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How Do They Affect Your Weight Loss Program?

Soups and side dishes may seem like innocuous items at first glance. However, making the wrong choices when it comes to these items can undermine all the hard work you put into your weight loss program otherwise. On this page, we focus on how to choose your soups and side dishes for a successful weight loss diet.

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Provided you make the right choices, soups can be very helpful in weight control. Their most significant advantage is the relatively low calorie count per volume, coupled with the fact they provide a satisfying sensation of stomach fullness. Many brands are available to choose from, the most prominent being Campbell and Progresso. Another useful brand which caught my eye is Healthy Choice - which appears to be centered on providing a healthy nutritional balance in their foods.

Most soups available in the grocery store bring in between 60 and 300 calories per 8 oz cup, with creamy soups at the high end of the range, and liquid soups (such as chicken noodle, vegetable soup, minestrone, etc) at the low end. Many soups have zero saturated fat content, especially the ones that are non-creamy in consistency (e.g., chicken noodle, vegetable soup, etc). And lately, even creamy soups are becoming significantly lower in saturated fats. The sugar content of soups is very reasonable, usually up to 4 grams per 8 oz cup. One major exception is tomato soup, which can bring a much higher sugar amount, usually 12-18 grams per cup.

Warning: 'Chunky Soups' may have a higher calorie and saturated fat content, depending on the items in their composition. Some contain items like sausage, significant amounts of pasta and potatoes, etc. Needless to say, such soups are less advantageous for weight control.

When choosing a soup, here's what to look for:
  • A reasonable calorie content, preferably up to 150 calories per serving
  • Saturated fats preferably zero (or at most 2 grams per serving)
  • Sugars up to 4 grams per serving

From the point of view of convenience, Campbell's 'Soups at Hand' (ready to eat soups in microwavable containers) are quite appealing. Various brands are available, such as 'Italian Style Wedding', 'Chicken Noodle', 'Vegetable Beef', etc. (All the above-mentioned contain less than 100 calories per container.)

Clear Soup Broth or Bouillon is another great product for a weight control diet. It is exceptionally low in calories (up to 15 calories per 8 oz cup), and yet very filling and satisfying. As such, it's an ideal product for curbing hunger between meals, and at the same time maintaining your body well hydrated. Several brands are available, such as Swanson Broth (10- 15 calories per cup), Wyler's Chicken or Beef Cubes (5 calories per cube, dissolve in 8 oz of water), Knorr Bouillon Cubes (5 calories per cube), etc.


This is one area where we must be particularly careful. Otherwise, it's very easy to rack up unnecessary calories. Ideally, a side dish should bring up to 200 calories.

  1. Rice is a good side dish for weight control, especially whole grain rice. As a rule of thumb, brown rice is usually whole grain rice, as opposed to white rice which is refined or enriched. 1/2 cup of dry brown rice (which makes 1 cup prepared) brings in about 150 calories. 1/2 cup of dry white rice (1 cup prepared) brings in about 200 calories. As you can see, brown (whole grain) rice is less caloric than white rice. Additionally, brown rice has higher fiber content, which is beneficial for weight control. This translates into a lower glycemic index (55 for brown rice), as opposed to 70 for white rice.
    Also, keep in mind that rice should be boiled or steamed, never fried. Fried rice can bring double to triple the calorie amount of steamed rice. For example, 1 cup of Panda Express fried rice brings in 450 calories – totally unacceptable in a weight control program.

    Returning to our grocery store items, a large variety of prepackaged rice mixes, rice pilafs, etc, are available, typically ranging between 170-240 calories per serving. As always, read the nutrition labels: Look for zero saturated fat, and sugars as low as possible (in any case below 6-7 gram per serving).

    Warning: Prepackaged rice dishes with creamy sauces are more caloric and should be used with caution. Most bring in 250-270 calories per serving, which is pushing the upper limit for a side dish. The saturated fat content is also likely to be higher.

  2. Pasta, Spaghetti, Macaroni: Once more, whole grain products are the way to go. Look for the label 'whole wheat' on the package. 1 cup of whole wheat pasta (cooked) brings in 175 calories, whereas 1 cup of regular pasta (cooked) brings in 225 calories. Besides the lower calorie content, whole grain pasta also has a lower glycemic index, which is advantageous for weight control.
    Whole grain pasta products can be served with a low calorie marinade (such as A1 Marinade), putting the total calorie intake around 200 calories per serving. Avoid products like Ragu and especially Prego – they are more substantial and rack up the calorie count.

    Many prepackaged pasta dishes with creamy sauces are available, bringing in about 240 calories per serving. These are less advantageous in a weight control program, and should be used in moderation. Some of these dishes require added milk, butter, or margarine. Read the nutrition labels to ensure low saturated fat content (preferably zero, but in any case lower than 2 gram per serving) and low sugar content (up to 4 grams per serving).

    Ravioli bring in about 200-300 calories per cup. Reduced fat products are available, such as 99% Fat-Free Beef Ravioli from Chef Boyardee (170 calories per cup, 0.5 grams saturated fat and 6 grams sugars - which is acceptable for a side dish).

    Warning:  Pasta and Cheese Mixes (such as Macaroni and Cheese) can be particularly detrimental to weight control. A large variety of brands is available at any grocery store, many of which contain an unacceptably high number of calories. For instance, Velveeta Shells and Cheese brings in 360 calories per serving (1 cup prepared), Mac & Cheese 410 calories per serving, and Valu Time Macaroni 400 calories per serving. Comparatively, Hamburger Helper comes in more reasonably at 270 calories per serving. As you can see, the calorie content for most of these items is over the top for a side dish. Moreover, saturated fats may also be higher than desired. As such, in my opinion these items have no place in a weight control diet.

  3. Beans and Peas are healthy nutritious foods, with low saturated fat and sugars, and high protein and fiber content. Some of them (such as soybeans) also contain high amounts of unsaturated (healthy) fats. Because of this fact, beans and peas are rather caloric: 1 cup of beans (boiled) brings in between 210 and 300 calories. (Lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, split peas and lentils are at the low end of this range; pinto beans, white beans and navy beans are in the middle; soybeans and chicken peas are at the high end.)
    In conclusion, beans and peas are good foods for weight control - as long as portion sizes are respected.

  4. Chili can be a fairly caloric item, and should be budgeted as such. One cup of Chili may contain anywhere from 220 to 320 calories. In fact, Chili may be more suitable as a main dish than a side dish.

  5. Canned Vegetables generally make for great side dishes. They are quite low in calories, fat-free, and have the advantage of bringing in fiber. Some, however, may contain added sugars, and these are best avoided. Read the nutrition label of each individual product for complete information.

  6. Potatoes are generally a diet killer, due to their high glycemic index when cooked or baked. A large baked potato brings in about 280 calories, and has a glycemic index of 85. 1 cup of mashed potatoes (made from flakes, with no added milk or margarine) brings in about 240 calories, and has a glycemic index of 95 (on a scale where the maximum glycemic index is that of glucose = 100).
    Various prepackaged potato dishes are available, some of them with creamy sauces, many of them requiring added milk, butter, or margarine for preparation. For example, Betty Crocker has an entire line of potato dishes (such as scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, etc), which according to the nutrition label bring in about 150 calories per serving. However, please note that the recommended serving sizes are relatively small (about 2/3 cups prepared), and can be easily exceeded. (In other words, chances are you'll end up overeating and get more than the calorie content bargained for.) I also noticed that some of these products contain trans fats (which are highly damaging for health and weight control) - so make sure to check nutrition labels. If you decide to use such products, make sure to prepare them with fat-free milk and low calorie butter substitutes (e.g., fat-free margarine).

Remember:  Prepackaged Side Dishes with creamy sauces of any kind are usually higher in calories and fat content, and caution is recommended.

Note: All calorie counts are approximate.


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