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Soup's on. (Brand-Name Rating).

There's nothing like a gurgling pot of homemade soup to warm your bones when the brisk weather sets in. But sooner or later--when you're sick, tired, or just too busy to start from scratch--you may end up reaching for a can opener instead of a kettle.

Companies that stock the soup shelves at your supermarket are only too happy to help (not just with cans, but with frozen pouches, cartons, and coated paper cups). The trick is finding a soup that won't pack nearly half a day's worth of salt into a modest 150-calorie cup of liquid.

To make your hunt easier, we gave "Best Bites" to prepared soups that have no more than one gram of saturated fat and 480 milligrams of sodium in a one-cup (eight-ounce) serving (or 600 mg if the soup comes in a single-serving cup that makes more than eight ounces). That's not low in salt--it's a quarter to a fifth of a day's worth--but it's roughly half of what you'd get in a typical Campbell's, Progresso, or Knorr soup. And, to make sure that our Best Bites offer more than just flavored water, we insisted that they have at least a minimal level of nutrients.

Every food label has to list what percent of a day's worth of each of six "good" nutrients (vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber) is in one serving. We gave each soup one point for every percent it racked up. For example, a soup with 25 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium and 10 percent of the DV for fiber (and no iron, protein, or vitamins A or C) received 35 points.

To earn a Best Bite, a serving of soup had to reach at least 50 points. That weeded out the least nutritious entries, including just about every broth and many chicken noodles and cream of whatevers. (For those soups, just look for brands with the least sodium. Even Campbell's makes a Low Sodium Chicken Broth, with 140 mg per cup.)

Here are the soups that met our criteria without making our taste buds cry "Uncle!"


The easiest way to narrow down your search for soups that aren't salt-laden is to look for the word "healthy" on the label. The government won't allow names like Healthy Choice, Healthy Request, or Health Valley on soups that have more than 480 milligrams of sodium in a one-cup serving.

So every soup in those three lines was low enough in sodium for a Best Bite. A few--like Campbell's Condensed Healthy Request Cream of Broccoli or Cream of Celery--fell short in the nutrient department, though. (Memo to Campbell's: A cream of celery with few nutrients we can understand. But a cream of broccoli?)

Among our favorites from the "healthy" lines: Healthy Choice Vegetable Beef, Garden Vegetable, and Split Pea and Ham.

Campbell's Healthy Request soups are also a good bet, especially the "Hearty" ones, which contain more food than some of the company's condensed soups. And Health Valley works wonders with the 250-or-so milligrams of sodium in its Fat Free line, especially the Minestrone, 14 Garden Vegetable, and (out-of-this-world) 5 Bean Vegetable. Its Fat Free Vegetable Barley and 99% Fat Free Chicken Noodle didn't taste so wonderful.

Some small companies also got Best Bites, but were less reliable tastewise. Pritikin's seasonings (or lack thereof) left us cold. Tabatchnick's Barley & Mushroom was tasteless, while its Split Pea was scrumptious. Hain went from good-tasting (Mushroom Barley) to anything but (Vegetarian Lentil). ShariAnn's Spicy Green Lentil gives lentil soup a new twist, but her Indian Black Bean & Rice is far too heavy on the cloves. And comments on Amy's No Chicken Noodle went from "tastes like gravy" to "dead ringer for real chicken soup."

Some lines were more consistent. Imagine's cartons of organic soups--like Creamy Broccoli or Creamy Butternut Squash--were dependably delish.


What better way to stir up a hot lunch when you're stuck at the office with only hot water to cook with?

Just watch which brand you choose. Fantastic knows how to make a Country Lentil, Jumpin' Black Bean, Minestrone, and Split Pea. But its Creamy Asparagus and Cha-Cha Chili appealed to some taste buds more than others.

Likewise, Dr. McDougall wowed us with his Tortilla Soup and Split Pea with Barley. (His Minestrone and Ramen Noodles weren't as popular, though ramen fans should give the doc's a try, given the sky-high levels of sodium and saturated fat in large brands like Nissin and Maruchan.)

Other winners: Kettle Cuisine's Carrot Ginger was spectacular ... and its homemade richness came through whether we ate it hot or cold. Nile Spice makes a dynamite Split Pea, and its Red Beans & Rice has a welcome kick. Opinions on Nile's Tomato Herb ranged from good to so-so.

Health Valley's line has no knock-outs, but it has no losers either. Overall, a disappointing soup-in-a-cup still beats a lousy soup-in-a-can. The only exception: Teapot Soups. The company hasn't quite gotten the hang of making instant soups.

Just don't assume that one cup is one serving. Those just-add-boiling-water cups can make anywhere from six ounces of soup (Lipton) to 15 ounces (Fantastic Big Soup Noodle Bowls, Health Valley, and a few other brands). Since most labels list calories, sodium, etc., for eight ounces, you'll have to double the numbers if you eat the whole cup of the biggies. That's what we've done in our chart.

The information for this article was compiled by Tamar Genger.

In the Soup

To earn a Best Bite, an eight-ounce serving of soup could have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium (600 mg for single-serving soups that make more than eight ounces). It also had to have at least 50 percent of a day's worth of any combination of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber. Within each category, soups are ranked from least to most sodium, then most to least fiber, then least to most calories.
 Sodium Fiber
Multi-Serving Soups (1 cup) Calories (mg) (grams)

[check][check] Health Valley
 Organic No Salt (1) 90 40 4
[check][check] Tabatchnick
 No Salt (1) 140 60 6
[check][check] Health Valley
 Fat Free (1) 100 250 6
[check][check] Pritikin (1) 110 290 4
[check][check] Tabatchnick
 Barley Mushroom, Cabbage,
 Creamed Spinach, Lentil,
 Minestrone, Split Pea,
 Tomato Rice, Vegetable,
 Vegetarian Chili, or Yankee
 Bean (2) 120 320 6
[check][check] Health Valley
 Organic (1) 90 330 4
[check][check] Woodstock
 Organics Creamy Potato 100 330 3
[check][check] Taste
 Adventure Minestrone, Navy
 Bean, or Sweet Corn Chowder (2) 160 360 7
[check][check] Campbell's
 Healthy Request Ready to Serve,
 except New England Clam
 Chowder (1) 120 360 3
 Healthy Request Ready to Serve
 New England Clam Chowder 110 360 2
[check][check] Imagine Creamy
 Broccoli or Creamy Butternut
 Squash (2) 100 370 2
[check][check] Westbrae Fat
 Free Santa Fe Vegetable 160 380 8
Imagine Creamy Portobello
 Mushroom, Creamy Potato Leek,
 Creamy Sweet Corn, or Creamy
 Tomato (2) 90 390 2
[check][check] Health Valley
 99% Fat Free Chicken Noodle or
 Chicken Rice (2) 130 390 2
[check][check] ShariAnn's Cream
 of Tomato, Great Plains Split
 Pea, Indian Black Bean & Rice,
 Spicy French Green Lentil,
 Spicy Mexican Bean, Tomato
 with Red Bell Pepper, or Tomato
 with Roasted Garlic (2) 120 410 3
[check][check] Progresso 99%
 Fat Free Lentil 130 440 6
[check][check] Campbell's
 Condensed Healthy Request,
 except Chicken Noodle or Cream
 soups (1) 90 440 3
Campbell's Condensed Healthy
 Request Chicken Noodle or Cream
 soups (2) 70 440 1
[check][check] Healthy Choice
 Bean and Ham, Chicken Corn
 Chowder, Chicken Pasta, Country
 Vegetable, Creamy Potato & Ham,
 Garden Vegetable, Hearty
 Chicken, Hearty Chili Beef,
 Mediterranean Bean with Pasta,
 Minestrone, Old Fashioned
 Chicken Noodle, Roasted Chicken
 with Garlic, Split Pea and Ham,
 or Vegetable Beef (2) 130 480 4
[check][check] Hain (1) 100 480 3
Healthy Choice Baked Potato,
 Chicken with Rice, Chunky Beef
 and Potato, Classic Italian
 Bean and Pasta, Creamy Tomato,
 Fiesta Chicken, New England
 Clam Chowder, Turkey with White
 and Wild Rice, Vegetable Clam,
 or Zesty Gumbo (2) 100 480 3
[check][check] Amy's No Chicken
 noodle 90 480 2
Taste Adventure Black Bean,
 Curry Lentil, Golden Pea, or
 Split Pea (2) 220 540 12
Pacific Creamy (1) * 120 540 1
ShariAnn's Italian White Bean,
 Minestrone, Potato and Cheddar,
 Vegetable Barley, or Vegetarian
 French Onion (2) * 110 570 2
Amy's, except No Chicken
 Noodle (1) * 100 590 4
Woodstock Organics, except
 Creamy Potato (1) 130 620 4
Fantastic (1) * 120 660 3
Lipton Soup Secrets (1) 80 690 0
Nissin Top Ramen (1) (#) 190 770 1
Campbell's Simply Home (1) * 110 790 2
Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup (1) (#) 190 790 1
Wyler's Soup Starter Soup Mix (1) 100 820 3
Knorr Savory Soups (1) * 100 820 1
Campbell's Ready to Serve
 Classics (1) * 110 840 3
Campbell's Select, except New
 England Clam Chowder (1) * 120 840 3
Campbell's Condensed 98% Fat
 Free (1) 70 840 1
Knorr Naturals Hearty Soups (1) 100 840 1
Campbell's Condensed
 Classics (1) * 90 860 2
Campbell's Select New England
 Clam Chowder # 200 870 2
Progresso, except 99% Fat Free
 Lentill (1) * 110 880 2
Campbell's Condensed Special
 Selectionsl (1) * 90 890 2
Campbell's Condensed Fun
 Favorites (1) 80 890 1
Mrs. Grass Soup Mix (1) 50 890 0
Campbell's Chunky (1) * 150 900 3
Pepperidge Farm Lobster Bisque
 or Vichyssoise (2) (#) 140 1,020 0
Pepperidge Farm, except Lobster
 Bisque or Vichyssoise (1) * 100 1,050 2

Single-Serving Soups

(1 container--about 1 cup unless
[check][check] Kettle Cuisine
 Carrot Ginger 120 230 3
Teapot Soups Potato Leek 130 350 1
Thai Kitchen Rice Noodle Bowl (1) 180 400 0
[check][check] Teapot Soups,
 except Potato Leek (1) 180 400 0
[check][check] Dr. McDougall's (1) 180 400 7
[check][check] The Spice Hunter 170 480 4
 Black Bean, Navy Bean, Split Pea,
 or Szechwan Noodle (2) 170 490 8
[check][check] Fantastic, except
 Creamy Broccoli Cheddar, Creamy
 Garlic Mushroom, Creamy Potato
 Leek, or Vegetable Miso Ramen
 Noodles (1) 190 510 8
[check][check] Kettle Cuisine
 Gazpacho 110 510 2
Lipton Cup-a-Soup (1) 60 530 0
Fantastic Vegetable Miso Ramen
 Noodles 130 540 2
[check][check] Health Valley
 (2 cups) (1) 220 550 6
Fantastic Creamy Broccoli Cheddar,
 Creamy Garlic Mushroom, or Creamy
 Potato Leek (2) * 150 550 2
[check][check] Nile Spice Black
 Bean, Gazpacho, Lentil,
 Minestrone, Red Beans & Rice,
 Split Pea, or Tomato Herb (2) 150 580 7
The Spice Hunter Bowl Size
 (2 cups) (1) * 190 780 4
Knorr TasteBreaks (1) 160 940 3
Campbell's Soup to Go (1) 130 960 2
Campbell's Soup at Hand (1) * 140 970 3
Birds Eye Hearty Spoonfuls (1) * 190 1,130 4
Nissin Cup Noodles (2 cups) (1) (#) 300 1,140 2
Fantastic Big Soup Noodle
 Bowls (1) 220 1,230 2
Maruchan Instant Lunch
 (2 cups) (1) (#) 290 1,310 2

[check][check] Best Bite.

(1) Average of the entire line (excluding

(2) Average of the soups listed.

* Some soups in the line
have more than 1 gram of saturated fat.

(#) Contains 3 or more grams
of saturated fat.

Notes: Some large line averages may not include every soup in the
line. Numbers don't include milk for soups that call for it (using
fat-free milk shouldn't change the numbers appreciably).

The use of information from this article for commercial purposes is
strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI.

Source: Manufacturers.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Previous Article:Obesity spreads. (Quick Studies).
Next Article:Can't top this. (Right Stuff).

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