While most people dread the cold weather months for fear of that seemingly inevitable winter weight gain, a small contingent of healthy people-in-the-know actually welcome them. After all, once the temperature drops, cravings turn away from diet-busting temptations like ice cream and towards warm, comforting, and weight-loss-enhancing soups.
Soup for winter weight loss? That’s right: scientific research supports the fact that swapping out two typical daily snacks for two servings of soup may result in up to a 50 percent greater weight loss among overweight dieters–even if the soup and the snacks have the same exact number of calories.
The reason this diet seems to work is that soup is a “low energy density food,” meaning that, due to its high water content, it can take up a lot of space in your belly without providing a lot of calories. Many of our appetite cues come from psychological and mechanical stimuli — like how big of a portion we ate or how stretched out our stomach gets after eating. This means eating a large volume of food may satisfy us more than eating a small volume of food, even if that larger volume has the same number or fewer calories than a smaller volume snack. Indeed, the research supports this finding: subjects who were assigned to the soup group not only lost more weight than the snack group, but their weight loss was directly correlated to a reduction in total calorie intake. In other words, the soup eaters compensated for their feelings of soup-induced fullness by eating less at other meals, resulting in an overall lower calorie intake than the snack eaters.
But while soup can be a secret weapon to help prevent weight loss, not all soups are created equal. For the trick to work, the soup should be relatively low in calorie density: think broths, tomato-based soups and bean soups rather than cream soups, bisques and chowders. For some tips on using soup to keep your summer skinny going all year long, read on:
Start off a meal with a bowl of broth-based or pureed veggie-based soup
Miso, chicken broth, tomato and vegetable-based soups are always the safest bet. Some pureed veggie soups can also be super low-calorie–like butternut squash soup–assuming they aren’t “enhanced” with cream or potatoes. By filling up on a modest 100-200 calorie soup before you even start the meal, you’re likely to eat significantly less volume from your more energy-dense entree, which translates into lower total calories consumed.
Make a meal of the soup itself
Pair heartier soups or chilis with a small salad to make a satisfying lunch or weeknight dinner. Cuban black bean, split pea, lentil, mushroom barley, three bean or turkey chili are all super high in filling fiber, a great source of vegetable protein, and offer long-lasting energy by virtue of their complex carbohydrate content.
Beware of soup saboteurs
Avoid the melted cheese and croutons on a French onion soup, the 600-calorie Bread Bowl offered by one popular chain restaurant, gobs of full-fat sour cream, cheese and guacamole on chili, and piles of thick udon or deep-fried ramen noodles. A great soup need not be accessorized with anything other than a spoon, and some of these toppings and add-ins can double, triple, or even quadruple the calorie count of your soup.
Cream by any other name is still cream
It may seem obvious that cream-of-anything soups will be at least 100 calories per cup higher than a broth-based alternative, but realize that cream doesn’t always announce its presence so clearly. Bisques and chowders (with the exception of Manhattan Clam Chowder) are also cream based, and some Thai soups use full-fat coconut milk as a base as well. If cooking at home, you can substitute fat-free evaporated milk for heavy cream in soup recipes, or even low-fat regular milk or Lite Coconut Milk if the quantities are small.
Watch out for sodium
Restaurant soups and canned soups and broths are notoriously high in sodium, which can contribute to bloat-producing water retention and high blood pressure. When cooking at home, use water or a low-sodium broth or bouillon as your soup base. Salt your soup to taste once its in the bowl rather than in the pot. More and more canned soups are available in reduced-sodium and low sodium varieties, and slowly but surely, some soup-selling chain restaurants are starting to offer lower sodium varieties.