Soups are a big part of our Nigerian cuisine. They are a delicious way to meld vegetables and meats into a delicious meal to be enjoyed with your choice of swallow. A lot of people associate weight loss inspired lifestyle changes with giving up this decadent and unique part of our culture, but it doesn’t have to be so.
Soups are not inherently unhealthy. How could foods with so much protein, vegetables, and healthy fats be unhealthy? There are some soup ingredients that do have a lot of calories, but they’re only needed in small quantities to get the most out of them.
• Ogbono: Used as a thickener in Ogbono soup. This seed is high in fat but most of the fat is of the unsaturated kind, which is the type of fat that your body needs to function.
• Egusi: The story with egusi is the same as ogbono. High in calories, but rich in unsaturated fats.
• Palm Oil: This oil is high in fat. It does have the saturated fats that should be avoided as much as possible, but it’s also rich in beta carotene. Beta carotene one of the antioxidants that has proven health benefits, and is what gives palm oil its characteristic red colour.
The thing that makes our soups a dietary villain is because of how we cook them and here are some examples:
We use too much
When cooking soups we forget that some of the high calorie ingredients are there to be used in moderation. You don’t need two cooking spoons of palm oil to get the benefit of having oil in your soup and you don’t need to omit it altogether. The same goes for ingredients like ogbono and egusi.
We go for too much variety
When cooking soups, we tend to overdo it with the variety of meats we use. All you really need is one high quality lean protein like lean beef or chicken with a little flavor rich protein like dried fish for added flavour.
We serve ourselves more than is needed
Even if you use only a little oil and only a few types of meats, you could sabotage your efforts at eating a healthy meal if you serve yourself too much.
Now that you know that some of our soup ingredients are nutrient rich and now that you know some of the reasons why soups have a bad reputation, I’d like to offer you a way to cook soup a part of your healthy lifestyle. It all starts with your choice of meats, which usually contains most of the calories in soup:
Choose a lean cut of meat
If you’re using beef, make sure there’s minimal marbling. The marbling is the white part you see on the meat and contains most of the saturated fats that is terrible for your heart health. Cutting away some of this marbling will help reduce the calories in your meat by a little, but every little bit helps. If you’re using chicken, removing the skin of the meat before you cook it will save you some calories and some saturated fat.
Choose only one more protein for additional flavor if at all
My added protein of choice is dried fish, but you could have a taste for other types of meat. Also, only use a small amount of this. Remember its role is to add flavor and not to be the star of the dish.
Take it easy with the oil
There’s no need to go oil-less when you’re cooking your soups, but you do need to watch the quantity. Having a simple rule around the amount of oil you use can make all the difference. Consider the fact that a tablespoon of palm oil contains 120 calories and an entire cooking spoon of it is approximately 4 tablespoons. That can add up quickly. My personal rule is to use no more than 2 tablespoons of palm oil in each pot of soup.
Mind the Maggi
Maggi is high in sodium. Sodium is an essential nutrient and your body does need it, but you can have too much of a good thing. A diet that’s high in sodium can increase your risk for high blood pressure, which can damage your arteries over time and increase your risk of heart disease. Sodium can also affect how you look. Too much sodium can cause your body to retain water which can make you look and feel bloated. If you really love your Maggi and your salt, make sure to drink plenty of water so that your body doesn’t retain it to maintain balance.
Now a question for you: What is your favorite soup, and how do you cook it? Do you see yourself changing how you cook your soup based on what you just read?