I think it's a happy coincidence that January is not only national soup month, but also the peak of people's efforts to lose weight. Research shows that soups can help you lose weight: in one study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, people consumed the fewest calories on days when they ate soup rather than the same ingredients in solid form. Soup has a high water content, which can help you feel full. Broth-based soups packed with veggies give you the biggest bang for your caloric buck. And, just like salad, soup is a good vehicle for vegetables (the fiber in vegetables also promotes feelings of fullness for few calories). And in a study published in Appetite, people who started lunch with vegetable soup ended up eating 20 percent less than those who skipped the soup.
In the January issue of EatingWell Magazine, Joyce Hendley, co-author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook The EatingWell Diet, wrote about a recipe she developed for the ultimate weight-loss soup, a skinny, super-satisfying vegetable minestrone soup inspired by a favorite Weight Watchers recipe: "I'll never forget the moment in a Weight Watchers meeting when the conversation turned to 'The Soup.' Everyone in the room, it seemed, owed their success to the Garden Vegetable Soup recipe in the program booklet. Words like 'easy,' 'yummy' and 'filling' kept coming up, and the best ones of all: 'virtually calorie-free.' I practically sprinted home to make it that night.
"The soup was simplicity itself: carrots, onions, cabbage, tomato and spinach simmered with seasonings in broth. It tasted fantastic. And it worked: I ate the soup for lunch most days (and for dinner some busy nights) and lost 15 pounds in a few months without feeling deprived."
Joyce's version of "The Soup," which she calls Veggistrone (pictured above), comes in at just 169 calories for a big 2-cup serving that's packed with at least two servings of vegetables in every bowlful. The recipe makes a big pot of soup, so keep some in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and freeze the rest of the vegetable minestrone soup in single-serve portions. That way you always have an easy, delicious vegetable soup to start your meal or to eat for lunch. Think of this vegetable minestrone recipe as a starting point for other healthy soup variations, too: toss in leftover chopped cooked chicken or whole-wheat pasta or brown rice to make it even more satisfying. Top it with a generous spoonful of Parmesan cheese, bringing the Italian flavor to the forefront and keeping any feelings of diet deprivation at bay.
Makes: 10 servings, 2 cups each
Active time: 1 hour | Total: 1 3/4 hours
To make ahead: Prepare through Step 2 and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months; finish Step 3 just before serving.
Cost per serving: under $2.50
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (2 medium)
2 cups chopped celery (4 medium stalks)
1 cup chopped green bell pepper (1 medium)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups chopped cauliflower (about 1/2 medium)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 medium)
2 cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces, or frozen, thawed
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth
2 cups water
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney or pinto beans, rinsed
1 bay leaf
4 cups chopped fresh spinach or one 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
10 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven (8-quart or larger) over medium heat. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 13 to 15 minutes. Add cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and green beans; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 10 minutes more.
2. Add broth, water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, beans and bay leaf; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in spinach and simmer for 10 minutes more.
3. Discard the bay leaf. Stir in basil. Top each portion with 1 tablespoon cheese.
Per serving: 169 calories; 5 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 4 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 7 g protein; 8 g fiber; 641 mg sodium; 718 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (123% daily value), Vitamin C (87% dv), Folate (23% dv), Potassium (21% dv), Calcium (16% dv).
What's your favorite soup to eat when you're trying to lose weight?
By Wendy Ruopp
Wendy Ruopp has been the managing editor of EatingWell for most of her adult life. Although she writes about food for the Weeknights column of EatingWell Magazine, her husband does the cooking at home.
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