It's always risky to tinker with an icon.
But that's just what Campbell's has done. This month the company is rolling out a new version of its bestselling tomato soup. The can looks pretty much the same as always. Inside, though, there's much less salt.
It has taken 40 years — the last four in real earnest, according to Chor San Khoo, the company's vice president for global nutrition and health — to figure out how to cut back the salt without compromising flavor. The new tomato soup has 480 milligrams per serving, down from 710 in the most recent iteration.
Tomato isn't the only soup getting a makeover; Campbell's has lowered the sodium in more than 90 soups by 25 to 50 percent.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend healthy adults restrict sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. People with high blood pressure, blacks and middle-aged and older adults should keep it to 1,500 or fewer.
Lots of sources
But just ditching the salt shaker isn't going to get you very far. One study cited in the Dietary Guidelines shows we get 77 percent of our sodium from processed and fast foods
Of course, our bodies require some salt to maintain adequate fluid levels in our cells. But as the Dietary Guidelines point out, for most people there is a direct and dose-specific relationship between salt intake and blood pressure: The more you eat, the higher your blood pressure. And since high blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke, limiting salt is clearly a personal and public health imperative.
But as Khoo notes, while there are plenty of sugar substitutes, there is no substitute for salt. To create its new recipe, Campbell's turned to a proprietary sea salt that contains less sodium than standard, mined salt. The substitution required tinkering with other elements of the recipe to keep flavors in balance.
A serving of the new tomato soup provides 690 milligrams of potassium, or 20 percent of the DV of 3,500 milligrams. That's important, because adequate potassium intake is vital to controlling blood pressure.
A few complaints
The new soup is not perfect. Some critics will wish it, like its predecessor, didn't contain high-fructose corn syrup. And one might hope a serving provided more than a single gram of fiber, which is just 4 percent of the daily value. Those who can't tolerate gluten will bemoan the wheat flour in the recipe; it's there to improve the soup's texture, Khoo says. (Campbell's does offer many gluten-free products; they're listed at www.campbellswithoutgluten.com.)
Still, a one-cup serving (a can makes 2 ½) has just 90 calories, no fat and no cholesterol. As Khoo notes, soup can help with weight control. Eaten as a first course, it can help fill your belly and cause you to eat fewer calories in the rest of your meal. And it's easy to boost the soup's nutrition content. Reconstitute it with skim milk instead of water and you get 30 percent of the day's needed calcium and 25 percent of the vitamin D for just 80 added calories.
Judith Wylie-Rosett, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association (to which Campbell's has contributed $1.8 million over the past three years and with which the company co-sponsors the Go Red for Women heart-health-awareness campaign), notes that Campbell's tomato soup is a legitimate way to add a serving of vegetables to your daily diet.
Wylie-Rosett, who is also a professor of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, adds that the soup contains the antioxidant lycopene, "one of the pigments we're encouraging."