Soups and broths can prime your brain to choose healthier foods.
recipe for a chicken broth

If you've tried and failed to choose a healthy salad over a slice of pizza or bag of potato chips, try trading that salad for a bowl of soup instead. Researchers have found an astonishingly easy way to curb your high-calorie, low-nutrient food cravings: sip on a savory soup or broth.

It sounds like a simple theory that is perhaps too good to be true, right? We agree, but research suggests that eating soup or broth provides a feeling of satiety and fullness, making it easier to bypass less-healthy options. Several studies have found that consuming a small bowl of soup or broth before a meal fills you up, so you eat fewer calories. In fact, a 2012 study published in Obesity Research found that consuming soup twice a day (instead of equivalent calories from snack foods) resulted in 50% greater weight loss.

What Causes Soup to Trigger a Feeling of Satiety and Curb Cravings?

Scientists and health professionals speculate that the satiety likely comes from a combination of the umami flavor and the nutrient content.

Savory Flavor

Some suggest soup's satisfying quality may stem from its typical savory or umami flavor. Aside from chilled fruit-based soups, a slowly simmered broth or stock seasoned with herbs and vegetables usually serves as a soup's base. Using chicken or beef in broths or stocks adds to umami flavor depth. In addition, other ingredients like Parmesan cheese rind or additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) contribute additional umami flavor. Some researchers credit this flavor for providing most of the soup's satiety.

A 2018 study published in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology even suggests that the greater the umami flavor, the greater one's satiety. In this study, researchers examined the effects on appetite in young, healthy women consuming chicken broth, both with and without MSG. Researchers found that those who sipped on the broth with greater umami flavor (the one with added MSG) were better able to control their food impulses and were more mindful about what they ate by using their brains more, literally, when making their food choices. Moreover, the subjects who indulged in pre-meal MSG also chose foods that contained less saturated fat than those who sampled broth without MSG.

Nutrient Content

Protein is one of the most satiating nutrients. A meal containing ample amounts of protein, plant or animal, usually leaves one feeling more content than a low-protein meal. Protein stimulates your satiety hormones and could cause an increased energy expenditure, per a 2021 study published in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome.

Most soups provide some protein from ingredients such as broth or stock and other added sources such as chicken, beef, beans, lentils or dairy. On top of that, soups tend to be a source of dietary fiber, thanks to vegetables, beans and legumes. Like protein, fiber is another nutrient that helps you feel fuller. Also, since soups and broths are largely water-based, they'll hydrate you, in addition to keeping you full.

The Bottom Line

Having soup or broth before a meal can help you feel more satisfied and curb your cravings for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. The combination of protein, fiber, water and umami flavor could be why.

If you're not a soup fan, or at least not in the summer months, you may find similar satiety with smoothies. Like soups, smoothies are powerhouse foods: they're filling, hydrating, low to moderate in calories and provide a vehicle to load up on nutrients and produce, especially when you add fiber-rich produce like berries and greens.

However, a key to smoothie satiety is limiting added sugars. Similarly, make sure to watch the sodium content on soups, broths and stocks. If you find yourself struggling to feel satisfied, it's definitely worth giving them a try.