Why You Should Steer Clear of Supermarket Soups

While hundreds of commercial varieties are now available, nutritionists say that homemade is best. By far.

Campbell’s is experimenting with new premade soup concepts, including a line of soups targeting younger consumers. But nutritionists say these newfangled products are as unhealthy as ever. (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Jan 1, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s and have visited the soup aisle recently, randomly Googled “soup for millennials,” or happened to have caught this hilarious Stephen Colbert bit last month, you know Campbell’s has put a big target on your back. That’s right: Campbell’s, disappointed with its success in building a relationship with 20-35-year-old Americans, recently released a line of soups in a variety of gourmet flavors and packaged in an “edgy” bag. As Colbert joked, “Just jam a straw in the top. It’s like Capri Soup.”

This isn’t Campbell’s first soup innovation, and the “Go” line—which features flavors like Moroccan Style Chicken with Chickpeas and Spicy Chorizo and Pulled Chicken—is just one player in a premade soup market that is growing evermore crowded. Bertolli has a line of frozen “Meal Soups” that are supposed to remind us of a fine Italian spread. Progresso is selling a line of ethnic-inspired soups. Even Chicken Soup for the Soul has a line of soups coming out.

But you may want to think twice before reaching for a box, bag or can of soup to warm you up this winter. While some companies have lowered sodium in certain varieties of their soups, others are still chock-full of salt and fat.

Consider the fat content in Campbell’s Creamy Red Pepper with Smoked Gouda soup from its Go line: 30 grams of fat, 18 of which is saturated fat—more than half the amount of fat a person on an 1,800-calorie diet should consume in a day. (Nutritionists recommend that no more than 10 percent of our calories come from saturated fat.) And with 1,550 milligrams of sodium, the pepper-and-gouda soup contains more than half the daily salt recommendation for a person without high blood pressure or heart disease.

Soups can be great, but some of these on-the-go soups are highly processed and very high in sodium,” says nutritionist Lisa Young. “Best to stick with lower sodium varieties. Non-creamy varieties and bean soups are also best bets.”

Another important reason for consumers to pass on many of these store-bought soups is their ties to the industrial food system. General Mills—which lobbied hard in California earlier this fall to defeat GMO labeling—owns both the Progresso and Muir Glen Organic labels; Bertolli is owned by European food giant Unilever.

So what premade soups are both healthy for our bodies and the world? Several independent companies are making soup with natural ingredients: Kettle Cuisine, Amy’s Kitchen, Pacific Natural Foods, Eden Organic, and Harry’s Fresh Foods all give conscious soup lovers some options.

Not surprisingly, nutritionists insist the best option, by far, is to make your own soup at home (we’ve published many healthy, meatless recipes here on TakePart). Nutrition counselor Samantha Lynch says she prefers cooking soups at home because she can control the sodium level with her own broth, but, more importantly, “it just tastes better!”

What’s your favorite homemade soup recipe?

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