Walk down the soup aisle of any grocery store, and you’ll find a wide range of condensed soups. Unlike other canned soups, which you can dump into a bowl or pot and heat up, you’ll need to add liquid before eating a condensed soup.
"Condensed soups can be an easy and quick addition to a meal," points out Krista King, a registered dietitian and certified health coach. That’s particularly true for cream-based ones, like cream of mushroom or cream of chicken, which are a convenient, flavorful addition to homemade casseroles or slow cooker dishes.
So if you're not sure whether to make your soup with milk or water, find out the pros and cons of each ingredient along with why it’s important to give your soup's ingredient label a quick scan before purchasing.
Adding Milk to Soup
Milk is a great source of protein, notes King. One cup of low-fat 1-percent milk contains 8.2 grams of protein. “Protein helps with satiety and blood sugar balance, which is important for stable energy,” says King. In other words, if you add milk in your lunchtime bowl of soup, you might just be able to stave off that late-afternoon snack craving.
Read more: What Are Some Disadvantages of Dairy Milk?
Adding milk will lead to a creamier, heartier soup, as well as additional nutrients. These include bone-building minerals and energy-boosting vitamins. One cup of low-fat milk will lend your soup an additional 305 milligrams of calcium, 26.8 milligrams of magnesium and 366 milligrams of potassium.
A cup of low-fat milk also contains 102 calories and 2.37 grams of fat.
Adding Water to Soup
Opt for water if you are looking to avoid those additional calories and fat. Water is also a good alternative for people following a vegan diet or avoiding dairy. “Some people may have a milk intolerance or sensitivity,” says King, who recommends using water in place of milk in these instances.
The potential downside to using water in place of milk is that the soup will have a thinner consistency. However, the contents of the can contain fat and calories, which can keep you satiated.
How to Thicken Soup
If you prefer a creamy soup but don’t want to add all milk, you have options.
Dilute condensed soup with water, and then stir in ground flaxseed, wheat germ or oats to thicken it. These thickeners add fiber and nutrients to your soup.
Not only will these fiber-rich grains help you feel full for longer, but the Mayo Clinic points out that they’re linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted
Watch Out for High Sodium Levels
The biggest downside to condensed soups — and any other canned soup — is that they tend to be quite high in sodium, says King.
The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That’s a lot, particularly considering that our bodies require less than 500 milligrams a day to function properly. The AHA recommends getting no more than 2,300 milligrams per day.
“Some [soups] can fulfill your daily recommended amount of sodium in just one can,” says King, who recommends looking at the serving size and how many servings are in the can to see how much sodium it contains. She also recommends opting for low-sodium options, which contain 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
Read more: 3 Low-Sodium Soup Brands to Try