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Soup season is just beginning here in the upper Midwest. When the air starts to get a little cooler and leaves turn color, soup hits the spot. Making soup from scratch can seem overwhelming for some, which makes canned soup especially appealing. But are canned soups healthy? What should you look for if you decide to stock up on canned soup?  

Canned Soup – Ingredients to Avoid

Canned soup is so nice to have on the shelf for a quick “lunch for one” or as a base for embellishing a mostly homemade soup. Because canned soups are meant to sit on the shelf for months, they usually have preservatives. But that’s not all to watch out for. To cut manufacturing costs and raise profit margins, manufacturers tend to add fillers. They may also add flavor enhancers or sugar to make them tasty and addictive. Here are some ingredients you don’t want to see on your soup label:

1 – High Sugar Content

Certain canned soups, especially those with sweet or fruity profiles, like tomato or squash, can have considerable amounts of added sugars. However, finding the sugar on the label can be challenging. It can hide under many other names like sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, and others.

According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sugar is in 74% of all packaged foods. [1] UC San Francisco’s Sugar Science blog claims 61 different names for sugar appear on food ingredient labels. [2] Soups – even organic soups – are no exception.   

Eating excess sugar is linked to many health issues, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cognitive decline, and cancer. [3]

2 – Artificial Additives

Canned soups may have artificial additives, including synthetic “natural” flavors, artificial FD&C colors, and preservatives like phosphates and sulfites.  

According to a food chemist who teaches at Harvard, there’s no real difference between natural and artificial flavors. Natural flavors must originate from plant or animal materials, while chemists create artificial flavors in the lab. Otherwise, the chemical structures can be the same. [4]  

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) did an exposé on these synthetic flavors, revealing that one reason for adding them is to make food more addictive. [5] 

These food additives can also have various health effects, including activating the inflammatory response, increasing intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”), and triggering allergic reactions and autoimmunity in some people. [6] 

FD&C colors have been linked to allergies and cancer. [7] Sodium phosphate is another example. This synthetically made blend of sodium and phosphate is used as a flavor enhancer and preservative. While phosphates are a natural part of the human diet, synthetically created ones are not.   

When consumed in excess, phosphates may contribute to chronic disease. A German study found that high blood levels of phosphates are predictors of cardiovascular events and mortality in advanced kidney disease. Researchers warned that the public should be informed of the dangers of phosphate additives in food. [8] 

3 – Trans Fats

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids from natural or industrial sources. Synthetic trans fats are created in a lab by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which converts the liquid into a solid. The solid final product is a “partially hydrogenated” trans-fat. [9] 

Some canned soups, especially creamy or rich varieties, may have trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. [10] 

4 – MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

MSG is a flavor enhancer sometimes added to canned soups to boost their taste. While generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by regulatory authorities, many people are sensitive to MSG and have symptoms like headaches, nausea, or insomnia after eating it. MSG is an excitotoxin that crosses the blood-brain barrier, over-stimulates the brain, and may kill brain cells. [11] 

Sometimes listed as monosodium glutamate, MSG can hide under other names like yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate, natural flavors, spices, and others. Certain innocent-sounding ingredients like rice syrup, milk powder, and vinegar may also trigger MSG toxicity in sensitive people. [12] 

You may be able to offset some MSG exposure by taking herbal supplements. Quercetin in nettle leaf and curcumin in turmeric root may somewhat protect against MSG toxicity.   

5 – Genetically Engineered Foods (GMOs)

If a soup isn’t organic, it’s likely to have genetically engineered ingredients. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are linked to all kinds of adverse health effects, like allergies and cancer. [13][14] 

The most genetically modified ingredients are canola, cottonseed, and soy- and corn-based food ingredients. However, it reaches beyond those four crops, becoming widespread in prepared foods. 

The Institute for Responsible Technology has compiled a list of secret ingredients in processed foods that may come from GMOs. These ingredients also tend to have pesticide and herbicide residues like Roundup, which has its own issues.  

Roundup is an antibiotic that creates a leaky gut and a leaky blood-brain barrier. It also disrupts hormones and may cause birth defects.   

6 – Omega-6 Oils

Processed omega-6-rich oils like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, and grapeseed can tip the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammation-promoting. [15] They’re, unfortunately, the most common type of oil in processed and prepared foods, including soup. 

When shopping for canned soup, look instead for fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat. 

7 – BPA (Bisphenol A)

Some canned soup comes in cans lined with BPA, a chemical that has raised concerns about its potential health effects, particularly when it leaches into food. While many manufacturers have transitioned to BPA-free linings, it’s good to check labels if you have concerns about BPA exposure.

What to Look for in Healthy Canned Soups

Healthy canned soups should have organic ingredients with herbs and spices. They should have minimal preservatives besides salt. Here are some good things to see on the labels of healthy canned soups:

  • Filtered water 
  • Organic vegetables 
  • Organic herbs 
  • Organic spices 
  • Sea salt 
  • Organic butter 
  • Grass-fed beef 
  • Free-range chicken 

Enjoy the Process of Making Soup from Scratch and Reap the Health Benefits

It’s always best to make soup from scratch at home. Then you know exactly what’s in it. Here are some healthy soup recipes to make yourself.   

Remember to eat according to your food allergy list and make alterations as necessary. You can also make some soup ahead and have it ready to go in the freezer.  

Find Out How Food is Affecting You

Even healthy foods can cause inflammation if you have an allergy to them. That’s why we’re adamant about testing food allergies at The Wellness Way. If you haven’t had your food allergies tested recently or have other things going on, contact a Wellness Way clinic. We’re happy to walk alongside you on your health journey and guide you back to vibrant health and energy!

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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