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Soup Season Cometh… and So Follows Soup Belly

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Autumn is as heavy with meaning as the ground is coated in the refuse of a season’s death. 

Spiritually speaking, we can feel grief or mourning as we move from the Earth stage of summer in the five elements to the Metal stage of late summer and early fall. Grief, but abundance too at what the fruits of our labor have borne – whether an actual harvest, or lessons learned during the flurry of summer activity, or gratitude at finally slowing down and being able to hear ourselves. 

But there’s more to it than that, in tangible terms. The way we eat changes…

And as we know beyond a doubt, what we feed ourselves has profound impacts on everything in our bodies from our weight to our microbiomes to our moods and our immune system. 

We start to make heavier dishes, roasting root vegetables and drowning our meals in robust sauces. 

Could that be because of our primitive, evolutionary impulse to store extra calories when the weather gets colder – even though we’re as likely to sleep in a warm, comfortable bed in the winter time as in the summertime?

Perhaps.

Is it because we naturally spend less time outside and more time around food opportunities – the fridge, the meeting places of the home, holiday feasts and gatherings?

Possibly.

Maybe it’s because we’re more vulnerable to germs and illnesses, especially as we absorb less sunlight, and the healing foods we ate as children have positive memories for us – thick chili, crowded chicken noodle soup, heavy matzo ball soup.

Scientists debate on the exact reasoning, but ultimately agree that we imbibe more calories when the sun sets earlier.

And because the pandemic has resulted in more people feeling uncomfortable participating in public, group activities, we’re likelier to eat more than we need and not exercise in proportion.

Enter this winter’s hero: soup.

Soup Keeps you Full for Longer

Here’s the deal – not all soups are created equally.

But on principle, soups have cooked food that more easily digested, high water content, and an opportunity to stuff lots of nutrient-dense foods into one spoonful – like smoothies do.

They’re also a way to indulge in your very human winter time eating habits… eating heavier, eating more calories, and eating more often. 

Unlike simply drinking water during or before a meal to help your brain register that you’ve eaten enough, the water is blended with food and therefore stays in the stomach while the food is being digested instead of passing through the stomach and going straight to the intestines.

While the stomach wall is expanded for longer, due to the water and food content, the hunger hormone ghrelin’s production is suppressed… 

And so you don’t feel the same need to go back for seconds as you do when you’ve eaten a helping of pot roast.

In fact, you tend to eat less overall after noshing on soup. One study found that participants who ate a low-calorie vegetable and broth soup 15 minutes before their entree ate 20% fewer calories during dinner than those who didn’t. 

*To be clear: everyone’s bodies are different. Soup can certainly help curb your appetite, but it shouldn’t replace all of your meals. We’re talking about calorie restriction only in terms of the heightened, and often unnecessary, intake of calories and lowering of exercise during the fall and winter months.

So how should you maximize what soup can do for you beyond dampening that hunger alarm reminding you you’re just a short walk away from casserole leftovers?

Dos and Don’ts of Healthy and Fulfilling Soup

Broccoli cheese and bacon soup will certainly fill you up – but so will minestrone. 

One is calorically dense and one is low in caloric density. You can probably suss out which one is which.

What you want to do is strike a delicate balance between adding enough protein and fat to your soup to keep you full, but not so much that you’ve inadvertently consumed thrice the number of calories the average human needs to live for one day.

Avoid: Cream-of, chowders, bisques, etc. Cream-based soups, while they can definitely include vegetables, tend to lean on cream as the main source of their calories. That’s totally fine and you don’t have to cut them out – but the fullness you feel won’t stick around as long and won’t be from hydration.

Avoid: Relying on heavy, starchy vegetables can reduce the rate of your digestion, but they can also mess with your blood sugar levels, which can mess with your hunger hormones. Feel free to feature them, but like you would something expensive or exotic.

Lean-in to: Broth-based soups, especially bone broth. Our bodies can definitely use extra love and attention at this time of year, and bone broth has more benefits than one can count. Broth is mostly water and other nutrients – definitely a stronger choice.

Lean-in to: Low-starch vegetables, like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms, okra, peppers, and spinach. Focus on getting proteins from chicken, shrimp, beans, and other lean sources of protein. That doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to beef chili… but be mindful of what you’re eating the most.

Use soups this fall to nourish your body by packing them densely full of nutrients, blending broth-based soups with a touch of cream, and sipping on simple favorites like chicken noodle (light on the noodle, or at least using whole grain pasta) with high-quality broth.

You’ll feel fuller, eat less, and power your immune system.

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