The weather has well and truly cooled down in my corner of the world. And while I miss warm weather and sunshine, I must admit I'm happy to have a reason to snuggle up inside and enjoy lots of warming bowls of soup!
As a nutritionist I'm a BIG fan of soups!
Well firstly, they are both warming and hydrating. That's an especially good thing if you have come down with the dreaded lurgy!
And most importantly, they can be super healthy too - if you prepare them right!
So I thought I should share my top tips for making soups that are delicious AND nutritious!!
1. Be choosy when it comes to stock
Home made stock is a thing of wonder! It's great in theory to be making a consistent supply of your own stock, and if you have a regular stock-making routine down-pat, then you get a gold star and a smiley stamp from me! But in this crazy-busy day and age, I just don't think it's realistic to expect anyone to do it.
So you have two options:
1. Be choosy when it comes to store-bought stock: Look out for too much salt as well as artificial colours and flavours. If you are tech minded, you might like to try the FoodSwitch App created by Bupa Australia and The George Institute for Global Health. It's specifically designed for Australia and enables you to make healthier choices at the supermarket. And check out this handy guide from the Unpack the Salt Initiative.
2. Be an absolute HERETIC like me and find a few tricks to make your soups taste amazing without stock! Major confession: I'm ALWAYS running out of stock so I often have to use water in my soups and boost the flavour by:
- slow-cooking aromatics like onion, celery, carrot and garlic;
- adding a vibrant array of fresh and dried herbs;
- adding flavour depth and complexity with spices and seasonings like a little miso or some caramelised onion.
- I have even been known to add a generous splash of lemon or lime juice (see HERE and HERE and HERE!).
2. Be salt savvy!
Resist the urge to add salt to your soup as you are cooking. This is because the flavours in soup will concentrate and intensify as it cooks. You can always add more salt to your soup after you serve it, but it’s a pain to adjust the flavour if it’s too salty. No one likes a too-salty soup, and we all know that just adding more water won't fix it!
But apart from flavour, there is another important reason to make sure we don't over-salt our soups:
We ALL need to catch our salt intake! The majority of Australians (and all westerners) are consuming way too much salt, in amounts that are known to cause harm. In the most recent Australian Health Survey, every single Australian over 3 years of age who was surveyed was consuming salt in amounts well in excess of the Government health recommendations. That means that almost every Australian is consuming levels of salt that places them at risk - of hypertension or it's sequelae: heart attack or stroke.
You can read more about the health dangers of excess salt and my tips for cutting back HERE!
So here are my tips to get the salt-flavour balance right on your soup:
- Taste your soup as you are cooking it;
- Favour non-salt seasonings to add complexity of flavour.
- And most importantly, delay adding salt until just before you serve it.
3. Veg out!
The health benefits of veggies are well established in the peer reviewed literature. They are an amazing source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients that can calm inflammation and counteract free radical and DNA damage. Studies abound which show that increasing your veg intake can reduce your risk of obesity, many cancers, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, heart attack and even depression and dementia! They are also known to boost our endothelial function (the health of our blood vessels) and even our immune system.
But sadly, the most recent Australian Heath Survey revealed that less than 4% of Australians are consuming the recommended amounts of vegetables. This is a huge missed opportunity for our health and longevity.
Soups are the perfect opportunity to add more veggies into your daily diet. So add in as many as you can! And you get mucho bonus points if you add a rainbow of different coloured veggies to your soup, as you will give your body an amazing phytonutrient boost.
4. Power up with protein
Soups can also satisfy your body's protein needs! And adding protein will boost its satiety levels (how well and how long it satisfies your hunger and for).
5. Don't forget fibre!
Fibre is FABULOUS! Research is increasingly revealing how essential boring old fibre is to our health and longevity. I will be writing all about this soon, but for now you just need to know that the benefits include:
1. Keeping us, ahem, regular;
2. Slowing the absorbtion of carbohydrates into our system so our blood sugar (and insulin!) doesn't spike so fast or so high.
3. Fibre can serve as food for our healthy inner bacteria! This can not only lower our bowel cancer risk, but can also help us maintain our weight and even regulate our mood!
To minimise cardiovascular disease risk, Australian men are recommended to consume 38g of fibre a day, whilst women are recommended 28g a day. And sadly, the great majority of Australians are falling well short of this target.
Adding in veggies, legumes and whole grains like brown (or black!) rice or barley, can ensure your soup satisfies your hunger for longer AND boost the fibre content to help you meet your daily fibre target! Like HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE!
6. Look for opportunities to add in nutrient (and flavour!) superchargers!
I love finding delicious ways to boost the micro- and phytonutrient profile of my meals, and soup is the perfect vehicle for a nutrition supercharge!
Some of my favourite nutrient and flavour super-chargers are:
- Turmeric (fresh or dried) - adds a lovely vibrant yellow colour too!
- Freshly sliced or grated ginger
- Garlic, onion and leeks - and that reminds me, I must write a post on the health benefits of allium veggies like these soon!
- A generous squeeze of lemon or lime juice (check THIS, THIS and THIS recipe!)
- Freshly chopped herbs like basil, parsley and/or dill (like HERE!)
- Spices like saffron, cumin, ground coriander.
- Chilli - fresh or dried
The list is endless, really.
7. Watch the saturated fat content
"Creamy" and "cheesy" soups can be especially high in saturated fat and calories. That's fine for occasional indulgences, but not so good if it is your regular go-to meal.
Chicken, beef or lamb broths can also be deceptively high in saturated fats.
But there are a few tweaks you can make to lower the sat-fat content of your soups:
1. When making soups with meat or chicken, make sure you cool the broth and skim the solidifed fat off the top before using it in your recipes.
2. Mindfully cut back on the amounts of high sat-fat ingredients you add. So you can try a sprinkle of cheese rather than an avalanche, a tablespoon of light cream in place of a carton of full fat cream, or olive oil instead of butter.
3. Experiment with some lower-fat substitutions. For example, a beautiful creamy soup can be achieved using tofu, low fat milk or cashews.
8. Be carb-smart!
I love noodle soups and adding white rice is a great way to boost the satiety of your soup meal and keep you going for longer. But if you're over 40, have a sedentary job, have found your weight creeping up year by year, or have been diagnosed with insulin resistance or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome it might be a good idea to keep a sensible - non-obsessive!!! - eye on your carb intake.
When it comes to carbs in soup I have two recommendations:
1. choose low-GI, unrefined carbs to add to your soup - things like barley, brown (or black!) rice, or low-GI wholemeal noodles rather than highly-refined processed carbs which can spike your blood sugar and insulin levels.
2. Be mindful of the overall carb content of your meal. We often eat soup with bread or other side dishes. So if your soup has lots of noodles in it for example, just take a moment and consider whether you will also serve a large white bread roll with it, or whether you will substitute it for a grainy low-GI bread or go for a salad with your soup instead!
I wrote all about how to get carb smart HERE! Check it out!
9. Most importantly: Make extra!
We all have days when we come home too late or too exhausted to spend time in the kitchen making a proper nutritious dinner. So I think it's so important to have some healthy options in the freezer or pantry that we can just defrost, heat and eat in 10 minutes or less.
If you don't have these options on hand, you just know you will spend a fortune and make less-than-ideal choices with home delivery.
So when you make your fave soup, make sure you make extra! You can take it to work the next day for lunch, or have it for dinner, or freeze portions, ready for those days when you don't have time to do much more than defrost a super-fast dinner!
So those are my top tips for super-healthy soups! They can be a delicious wintertime self-care tool.
Inspired to get your soup on? Try one of these recipes!
Lazy Pumpkin Soup
Lemony Lentil & Spinach Soup
Mexican Black Bean Soup with Lime
Lazy Roasted Tomato Soup
Roasted Beetroot & Carrot Soup
Pesce all'Acqua Pazza - Fish in Crazy Water
Minty Pea & Broccoli Soup
Roasted Tomato, Capsicum & Fennel Soup with Spinach & White Beans
Lemony Kale & White Bean Soup