The Healthiest, Tastiest Chicken Soups in the Grocery Store, According to Nutritionists

By Aly Walansky
|
February 16, 2022
The Healthiest, Tastiest Chicken Soups in the Grocery Store, According to Nutritionists
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

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On a cold, dreary day, there’s nothing quite like a big bowl of warm chicken soup. Known as a classic cold-fighter, chicken soup is a staple of our childhoods that doesn’t lose its delight in adulthood — it’s always soothing and satisfying.

But although cooking soup from scratch will always be the healthiest option, it’s certainly not the easiest, and some days, we’re just too pressed for time. That’s when boxed or canned chicken soup from the grocery store comes in: These are a convenient, accessible, and affordable staple to have on hand for a cold day, when you’re feeling under the weather, or when you’re simply looking for an easy meal. But not all chicken soups are the same, so how do you select the best versions? 

Read next: 10 Healthful Chicken Soups from Around the World

When choosing a healthy soup, it’s important to always look first at the ingredients label to see what’s actually in it. It’s important to remember that the items listed first are used in the greatest amounts — so if you see an item listed at the top that isn’t super healthy, it’s probably not a great fit. So while we love the taste of cream, if it’s the second ingredient in your chicken soup, that’s probably not be the healthiest choice you can make. 

“I recommend a chicken soup that is water-based or broth-based, which will typically be a low-fat, low-calorie option, but can still be a filling snack or meal,” says nutritionist Lauren Steiner, M.S. “Ideally, chicken soup shouldn’t have cream, added vegetable oils (like canola, sunflower, and safflower), added sugars, soy protein isolate, or excessive starches or gums.” 

1. Check the sodium

Canned soup is known for having seriously high sodium. “The average serving size contains about 700mg of sodium — almost half of the ideal limit of 1,500mg per day for most adults, as recommended by the American Heart Association,” says Steiner. 

This means that many cans of soup contain several times more sodium per serving than we should have at one time, so you could easily reach that limit by having the whole can. “Consuming too much sodium can increase your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, not to mention bloating and water retention,” says Steiner.

If you’re a salt lover, there’s still a great option for you: “You can always add a pinch of salt and other herbs to increase the flavor yourself,” says Mary Curnette, MS, RD, LD, Clinical Registered Dietitian. When you add your own salt, you can control the amount, and you’re almost always guaranteed to add less salt than the original option would have.

But sodium is only part of the issue when it comes to grocery store chicken soups. There’s a lot more going on that we should look out for.

2. Look for ingredients you normally cook with

Canned soup can have the exact same components of a wholesome soup you made at home, if you check the ingredients. “Look at the ingredients list,” says Curnette. “If you recognize most of the ingredients, this soup should compare to that nourishing homemade soup.” So look for soups containing simple ingredients you use at home, like chicken broth, chicken, and carrots.

3. Avoid preservatives 

Canned soups are often loaded with additives and preservatives. “The most common problem with store-bought soups is not only the quality of the ingredients, but the preservatives packed into them like soy emulsifiers, which are known to increase inflammation, lead to heart disease, and increase blood pressure,” says Erin Mann, Registered Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

4. Opt for high protein choices with vegetables

Protein keeps us full. If the can of soup you’re looking at has only a small amount of chicken, it won’t have as much protein and won’t be as filling. “Check the nutrition label to ensure there is enough protein to stay full,” says Curnette, noting that you should look for at least 10g of protein in the serving size you plan to actually enjoy at one time — which may be very different from the serving size on the label.

And as you already know, it’s always wise to eat your vegetables. “Having vegetables or beans in a soup will increase the overall nutrition content,” says Curnette. Vegetables and beans also provide fiber, which helps give you a feeling of fullness. 

5. Consider the packaging

Another factor most do not consider is not what is in the soup but rather what the soup comes in. Many canned soup companies are known to use cans lined with BPA. “In recent years, some companies are making a healthier choice, and switched to wax-sealed cardboard style containers or tin-lined cans that do not contain BPA,” says Mann. So when looking at the ingredients, also see if the company makes any BPA claims, or grab your phone and Google it. “Companies who have switched away from BPA-lined containers are usually quick to announce that, and it is easy to find,” said Mann.

6. Check the serving size

When looking at the nutrition label, it’s important to check the serving size. “The container of soup may be meant for 2-3 servings,” says Curnette. You may want the full container, if you want to increase the protein and vegetables you’re eating. You also may want to have only part of the container, if you notice this soup is higher in sodium.

7. See if it’s certified organic 

​​Let’s be clear: Being organic doesn’t mean that a soup is necessarily healthier in every way. “Many organic soups have just as much sodium as their conventional counterparts,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD — not to mention saturated fat and concerning ingredients like soy protein isolate. However, certified organic foods are grown or farmed without the use of hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides, so organic options are usually a good place to start. 

How can you improve the nutritional quality of store-bought soup?

You can easily doctor up store-bought soup to have greater nutritional value — and the process can be super quick, too. Additionally, there are some good ways to think about your meal as a whole that can help you make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need.  

1. Consider ways to add flavor other than salt

“If you have high blood pressure or are trying to watch your sodium intake, definitely opt for a low-sodium soup,” says Goodson. Consider adding other herbs or spices if you feel it needs more flavor. A tablespoon of chopped fresh dill, a ½ teaspoon of dried oregano, or a ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary can go a long way to making a ho-hum chicken soup taste fantastic. 

2. Think about what else will be on the table

“If you like having crackers with your soup but your soup already contains a decent amount of sodium, consider a low-sodium cracker or swapping those crackers out for a piece of 100% whole grain bread,” says Goodson.

While soup is a healthy, often low-calorie option, it’s still important to watch your serving sizes. If the soup is just an appetizer to a meal or is paired with a whole sandwich, the meal may end up being more calories than you’d intend to consume in a single sitting. 

3. Toss in some fresh or frozen vegetables

If the chicken soup you like the best happens to be light on vegetables, you can quickly amp it up by adding some straight from your fridge or freezer. “This can add fiber and bulk, helping your soup meal to keep you satisfied longer,” said Goodson. And adding vegetables also means you’re getting more vitamins and minerals. 

For example, consider tossing in some frozen zoodles, cauliflower rice, peas, baby spinach, or mushrooms to your soup as you heat it up. You can also add a side of vegetables with your soup if that sounds more appealing — a tray of quickly roasted broccoli is always a great side dish. 

4. If you have some extra chicken on hand, toss it in

If your soup is light on protein, consider adding some leftover rotisserie chicken or shredded poached chicken breast to help balance it out. “Protein helps you get full faster and stay full longer, which ultimately will help your can of soup stick with you longer,” says Goodson.

Now, without further ado, let us introduce to you…

The healthiest, tastiest chicken soups you can find in the grocery store

Best Classic Canned Chicken Noodle: Annie’s Organic Chicken Noodle Soup

Annie’s brand has reliably delicious, ready-to-eat products packed with all the same ingredients that you would use if you were cooking for yourself — and they don’t use additives or preservatives. You can think of Annie’s as pretty dang close to homemade soup. 

“The ingredients are organic and antibiotic-free, so it’s as if the ingredients came from the farmers market,” says Curnette. “The whole can provides 10g of protein, so this meal should be filling, as well.” Soup is all about texture, and this one is really pleasing in this way.  With tender, juicy chicken pieces and noodles that maintain their texture without getting mushy or doughy, this was really enjoyable to eat, with a fresh taste that is sometimes hard to find in a canned soup. 

Best Refrigerated Option: Trader Joe’s Chicken Soup

As far as ingredients go, this soup is a winner. “There are only whole food items — no additives, starches, or gums,” says Steinert. “This is as close to homemade as you can get.” 

The broth is rich and satisfying, and there’s loads of vegetables and spices for a seriously fresh flavor. This also is a winner in that it has no additives. “Made with simply chicken, chicken stock, vegetables, and herbs, you can also think of this soup as a homemade soup,” says Curnette. “With 13g of protein per serving, this soup has one of the highest amounts of protein.” 

It’s also got a great balance of macros. “This soup is high protein and low carb, with dietary fiber,” says Steiner. “But although the ingredients are great, watch out for the high sodium content of 610mg.”

The fact that this soup is refrigerated is both an upside and a downside — it’s definitely good for you to eat super-fresh ingredients, but this choice will expire long before a canned or boxed soup will, so it’s harder to keep on hand. 

Best Vegetable-Packed Choice: Imagine Natural Creations Organic Chicken Corn Tortilla Soup

This soup is loaded with protein, but it’s a standout because it has a lot more flavor and dimension than the average chicken soup, thanks to the range of peppers, beans, and lots of warming spices. 

“This hearty soup is packed with wholesome ingredients like tomatoes, peppers, beans, and spices, making it a nutrient-dense, high protein option,” says Steiner. This soup contains lycopene, says Steiner, a powerful antioxidant found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, which has protective health benefits against harmful free radicals. 

This is also a great option for a different type of flavor. “With beans, corn, and peppers in this soup, it’s higher in fiber. Not only does fiber contribute to a sense of fullness, it’s good for your gut microbiome, which helps with digestion and immune health,” said Curnette. The beans add a protein boost, as well.

Imagine Natural Creations Organic Chicken Corn Tortilla Soup ranks as a top choice in the chicken tortillas soup category. “With 130 calories and 480mg of sodium per can, it definitely fits a ‘better-for-you’ profile,” says Goodson. Consider adding extra chicken — and some chopped avocado on top — to make it more filling and nutritious. 

Best Low-Sodium Option: Health Valley Organic Soup No Salt Added Chicken Noodle

While low- or no-salt soup sometimes tastes bland, that’s not the case here. This healthy chicken soup is full of warming taste and good texture, and whatever you’re missing from the lack of salt you can easily replace with some fresh cracked black pepper or other spices.

“At just 130mg per serving, this soup has an impressively low amount of sodium, which is uncommon for most canned soups,” says Lisa Richards, CNC, author of the Candida Diet. This soup also contains just two grams of fat, neither of which come from saturated or trans fat. “These two characteristics alone make this particular soup healthy, especially for those with potential cardiovascular disease or hypertension where they need to pay special attention to their sodium and fat intake,” says Richards.

Since we often turn to chicken soup when we are fighting a cold or flu, Carrie Bonfitto, NC BCHN, a holistic nutritionist at Two Hearts Nutrition, loves that this soup uses dark meat chicken. “Dark meat provides nearly twice the zinc of white meat chicken and higher levels of iron and Vitamin C, all of which are very important in boosting our immune systems,” says Bonfitto. The low sodium in this soup also makes it a winner at only 130mg per serving compared to the over 600mg of most other canned soups. “With no added sugar, three grams of fiber, and organic ingredients, this soup is a very good choice,” says Bonfitto.

Best Chicken and Rice: Pacific Organic Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

While most chicken and rice soups use white rice, which is a refined grain, this chicken and rice soup makes use of two whole-grain options: brown rice and wild rice. Whole grains offer more health benefits than processed grains, which become stripped of vitamins and minerals in the refining process. This is why it’s important to read more than just the macros on the label: While the Pacific Organic chicken and wild rice soup has more carbs than the chicken noodle soup from the same brand, the carbs come from a whole grain rather than refined ones, so they’re better quality carbs overall. 

Best Bone Broth-Based Soup: Kettle & Fire Chicken Noodle Soup

This is a bone broth based soup, which means it is absolutely loaded with collagen protein. “That extra collagen is great for healing your digestive tract and making you feel full longer,” says Bonfitto.

Just one serving has 11g of protein, which is excellent. “That’s more than twice the amount of most canned soups. Plus, they use all organic ingredients, including a bit of parsley — I love adding parsley to my soups,” Bonfitto says. Parsley contains a hit of vitamin C and a fresh, bright flavor that can create a contrast.

Read next: 10 Soups That Support Healthy Weight Loss (and Not One of Them Is Cabbage)

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