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Soup has many benefits, but it can be a problem if it has too much salt

By Consumer Reports,

Sipping a bowl of soup is an easy way to give yourself a healthful boost — as long as you keep an eye on the nutrition label. Nearly 99 percent of us consume more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, the upper limit recommended for African Americans, people older than 50 and those with high blood pressure or chronic kidney disease, according to a recent analysis from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. (The 1,500 figure covers about half of the U.S. population; the limit for most other people is 2,300 milligrams.)

And much of the sodium in our diet is in prepared foods such as soup. The good news is that the National Salt Reduction Initiative is working with foodmakers to reduce salt intake by 20 percent over the next five years.

To help cut your salt intake, select soups with no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving. Opt for broth-based vegetable soups with about 150 calories in each bowl. “You want to get the most food for the least calories to fill you up, which is really the soup strategy,” says Barbara Rolls, the author of “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” and a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University.

Here are some benefits of the ultimate comfort food:

It can help you slim down. In one study, a group of volunteers reduced their total lunch calories by an average of 20 percent when they began the meal with low-calorie vegetable soup before eating pasta.

It can help you sneak in extra nutrients. Not big on parsnips? A 2010 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found them to be the least popular vegetable. But tossing overlooked produce such as parsnips and bok choy into soup is an easy and tasty way to get more vegetables into your diet. And whole grains such as barley, brown rice and quinoa will give your soup a boost of fiber. In place of salt, try adding aromatic seasonings including curry, garlic, ginger, sage and thyme.

It feeds your soul. Research shows that a bowl of Grandma’s chicken soup won’t cure your cold, but it can reduce your symptoms. And according to a 2011 study in the journal Psychological Science, students who viewed chicken soup as comfort food felt a greater sense of belonging after having eaten it than did those who didn’t eat soup,

It’s not just for winter. Don’t overlook chilled soup. Gazpacho, for example, is full of tomatoes, garlic, onions, cucumbers and peppers, and it’s healthful and tasty. Or try soup for dessert by blending fruit with low-fat vanilla yogurt and chilling before serving.

It can be made at home. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to reproductive abnormalities and other health problems, is used to line food cans. Consumer Reports’ tests have found it in canned soups.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating a 12-ounce serving of canned soup once a day for five days left participants with much higher BPA levels in their urine than when they ate soup made with fresh ingredients for five days.

To help avoid BPA in your diet, try making soup yourself. To save time, buy precut fresh vegetables and freeze individual portions.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

© The Washington Post Company