup serving are often sold as “light” (i.e. the Progresso Light line). However, you don’t always need to buy soup labeled “light” to cut calories and fat. Vegetable soups, such as good old tomato, usually come in at under 100 calories a serving, and may even be fat-free. So look at the calorie and fat counts on the label’s “Nutrition Fact” panel for the specifics. Chowders, for example, may have more than 10 grams of fat (or about 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance). See also “Heart Healthy,” below.
High Fiber: Want to up your fiber count? Soups that have the “high fiber” label often have four to five times the fiber that regular soup does. Why? Many of them have high-fiber beans in them; others have added “soluble corn fiber.” So read the ingredients label. You may just want to stick with regular bean soup (and it may also cost you less), instead of stocking up on the corn fiber in these specially labeled varieties.
Reduced Sodium: Since the recommended daily sodium limit is 2,300 mg, (and some experts recommend no more than 1,500 mg.), reduced-sodium canned soups are well worth trying. A one-cup serving of regular soup can be 700 mg. per serving (or more)! Eat two cups of that soup and you’re approaching a day’s worth of sodium. At 400-plus mg. in the reduced-sodium varieties, canned soup is still pretty high.
Natural: There are no artificial ingredients, flavors, colors, or preservatives in these soups. They’re often branded with names that indicate produce, such as Campbell’s “Select Harvest.”
Organic: Ingredients in USDA Organic Certified soups have not been exposed to pesticides and other chemicals. They also contain no additives. (Soups such as those from Amy’s Kitchen are organic, and in Amy’s case, also vegetarian).
Gluten Free: You may think your all-vegetable, no-rice-or-pasta soup is gluten-free, but unless the label specifically states that, check the ingredients! Many canned soups use wheat flour for thickeners. And those who are allergic to or avoiding gluten (a protein found in rye, barley and wheat) shouldn’t eat it.
“Heart Healthy”: The American Heart Association has established a program to certify foods that meet its guidelines for heart-healthy foods. When you see the Heart-Check mark on food packaging, it means it’s been certified. Among those guidelines:
- Total Fat: Less than 6.5 g
- Saturated Fat: 1 g or less and 15% or less calories from saturated fat
- Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (and label serving)
- Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
- Sodium: 480 mg or less (also per label serving)
- Beneficial Nutrients: 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber