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Soups: the middle ground.

Who doesn't remember sitting down to a steaming bowl of canned chicken noodle soup?

Americans love their chicken noodle more than any other canned or dried soup. Tomato and cream of mushroom aren't far behind. And you can still buy the same old fatty and salty versions that will transport you back to your childhood.

But now there's a new generation of great-tasting soups that pose less of a threat to your blood pressure.

Salt Mines

For years, salt has been the Achilles heel of most prepared soups. Many of Campbell's traditional red-and-white label soups, for example, still supply more than 800 mg of sodium in a modest one-cup serving. That's a third of a day's sodium in a food that may only contain a twentieth of a day's calories.

And while it's possible to find low-salt soups, their taste is often unusual, to put it kindly. What about a middle ground?

In 1993, the last time we rooted around in the soup aisle, we found only a smattering of cans and packages with enough taste to carry off their lower salt levels (300 to 500 mg per cup). Now there are dozens.

It's not just luck.

In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration decided that to be labeled "healthy," foods can't contain more than 480 mg of sodium per serving. That's 20 percent of the Daily Value. (Meal-type foods like frozen dinners can have more.)


Healthy Not By Choice

To keep the "healthy" in their names, brands like Healthy Choice and Campbell's Healthy Request had to keep the sodium down. And--to maintain sales--they had to keep the flavor up. So if you don't want a good-tasting soup at the expense of slowly rising blood pressure, just use the word "healthy" as a shortcut.

Unfortunately, you can't take a shortcut with Progresso's 99%, Fat Free soups. The sodium can run anywhere from 440 to 930 mg per cup, so you've got to stand in the aisle and check each "Nutrition Facts" label.

The good news is that many mid-salt soups get their richer flavor from a richer supply of real food, not salty water. That means you get a healthier soup, with more beans, pasta, or vegetables--and the fiber, vitamins, and minerals they bring.

The bad news is that for some categories, like vegetable and tomato, it's still tough to find a good-tasting mid-salt soup. Here are the best-tasting soups we found, by category.

We tasted most Best Bites (no more than three grams of fat and 300 mg of sodium per serving, plus at least ten percent of the Daily Value for two or more of the following nutrients: fiber, vitamin A, vitamin iron, or calcium). We also sampled most Honorable Mentions (they could have up to 500 mg of sodium).

* Bean. Bean (and lentil and split pea) soups are hard to beat. They've got fiber, protein, iron, and sometimes calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Meat-eaters should love Campbell's Healthy Request Bean with Ham & Bacon or Healthy Choice Bean and Ham. If ham isn't your thing, head for Fantastic Foods Jumpin' Black Bean or Cha-Cha Chili. Or try Shari's Organic thick and hearty Mexican Bean Burrito. Go for Baxters 99% Fat Free Italian Bean & Pasta if you prefer your beans in a thinner broth.

* Chicken & Turkey. Every Healthy Choice or Campbell's Healthy Request chicken (or turkey) soup we tasted was delicious. Some, like Healthy Choice Hearty Chicken and Healthy Request Hearty Chicken Noodle, were loaded with chicken, vegetables, noodles...and flavor. They put Campbell's classic red-and-white label salty Chicken Noodle to shame. Health Valley's (vegetarian) dried Fat-Free! Healthy Chicken Flavored Noodles with Vegetables is awfully close to your grandmother's chicken soup. Ditto for Dr. McDougall's delicious (vegetarian) Baked--Not Fried Chicken Flavor Ramen Noodles in a cup. Though ramen soups look harmless, most are salty and loaded with artery-clogging palm oil. To unearth one with just one gram of fat that's low enough in sodium for an "Honorable Mention" is a real find.

* Lentil. Out of sandwich ideas? Try Progresso 99% Fat Free or Healthy Choice Lentil soup and whole-grain crackers or rolls for lunch.

Shari's Organic Spicy French Green Lentil is for those who prefer exotic spices. Unfortunately, Health Valley's lentil soups are for those who prefer "off" flavors.

As for dried soups, if you like Indian spicing, pick up Fantastic Foods Couscous with Lentils or Safeway Enlighten Couscous Lentil.

* Split Pea. Campbell's Healthy Request Split Pea with Ham and Healthy Choice Split Pea and Ham both had a satisfying smoky flavor. Down on ham? Then try dried soups like Health Valley Fat-Free! Healthy Split Pea & Carrots, Fantastic Foods Split Pea, or Dr. McDougall's Split Pea with Barley.

* Tomato. If you love tomato soup, scour the health food stores for Shari's Organic Cream of Tomato. The blend of tomato puree, onions, and spices is instant comfort on a cold day. Shari's Tomato with Roasted Garlic is also delicious. In fact, Shari's were the only good-tasting tomato soups to meet our criteria.

* Vegetable. Canned lower-salt vegetable soups frequently taste like the can they come in. Ditto for minestrones. But not Campbell's Healthy Request Hearty Vegetable Beef and Healthy Choice Vegetable Beef. They tasted like an old-fashioned beef stew-but with less than three grams of fat per cup. Campbell's Healthy Request Southwestern Vegetable had a nice kick to it, thanks to the chili peppers and spices. And Fantastic Foods dried Minestrone tasted almost homemade.

* Miscellaneous. Unlike most French onion soups, Baxter's 99% Fat Free Onion has ten percent of a day's worth of iron (from concentrated beef bouillon) and fiber (from the onions). It's also got 100 percent of a day's worth of onion soup flavor.

Progresso 99% Fat Free Beef Barley is a nice variation on beef vegetable. With savory beef stock, carrots, tomatoes, and other vegetables, you won't notice that some of the salt is gone. And Healthy Choice Chili Beef tastes just like a spicy-but-not-too-hot chili should.

Health Valley dried Fat-Free! Healthy Pasta Italiano features al dente shells, red beans, and a delicious blend of vegetables and spices. The company's innovative dried Spicy Black Bean with Couscous is all you need for a quick, tasty lunch. And Dr. McDougall's Tortilla Soup with Baked Chips has a pleasing, savory mix of Mexican flavors.

The information for this article was compiled by Ingrid Van Tuinen and Wendy Meltzer.


"Best Bites" have no more than three grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium in a one-cup (8-oz.) serving (for multiple-serving containers) or for the whole package or can (for single-serving containers). If you eat more than half a multiple-serving can, don't forget to increase the numbers. Best Bites also contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value for at least two of the following: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, or fiber. "Honorable Mentions" meet the same criteria, except that sodium can hit 500 mg. Products are ranked from least to most sodium.

Multi-Serving Soups (8 oz.) Calories Sodium Fiber
 (mg) (g)

* Health Valley Organic(1) 90 150 7

* Taste Adventure Low Fat Minestrone 140 210 8

* Health Valley Fat-Free(1) 90 230 8

* Pritikin Lentil or Split Pea(2) 160 290 7

* Health Valley Fat-Free! Healthy
 Pass(3) 110 290 4

* Pritikin Hearty Vegetable,
 Minestrone, or Vegetarian 90 290 3

[check] Arrowhead Mills Red Lentil 100 320 3

[check] Taste Adventure Low Fat Navy
 Bean 160 390 9

[check] Healthy Choice Garden
 Vegetable, Minestrone, or Tomato
 Garden(2) 110 400 3

[check] Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle,
 Chicken with Rice, Hearty Chicken, or
 Turkey with White & Wild Rice(2) 120 410 1

[check] Baxters 99% Fat Free
 Mediterranean Tomato or Onion(2) 70 420 3

[check] Shari's Organic(4) 130 420 3

[check] Healthy Choice Country
 Vegetable. Split Pea and Ham, or
 Vegetable Beef(2) 130 420 2

[check] Healthy Choice Bean and Ham,
 Chili Beef, or Lentil(2) 160 430 6

[check] Baxters 99% Fat Free Country
 Garden, Italian Bean & Pass, or
 Minestrone(2) 80 430 4

[check] Mayacamas Black Bean or Garden
 Pea, mix(2) 60 450 3

Healthy Choice Cream of Mushroom 80 450 1

[check] Healthy Choice Beef & Potato 120 450 0

[check] Progresso 99% Fat Free Beef
 Barley or Lentil(2) 140 460 5

[check] Campbell's Healthy Request
 Bean with Ham & Bacon 150 480 7

[check] Campbell's Healthy Request
 Southwestern Vegetable or Split Pea
 with Ham(2) 160 480 5

[check] Hain Healthy Naturals(1) 120 480 4

[check] Campbell's Healthy Hearty
 Country Vegetable, Hearty Minestrone,
 Hearty Vegetable Beef, or Tomato
 Vegetable(2) 120 480 3

[check] Hain Home Style Naturals
 Chunky Tomato or Minestrone(2) 120 480 3

[check] Campbell's Health Request
 Hearty Chicken Noodle of Zesty Penne
 & Vegetables, or Ceative Chef
 Tomato(2) 120 480 2

Health Choice New England Clam Chowder 120 480 2

[check] Campbell's Healthy Request
 Chicken with Rice 60 480 1

Campebell's Healthy Request New
 England Clam Chowder 120 480 1

Campbell's Healthy Request Chicken
 Noodle,Cream of Chicken, or
 Cream of Mushroom(2) 70 480 0

[check] Taste Adventure Low Fat
 Golden Pea or Sweet Corn Chowder(2) 210 490 5

Westbrae Natueal Fat Free(3) 90 580 7

Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion, mix 20 610 0

Progresso 99% Fat Free Chicken Noodle 90 620 1

Campbell's Baked 98% Fat Free Ramen,
 Chicken (package, not cup) 140 720 1

Lipton Noodle with Chicken Broth Soup Mix 60 720 0

Campbell's Tomato 100 730 2

Knorr Vegetable, mix 30 730 1

Progresso Lentil 140 750 7

Maruchan Ramen, Chicken(*) 190 780 1

Campbell's 98% Fat Free Cream of Mushroom 70 830 0

Campbell's Cream of Mushroom(*) 110 870 1

Campbell's Cream of Chicken(*) 130 890 1

Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken(*) 190 910 1

Campbell's Vegetable 80 920 2

Progresso Minestrone 120 960 5

Campbell's 98% Fat Free New England
 Clam Chowder (made with 2% fat milk) 150 970 1

Campbell's Chicken Noodle 70 980 1

Campbell's French Onion 70 980 1

Knorr French Onion, mix 45 980 0

Progresso New England Clam Chowder(*) 200 1,050 2

Campbell's Cream of Mushroom (jar)(*) 260 1,130 1

Soup Cups & Single-Serving Soups

* Tabatchnick No Salt Added(3) 120 80 4

Campbell's Low Sodium Chicken with
 Noodles(*) 170 120 2

* Pritkin(3) 140 140 5

[check] Mrs. Manischewitz Black Bean 200 320 5

[check] Health Valley Fat-Free! Healthy
 Soup in a Cup(3) 220 380 6

[check] Casbah Teapot Garden Couscous
 or Santa Fe Rice & Beans(2) 200 440 8

[check] Casbah Teapot Hearty Lentil or
 Vegetarian Chill(2) 190 440 7

[check] Nile Spice Lentil, Sweet Corn
 Chowder, or Tomato Herb(2) 140 440 3

[check] Casbah Teapot Minestroni or
 Split Pea(2) 220 450 10

[check] Casbah Teapot Chicken Noodle 130 450 1

[check] Safeway Enlighten Black Bean or
 Couscou Lentil(2) 190 460 12

[check] Safeway Enlighten Tex-Mex Beans
 & Rice or Tomato Basil Pasta(2) 170 460 5

[check] Fantastic Foods Couscous with
 Lentils, Jumpin' Black Bean, Split Pea,
 or Vegetable Barley(2) 200 470 7

[check] Fantastic Foods Cha-Cha Chili,
 Country Lentil, or Five Bean(2) 230 480 12

[check] Dr. McDougall's Split Pea with
 Barley 200 480 9

[check] Dr. McDougall's Minestrone &
 Pasta or Tortilla Soup with Baked
 Chip(2) 180 480 5

[check] Dr. MrDougal's Baked-Not
 Fried Ramen Noodles(3) 140 480 2

[check] Fantastic Foods Creamy Broccoli
 & Cheddar, Minestrone, Vegetable Curry
 Ramen Noodles, or Vegetable Tomato
 Ramen Noodles(2) 140 490 3

Lipton Cup-a-Soup, Tomato 100 510 1

Lipton Cup-a-Soup, Chicken Noodle 50 540 0

Spice Hunter(3) 140 640 1

Knorr Chicken Vegetable 120 860 1

Knorr Potato Leek 130 920 1

(*) Best Bite. [check] Honorable Mention.

(*) contains at least five grams of fat.

(1) line average excluding broths.

(2) average for the flavors listed.

(3) average for the entire line.

(4) average for all flavors except Vegetarian French Onion.

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

Source: Manufacturers.
COPYRIGHT 1997 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 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:healthy designation for soup should indicate healthfulness
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Previous Article:Soup's on.
Next Article:Fat: fine-tuning the message.

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