Soup is a must-have for chilly winter days and to battle anything that ails you, be it a nasty cold or a case of the winter blues. Plus, now that it comes in cans, cups, and drinkable bottles, it's easy to grab on the go. But what are you getting when you slurp down that tomato soup, beefy stew, or other canned favorite? Often sold under a healthy halo, processed soups are full of a lot of ingredients that won't be listed on the label—such as industrial chemicals, pesticides, and weird food additives.
BPA is a chemical used in cash-register receipts and some plastics, but also in the epoxy resin liner of most metal food cans. The bummer? It's most likely leaching into your favorite soup, exposing you to the synthetic, estrogen-like substance that has been linked to obesity, breast and prostate cancers, and aggression and other behavioral problems in young girls. The amounts of BPA used in the cans varies drastically, but an alarming new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests we're ingesting dangerous levels of the hormone-mimicking chemical when we eat soup even once a day. The study's authors asked some participants to eat Progresso soup for lunch five days a week, while others ate homemade soup. All of the canned soup eaters had detectable levels of BPA in their urine at the end of the experiment. What's even more striking is the amount of the chemical detected after downing a can of soup once a day for five days. Compared to those eating fresh soup, the group eating canned soup saw BPA levels jumped more than 1,000 percent.
The huge spike in BPA seen after eating canned soup is "unlike anything we've ever seen," says Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts. "The levels are shocking."
Americans are seriously bingeing in the sodium department, a dangerous practice considering excess sodium doesn't just leave us looking bloated, but also can lead to life-threatening heart attack and stroke. A big reason sodium is such a problem has to do with deceptive labeling practices, explains Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "On most canned soup labels, you'll see numbers in the 800- to 900-milligram (mg) range," she explains "That's already about half a day's worth for most Americans, and that assumes you're only consuming an eight-ounce serving."
Seriously, when have you eaten just half a can of soup? Probably never. And a recent survey showed that most people consider a full can of soup to be one serving, when most labels say the can contents serve two or more. Even when you eat a low-sodium soup that contains 400 mg of sodium per serving, you wind up with twice that amount if you actually eat the entire can in one sitting. If you're still going to go for canned soup, be aware of the serving sizes, and don't fall for claims like, "25 percent less sodium!" The sodium content still could be dangerously high.
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Monosodium glutamate (MSG) brings out wonderful flavors in canned soup, but if you're one of the many people sensitive to this flavor enhancer, the food additive could lead to a crushing headache. Animal studies have found that MSG is toxic to the brain, and researchers believe it causes migraines in people because it dilates blood vessels and impacts nerve cells in the brain. Along with headaches, people sensitive to MSG often experience pressure in the neck and face, sweating, abdominal cramps, and tingling in the fingers.
If MSG makes you sick, you should also look out for ingredients like "natural flavoring" and "hydrolyzed vegetable protein," two other additives that also contain glutamate, according to CSPI's Food Additives database.