Flavour of the Week

Let Them Eat Soup?

fall fotwThe halcyon days of salad-loving summer may be over, but does this mean we are all doomed to gain weight? Salad is a bastion of weight loss diets everywhere, but there is a new weight control food in town – soup!

While wintertime is certainly associated with increased calorie intake and weight gain, this humble mainstay of cold weather kitchen repertoires has recently been linked to lower body weight. And no, we’re not suggesting the cabbage soup diet… but get the stock pot ready. Soup’s on!

Pick up pretty much any diet book and salad will be featured prominently. Rich in satiety-boosting fibre yet low in calories, salad is terrific for balancing energy intake. While boosting your vegetable intake is linked with weight loss and maintenance (1) – particularly a before-meal salad (2) – there are other satisfying ways to boost your veggie intake and keep calories controlled. Soup! Put away the cream and bacon… loaded baked potato soup may be delicious, but probably won’t help!

bean soup

Source: eatingwell.com

In a recent analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)*, Zhu and Hollis (3) found that people who skipped the soup had a significantly higher risk of being overweight or obese, and had lower “good” HDL cholesterol.

When important factors like age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status were controlled for, the relationship between soup-eating frequency, lower BMI and smaller waist circumference persisted. Frequency of soup consumption was not linked to blood sugar, blood pressure or serum triglycerides.

What is so potentially special about soup? It takes up valuable real estate and may improve satiety and fullness (4-6). Eating soup before a meal – called “preloading” in the research literature – has been linked to reduced calorie intake at meals AND over the course of a day (4-8). When children were given varying portions of low-calorie tomato soup the ad lib intake of entrées was lower when compared with serving no soup, but both vegetable and total meal calorie intake was most impacted when 150 g of soup was served (7). That’s about 2/3 cup of soup.

vegetable soup

Source: ForTheLoveofCooking.net

Bailey & Murray (8) compared 300 ml (~1 ¼ cup) of pre-meal water or 200-calorie soup with no “preload”, those consuming soup reported improved satiety one hour after meals, particularly in obese individuals. Though differences in total calorie intake were not significant in this small pilot study, the trends in reduced meal intake and post-meal snacking were promising.

No Baloney’s advice? Join the pro-soup side and stay lean and mean this winter! Soup is a fantastic way to boost your intake of phytochemicals and antioxidants. It is also a great way to utilize less expensive frozen veggies (Yup – frozen veggies are often just as good as fresh!).

Choose a small portion of broth-based veggie-laden soup for a pre-meal, but leave a bit of time between soup and entrée to let the satiety factor kick in. Or try a hearty, packed-with-veggies soup for a main meal. Focusing on high fluid and fibre while skipping the cream and butter is likely to render the best results. A good source of protein is also a smart choice with either lean meats or legumes (lentils, navy beans, chickpeas etc.). We are certainly NOT endorsing fad diets based on a single soup, but do encourage adding soups to your meal plans. With the weight loss, you’ll need the extra warmth this winter!

For some delicious and healthy soup ideas, we like Cooking Light’s 101 Healthy Soup Recipes and Eating Well’s Quick and Healthy Soups and Hearty Soups and Stews.

*Yes, we acknowledge that the quality of nutrition data from NHANES took a recent kicking, but capturing food intake data from a large population with less-than-ideal diet recalls is inherently flawed. While specific calorie and nutrient data from NHANES is perhaps as much as 40% off-target, we still believe the trends from NHANES findings are likely still useful.


  1. Canfi A, et al. Effect of changes in the intake of weight of specific food groups on successful body weight loss during a multi-dietary strategy intervention trial. J Am Coll Nutr 2011; 30:491-501.
  2. Roe LS, Meengs JS, Rolls BJ. Salad and satiety. The effect of timing of salad consumption on meal energy intake. Appetite 2012; 58:242-8.
  3. Zhu Y, Hollis JH. Soup Consumption Is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Overweight and Obesity but Not Metabolic Syndrome in US Adults: NHANES 2003-2006. PLoS One 2013; 8:e75630.
  4. Zhu Y, Hsu WH, Hollis JH. The effect of food form on satiety. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2013; 64:385-91.
  5. Blatt AD, et al. Effects of energy content and energy density of pre-portioned entrées on energy intake. Obesity 2012; 20:2010-8.
  6. Williams RA, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Comparison of three methods to reduce energy density. Effects on daily energy intake. Appetite 2013; 66:75-83.
  7. Spill MK, et al. Serving large portions of vegetable soup at the start of a meal affected children’s energy and vegetable intake. Appetite 2011; 57:213-9.
  8. Bailey J, Murray JF. Do soup preloads reduce total calorific intake in overweight and obese subjects outside the laboratory? A pilot study. Int J Food Nutr Pub Health 2011; 4:147-66.

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