Healthy, Low-Fat Soup: Recipes and Tips

Looking for a great simple supper? Whip up a hearty and filling soup.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

One of the best "light" dinner options when the weather is cold is soup! Just pair a big bowl of soup with a wheat roll or some wheat crackers, and call it a meal. I always have some favorite canned soups in my pantry so anyone in the family can serve themselves some soup in l5 minutes. But there's something to be said for slowly simmering a homemade pot of soup over the stove until the flavors meld together perfectly. From chicken matzo ball soup to hearty lentil soup, it can really hit the spot on a cold day or night. Read on for some healthy and low-fat soup recipes, as well as tips on how to make any soup recipe lighter.

Soup for Supper

Can soup suffice as supper? If you are accustomed to eating light at night -- or if this is something you're moving toward -- a bowl of soup can definitely work as a satisfying evening meal.

Here are three reasons why:

  • It's almost impossible to slam down a bowl of soup. You have to eat slowly and enjoy each spoonful.
  • The high liquid content of most soups does a great job of filling your stomach.
  • If the soup or stew is high in fiber (from beans, vegetables, and/or whole grains), it will also help add bulk to your meal and thus help you feel full longer.

Light and Low-Fat Soups

As long as the soup you're slurping is broth- or tomato-based, you usually can't get into too much trouble, calorie-wise. A cup of broth, by itself, is about 25 calories with 1 to 2 grams of fat. A cup of tomato juice is about 40 calories and 1 gram of fat.

But with a cream-based soup, all bets are off. One cup of light whipping cream (in liquid form) is about 700 calories and 74 grams of fat, while 1 cup of half-and-half is 315 calories and 28 grams of fat. Wowza! Switching to whole milk in your creamy soup recipes is sounding a "whole" lot better now, isn't it?

One cup of whole milk is about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. Using whole milk will usually give your soup the creamy taste and texture you desire, but without all the excess calories and fat. The lower-fat options for "cream" like whole milk, low-fat milk, and fat-free half-and-half are more sensitive to high heat, so avoid boiling and add them to the soup toward the end just to warm.

Here's a chart of the calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and fiber found in soup base ingredients so you can compare them for yourself:

Ingredient 1 (cup) Calories Fat (g) Sat. Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Fiber (g)
Light whipping Cream, liquid 698 74 46 265 0
Half-and-half 315 28 17 89 0
Whole milk 150 8 5 33 0
Stewed tomatoes, Canned 66 0.4 0 0 4
Tomato juice 41 0.1 0 0 2
Chicken/beef broth 25 1 0.5 ~2 0.5

4 More Tips for Low-Fat and Healthy Soups

Here are four more tips to help you keep your soup recipes low fat and healthy:

  1. If your soup recipe calls for meat, choose leaner cuts whenever possible, like skinless chicken or turkey breast, pork tenderloin, or sirloin steak trimmed of visible fat. If the recipe calls for sausage, substitute a less-fat turkey sausage (such as turkey polska kielbasa links). Remember that you can usually get by with half as much as the recipe calls for.
  2. When using fresh herbs, add them toward the end of cooking or stir them in right before serving. Some fresh herbs even work well sprinkled on as a garnish. Add dried herbs in the beginning or middle of cooking so they have plenty of time to rehydrate and give off their flavor.
  3. If the soup recipe calls for stirring in butter at the end of the cooking process, just don't go there. If it calls for sauteing vegetables in butter in the beginning, just use a tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil instead. If you need more moisture as the vegetables are browning, add in a couple of tablespoons of water, wine, or broth.
  4. Pump up the fiber in your soups by adding beans when possible and use whole grains like barley, brown rice, wild rice, or whole wheat blend pastas instead of refined grains.

3 Healthy, Low-Fat Soup Recipes

Here are three new light and nutritious soup recipes to try this winter!

Moroccan Lentil Soup/Stew

1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground dried ginger)
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
6 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth (water can also be used)
1 1/2 cups red lentils, dried
15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (tomatoes and any juice), low sodium if available
3/4 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery (about 3 medium stalks)
1 teaspoon garam masala (a spice blend)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
6 tablespoons fat-free sour cream (optional garnish)

  • Add onions, garlic, ginger and olive to a large nonstick saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often (about 7 minutes). Add the broth, lentils, garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes, carrots, celery, garam masala, cardamom, cayenne pepper, and cumin.
  • Bring stew to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, cover saucepan, and continue to cook until lentils are soft (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.)
  • Ladle about a third to a half of the soup into a large food processor or blender and pulse to briefly puree. Pour soup puree back into the pot and stir. Serve each bowl with a dollop of fat-free sour cream, if desired.

Yield: 6 large servings

Per serving: 321 calories, 21 g protein, 52 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 11.4 g fiber, 323 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 15%.

Winter Chicken & Barley Soup

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups sliced mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped, cooked skinless chicken breast (about 7 ounces cooked)
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup pearl barley
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon parsley flakes)
1/3 slivered almonds, toasted (toast by heating over medium heat in nonstick frying pan, stirring often, until golden brown)
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste (optional)

  • Add oil to a large nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic and saute until mushrooms are lightly browned (about 7 minutes).
  • Stir in carrots, chicken, and broth and bring to boil. Stir in the barley, cover the saucepan, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about an hour or until barley is just tender.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in parsley and almonds. Add pepper to taste and salt to taste if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving: 246 calories, 18 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 9.5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 156 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%.

Light New England Clam Chowder

3 medium to large red potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup chopped or sliced celery (about 2 large stalks)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
4 cups whole milk (low-fat milk can also be used)
2 tablespoons whipped butter or less fat margarine
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chopped clams (2, 6.5-ounce cans chopped clams, drained)
10 drops Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste

  • Add potatoes, celery, and onion to a large, nonstick saucepan and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until tender (about 15 minutes).
  • While vegetables are boiling, add flour and 1/4 cup milk to a 2-cup measure and stir to make a paste. Stir in another 1/4 cup of milk. Melt butter or margarine in a medium, nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and milk mixture, then slowly whisk in the remaining 3 1/2 cups milk. Stir in the salt, if desired, and the sugar and continue cooking and stirring until soup is nicely thickened (about 5 minutes).
  • Add the milk mixture to the potato mixture in large saucepan and stir in the clams and Tabasco sauce. Cover saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Stir in Parmesan and pepper to taste.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 240 calories, 13 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 181 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%.

Published October 30, 2007.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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