Is Soup Really Even That Healthy?
So we tapped Lizzie Kasparek, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a sports dietitian with the Sanford Sports Science Institute, and Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., L.D., coauthor of The Healing Soup Cookbook to find out everything you need to know about your favorite simmering bowl of goodness.
So, is soup healthy?
According to both Kasparek and Harbstreet, soups are a great—and filling—way to meet your nutritional needs in one go, as long as you keep an eye on the ingredients.
Soups make a great all-in-one meal: You can get carbs from noodles, rice, or potatoes; protein from beans or meat; fats from avocados or oils; and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from vegetables and herbs, Kasparek says.
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Both dietitians also agree that the liquid base of soup helps to rehydrate, which is especially important in the winter when you aren’t sweating as much and a glass of ice-cold water isn’t as appealing as it is during warmer months.
“Produce in general is hydrating—tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions—and when you pair vegetables with broths and stocks that are a liquid, that contributes to your overall fluid intake,” Harbstreet says.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men should consume 15.5 cups of fluids per day and women should consume 11.5 cups per day. (Yes, foods and other beverages with water do count.) It’s worth noting, however, that these numbers depend on a number of factors—one of which is how much you sweat during a workout. For every kilogram a person loses, one litre of fluids (sweat) is lost and should be replaced.
All that said, not all soups are created equally.
Then what’s the best type of soup to eat?
Many people think that thicker soups are less healthy than their broth- or stock-based counterparts. But that’s not necessarily true, according to both dietitians. As long as your soup is well balanced—meaning there’s a carb, protein, and healthy fat—it’s great fuel for athletes like cyclists. (Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel on a ride, protein helps build and repair your muscles, and healthy fats boost your heart health and help your body absorb essential vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.)
“If you enjoy a food, and it’s appetizing and flavorful, you’re more likely to get that nutrition in,” Harbstreet says. “Plus, athletes who are expending a lot of energy might want to eat a creamier soup since it’s more satiating.”
That’s not to say you should ditch your beloved miso soup if that’s what you enjoy. While it’s not as nutrient-dense, you can always add more filling ingredients to it—or eat them on the side, Kasparek recommends.
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Just be mindful when it comes to portion sizes and toppings, Kasparek says, especially on days you are not riding. If you pour yourself an enormous bowl of chili and add half a cup of cheese and sour cream to it, it’s not as healthy anymore. The same goes for large portions of cream-based soups such as New England Clam Chowder.
Some soups that seem loaded with cream may actually get their creamy texture from vegetables such as sweet potato or squash, so it’s best to read the nutrition label to make sure the first few ingredients are protein, vegetables, or water (broth).
Another thing to watch out for, according to Harbstreet, is sodium—especially when it comes to canned soup that you buy at the grocery store since they tend to contain a lot. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but as Harbstreet points out, athletes “do have higher sodium needs than the average person,” since this electrolyte plays a role in muscle and nerve function during exercise.
While the amount of sodium you need as a cyclist depends on a variety of factors—like how much sweat you lose during your workout—making sure to get enough sodium before a ride (a turkey sandwich contains about 1,500 mg) and during a ride (between 500 mg and 700 mg per hour) is important.
However, since you might not feel as overheated during a winter workout as you would on a 90-degree summer day, Harbstreet says opting for a low-sodium can of soup is fine if you know you aren’t sweating a ton.
“Especially during winter, it’s difficult to calculate your sweat loss, or you may not be noticing those white sweat streaks on your face or clothes,” Harbstreet says.
When it comes to stock versus broth, broth is thinner than stock, meaning it has about half the calories than stock does (1 cup of chicken broth contains 38 calories, while 1 cup of chicken stock contains 86 calories). Bone broth, specifically, contains gelatin and collagen from the bones, which help promote postworkout recovery, according to Harbstreet. However, stock contains more essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, potassium, and selenium.
The bottom line:
Soup is an easy and convenient way to get all of your essential nutrients into one dish. As Harbstreet points out, a good soup contains basically every food group other than fruit—which you can add as a side or dessert.
Plus, you can make a big batch, then freeze the smaller batches to use as meal prep for the week, Kasparek recommends.
“It helps warm you up if you’re [riding] in cold weather and need to warm up afterward—and you’ll still have the nutrients you need to recover,” Kasparek says.