A bowl of soup or stew might be the perfect comfort food: warm, satisfying, and packed with nutritious ingredients. But do yourself a favor, and save the canned versions for emergencies. Though convenient, they often contain high amounts of hidden sugars and other additives that can disrupt metabolic health.
A can of condensed tomato soup packs 20 grams of added sugar—that’s about the same amount of added sugar in a Kit Kat.
Luckily, making your own healthy soups and stews at home may be easier than you think, and it puts you in control of what goes into your bowl. Homemade soups allow you to incorporate more glucose-friendly vegetables, beans, and lean meats into your diet while cutting down on refined grains, added sugar, and other ingredients that can cause blood sugar to spike.
Other great reasons to make soups and stews part of your menu rotation: Many recipes use affordable ingredients and require very little in the way of cooking skills. Plus, soups lend themselves to storage in the fridge or freezer for easy meal preparation.
To help you get started, here are some general guidelines and recipe ideas for preparing soups with metabolic health in mind.
How to Build a Better Soup
The goal is to use fresh, high-quality ingredients that work together to support metabolic health and taste good. It’s important to remember that every person is different. Foods can cause glucose spikes in one person while having no effect on another.
So, what’s the best way to make a good soup? “I usually start with a craving,” says Devin Alexander, celebrity chef and author of The Biggest Loser Cookbook series. “If I’m dying for soup and am in the mood for Greek food, I’d start by thinking of components in Greek food. Same if I’m craving Chinese—I’d pull out soy sauce, shrimp or chicken, bok choy.”
Once you have the type of soup you want in mind, optimize each of the soup’s essential components: vegetables, broth, protein, and so on. Here are some general guidelines for preparing nutritious homemade soups.
- First, build flavor with vegetables and aromatics. Mirepoix is a mixture of chopped celery, carrots, and onions cooked in butter in oil that’s often found in the first step of soup recipes. Don’t skip this step; it provides the foundation of flavor in your soup.
- Use a quality broth. “A great soup needs a broth with complex flavor,” Alexander says. “For some, that can mean spicy. For others, it simply means a melding of ingredients.” To achieve this, make a stock from scratch with a ton of aromatics (ingredients like the mirepoix, garlic, or Japanese chilis). If using a store-bought broth, choose a high-quality bone broth that uses grass-fed/pastured bones and is made by slowly simmering those bones (such as FOND, Kettle & Fire, or Bonafide Provisions broth).
- Incorporate as many low-carbohydrate, micronutrient-rich vegetables as possible. Kale, spinach, carrots, and zucchini are all excellent options, but you have flexibility. “There are so many veggies that are great in soup that you can create around your personal favorites,” Alexander says. Check this list out for inspiration.
- Keep in mind that some veggies get mushy, so you may not want to add them until you’re almost ready to serve the soup, Alexander says. Asparagus is a good example. On the other hand, kale and other firm greens hold up better to long cooking.
- For even more veggies, hide them in the base of the soup. If you or a family member is not a fan of cooked vegetables, try blending them into your soup. Cauliflower is especially adaptable, but even kale and spinach can go undetected when blended into a soup base.
- Limit starchy vegetables that can spike blood sugar. Potatoes, corn, squash, and peas, for example, have a higher glycemic index and may contribute to a glucose spike in some people. Use these high-starch foods in moderation, and be sure to balance them with fat and protein.
- Choose high-quality proteins. Beans and legumes are good sources of lean protein and fiber, but they can contribute to spikes in some people. Pairing them with fat—from olive oil or meat, for example—can help dull a spike. For meats, look for organic, grass-fed, well-sourced options.
- Skip traditional noodles, rice, and other grains. These are heavy in carbohydrates and may lead to glucose spikes. Instead, try pasta alternatives that are unlikely to spike blood sugar.
- Use just enough salt. For broth-based soups, there’s no way around it: they just need salt, Alexander says. But don’t go overboard adding salt while cooking—season to taste when the soup is almost ready to serve.
- Avoid added sugars. One thing homemade soups don’t need: added sugar. Vegetables like carrots, butternut squash, and tomatoes provide plenty of natural sweetness.
- Experiment with different herbs and spices—turmeric, cinnamon, basil, pepper, and so on—to add flavor along with protective antioxidants. The recipes below can help you get started, but feel free to adjust spice amounts to your liking.
- Take the time to cook properly. If a recipe calls for a simmer, follow the instructions. “Vigorous boiling will make vegetables mushy and meat tough,” Alexander says.
- Eat after the meal. Some soups, like a tomato or squash, may cause a more significant glucose rise in some people. Having a small bowl as part of a balanced meal with plenty of healthy fats and proteins (eaten first) can help mitigate those sharp blood sugar rises.
8 Healthy Soup Recipes Unlikely to Spike Glucose
The glucose-friendly soup and stew recipes below put the guidelines above into practice.
1. Vegetable Soup
Make this hearty soup ahead of a busy week and feel good knowing that you’ll at least be able to feed yourself for a few meals. This soup is brimming with nutrient-rich foods that are unlikely to spike your blood sugar: kale, zucchini, tomatoes, and carrots. Cannellini beans add lean protein, while low-sodium broth helps you keep salt in check.
You can also easily customize this soup for your preferences. Not a fan of kale? Swap in spinach. Want a little more flavor? Add rosemary, thyme, or even cayenne pepper.
2. Shirataki Noodle Ramen
Here’s a vegan, gluten-free spin on a beloved Japanese soup that features shirataki noodles (a.k.a. konjac noodles). These noodles are made from konjac, a root vegetable found in Asia, and they’re low in carbohydrates and calories—making them a terrific alternative to wheat-based ramen noodles.
3. Turmeric Tahini Chicken Soup
This soup benefits from turmeric, tahini, and cinnamon, which all add unique flavor—and have anti-inflammatory properties. Why this matters: chronic inflammation is often a hallmark of metabolic dysfunction and can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart attack. Another perk: this recipe adds more leafy greens into your meal with the help of spinach.
4. Beef Stew
Stews are typically associated with heavy, starchy ingredients like potatoes, which aren’t ideal for metabolic health. This recipe is built on fresh vegetables less likely to disrupt glucose levels: mushrooms, carrots, onion, and celery. Add organic grass-fed beef chuck roast for protein and fat to help keep glucose spikes under control.
5. Creamy Cauliflower Soup
Skip the potato soup, which can flood your body with carbohydrates and lead to blood sugar spikes. Instead, try this creamy soup that features cauliflower, a low-calorie, non-starchy vegetable that’s more likely to keep your glucose steady. Bonus: this simple recipe calls for only a few steps to cook and then blend the ingredients. You can serve it with grated parmesan or skip it if you want to omit dairy.
6. Vegan Broccoli Soup
Broccoli is a glucose-friendly winner in more ways than one. It’s low in carbohydrates but high in fiber, plus it contains alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), a micronutrient that helps cells produce energy. It’s also rich in sulforaphane, an enzyme that helps boost your immune system. This soup makes the most of broccoli—and makes great use of pistachios, which add protein, healthy fats, and a creamy quality to the dish.
7. Italian Wedding Soup
For a brothy, flavor-rich soup, this recipe delivers without using foods known to cause glucose spikes. Spicy Italian pork sausage is the standout ingredient, and it pairs well with kale, carrots, and leeks. Shopping tip: opt for organic antibiotic-free, hormone-free sausage, and organic cage-free eggs.
8. Mexican Black Bean Soup
Black beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and folate, a micronutrient that helps your body produce new cells. Too bad they’re often relegated to the role of side dish—but not with this one-pot meal. Beans tend to cause a glucose elevation in some but not others but have many metabolic health-promoting properties. Tip: Omit the corn, as it will likely contribute to a glucose spike.