Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Split Pea Soup Bad For You?



Short answer

Split pea soup can be very nutritious, offering protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, beneficial for digestion, heart health, and blood sugar management. However, sodium content is a concern, especially in prepackaged or restaurant versions. Choosing homemade split pea soup with low-sodium broth and healthful ingredients can enhance its benefits. Regularly including a well-prepared split pea soup in a balanced diet can contribute to overall good health.



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Long answer

Nutritional Composition of Split Pea Soup

Split pea soup is known for its hearty texture and nutritious profile. It's made from split peas, which are a type of legume, and often include carrots, onions, spices, and sometimes pork or ham for flavor. Let's break down its nutritional composition:

Firstly, split peas are a great source of plant-based protein, an essential nutrient for muscle repair and growth. An average serving of split pea soup can contain up to 10-15 grams of protein, which is significant, especially for those following vegetarian or vegan diets.

The soup is also high in fiber. Dietary fiber has numerous benefits, including promoting a healthy digestive system, lowering cholesterol levels, and helping control blood sugar levels. A cup of split pea soup typically provides around 5-6 grams of fiber, contributing to the daily recommended intake.

Another highlight includes an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. Split peas contain vitamins such as A, several of the B vitamins (including folate), and vitamin K. The minerals found in split peas include potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron—all of which are vital for overall health.

In terms of complex carbohydrates, split peas, like other legumes, contain starches that provide a slow and steady release of energy. This helps prevent blood sugar spikes, making it an excellent option for individuals with diabetes or those trying to manage their blood sugar levels.

Split pea soup can also be a recipe for those mindful of their fat intake. Most recipes are low in fat, especially if made without added pork or ham. However, it is worth noting that the inclusion of meat like ham hocks can increase the fat content, particularly saturated fat, which should be consumed in moderation.

For those watching their sodium intake, it's important to mention that some commercially prepared split pea soups or recipes can be high in salt. Homemade versions often allow for better sodium control, with the option to use low-sodium broth or alternative seasonings for flavor.

A breakdown of the nutritional composition of split pea soup per one-cup serving, without added pork, is typically as follows:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 165 kcal
Protein 10-15 g
Fiber 5-6 g
Carbohydrates 30 g
Fat 1 g
Sodium Varies

It's worth noting that specific nutritional values may vary based on the recipe and serving size. Additionally, the addition of other vegetables or ingredients will alter the nutritional profile accordingly.

Each ingredient in split pea soup contributes to its nutritional density, making it a healthy choice for many. However, as with any dish, the key is all about balance and considering individual dietary needs and restrictions. For those with specific dietary considerations, it's advised to tweak the recipe — for instance, by reducing or replacing the salt content or opting for a lean source of protein.

In line with the latest findings, consuming a variety of nutrient-dense, whole food-based meals like split pea soup can contribute positively to an individual's diet, supporting good health and wellbeing.

Sodium Content in Prepackaged and Restaurant-Style Split Pea Soup

When considering the health implications of split pea soup, a critical aspect to examine is the sodium content, particularly in prepackaged and restaurant-style options. Sodium, an essential electrolyte, plays a vital role in maintaining fluid balance, supporting nerve function, and aiding muscle contraction. However, consuming high amounts of sodium is a concern because it can lead to increased blood pressure and, subsequently, a heightened risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that most Americans consume more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. It's not uncommon for a single serving of prepackaged or restaurant-style split pea soup to contain anywhere from 400 to 900 milligrams of sodium, which can quickly add up, especially when consumed as part of a larger meal.

The nutritional profile of a typical can of split pea soup might look something like this:

Serving Size Calories Total Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol Sodium Total Carbohydrates Dietary Fiber Protein
1 cup (245g) 180 1g 0.5g 5mg 770mg 37g 5g 11g

While the nutrient-rich nature of split pea soup can make it a hearty, satisfying option, the elevated sodium levels can detract from its health value. Researchers have found a strong link between high-sodium diets and an increased risk of health issues. An analysis conducted by the American Heart Association indicates that restaurant soups can have sodium levels that far exceed the amounts found in prepacked counterparts, with some restaurant offerings delivering more than half the daily recommended sodium intake in a single serving.

  • Avoiding or limiting the usage of added table salt can reduce the overall sodium content.
  • Opting for 'low-sodium' or 'no-salt-added' varieties can be an effective strategy when purchasing prepackaged soups. These products can have substantially lower sodium levels, sometimes by as much as 40% to 70% compared to the regular versions.
  • When dining out, requesting the chef to prepare the soup with less salt or choosing an establishment that offers low-sodium options can help mitigate sodium intake.
  • Understanding the nutritional labels is key. It's crucial to check for serving sizes and calculate the total sodium you'll be consuming if you plan to eat the entire package or dish.

For individuals with hypertension or preexisting heart conditions, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an even lower daily sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams. Given these recommendations, it's evident that vigilance when it comes to the sodium content in split pea soup is necessary for maintaining optimal health.

It's worth noting that homemade split pea soup can be a healthier alternative. By controlling the ingredients, including the amount of salt, one can tailor the soup to better fit into a low-sodium diet. This adaptability allows the soup to retain its nutritional benefits without the added health risks associated with excessive sodium consumption.

The Benefits of Fiber and Plant-Based Protein in Split Peas

When assessing the impact of split pea soup on your health, it's essential to highlight the nutritional powerhouses that are split peas. This legume is a treasure trove of dietary fiber and plant-based protein, both of which offer substantial health benefits. Here's a closer look at each of these components:

Nutritional Breakdown of Fiber in Split Peas:

  • Dietary Fiber Content: A single cup of cooked split peas contains about 16.3 grams of dietary fiber, which equates to roughly 65% of the recommended daily value for adults, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
  • Role in Digestive Health: Fiber aids in the regulation of bowel movements, helps prevent constipation, and is known to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
  • Weight Management: The high fiber content in split peas promotes satiety, which means it can help you feel full longer, thus potentially reducing overall calorie intake and supporting weight management efforts.
  • Cardiovascular Benefits: Studies have indicated that a higher intake of dietary fiber is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. For instance, a meta-analysis published in the BMJ found a significant association between higher dietary fiber intake and a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
  • Blood Sugar Control: Fiber is known to slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, which can help in controlling blood sugar levels, particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.

Plant-Based Protein in Split Peas:

  • Protein Content: Split peas provide about 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving, making them an excellent source of plant-based protein, particularly important for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Muscle Maintenance and Repair: Protein is a critical component for building and repairing tissues in the body, and the protein from split peas contributes to these necessary physiological processes.
  • Amino Acid Profile: Although not a complete protein on their own (as they are low in certain essential amino acids such as methionine and tryptophan), when paired with whole grains, split peas can help form a complete protein with a balanced profile of essential amino acids.
  • Sustainable Protein Source: Aside from their health benefits, plant-based proteins like those from split peas are also considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly than animal protein sources.

Regularly including split pea soup in your diet can contribute to an increased intake of these beneficial nutrients. It's vital, however, to consider the overall quality and ingredients of the soup as whole. Homemade split pea soups that minimize added sodium and saturated fats will best harness these nutritional benefits, while pre-packaged or restaurant versions might contain additives that could detract from the potential health advantages.

As with any dietary choice, balance and moderation are key. Split pea soup can be a nutritious part of a balanced diet, particularly when it emphasizes the high fiber and protein content of split peas. Always consider the context of your total diet to ensure you're meeting all your nutritional needs and remember to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary advice.

Additives and Preservatives in Canned or Packaged Soups

Commercially produced split pea soups, like many other canned or packaged goods, often contain additives and preservatives. These substances extend the product's shelf life and improve its taste, texture, and color. When evaluating whether these components could be harmful to your health, it's essential to understand the common additives used and the potential risks associated with them.

Here are some frequently found additives in canned or packaged split pea soups:

  • Sodium: High levels of sodium are often added to soups as a preservative and flavor enhancer. An excessive intake of sodium can lead to increased blood pressure and risks of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This flavor enhancer, while generally recognized as safe by the FDA, can cause adverse reactions in some individuals, such as headaches and allergic reactions, according to anecdotal reports.
  • Artificial colors and flavors: While these make the food more aesthetically appealing and palatable, concerns have been raised about their long-term health effects, with certain artificial colors being linked to hyperactivity in children.
  • BPA: Some canned foods' linings contain bisphenol A (BPA), which can seep into the food. BPA exposure has potential health effects on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children. It can also affect children's behavior, according to a report from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Preservatives: Chemicals such as potassium chloride and disodium inosinate are added to prevent spoilage. These are generally viewed as safe in small quantities but can be problematic in larger amounts or for individuals with specific sensitivities or health issues.

To minimize the intake of unnecessary additives and preservatives, look for brands that offer "no added preservatives" or "low-sodium" alternatives. Organic or natural variants of split pea soup often boast fewer synthetic additives, yet it's essential to read the ingredient list carefully.

Concerning the scientific consensus, a study published in the Journal of Hypertension established a strong link between dietary sodium intake and elevated blood pressure, while a report by the European Food Safety Authority on food additives and nutrient sources added to food states that their safety evaluations involve rigorous procedures and assessments.

When choosing a split pea soup, it's important to not only enjoy the comfort and convenience it affords but also to be an informed consumer. This means deciphering labels, understanding potential health implications, and making choices aligned with your dietary needs and health objectives.

Impact on Blood Sugar Levels and Glycemic Index

Understanding how foods affect blood sugar levels is crucial for those managing diabetes, prediabetes, and for general health. The glycemic index (GI) is a helpful tool used to assess how much a particular food elevates blood sugar levels. Foods are rated on a scale of 0 to 100, with lower scores indicating a slower increase in blood glucose. Split pea soup has components that influence its GI and consequently, its impact on blood sugar levels.

Split peas, the primary ingredient in split pea soup, are a low-glycemic food, generally having a GI value ranging from 32 to 35, which is considered low. This implies that they break down slowly in the digestive tract, resulting in a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. This slow digestion is attributable to the high fiber content in split peas, which both slows down the absorption of sugar and provides a feeling of fullness, aiding in the control of blood sugar spikes.

However, it's important to consider the entirety of the soup's ingredients. Depending on the recipe, other ingredients like potatoes or carrots could increase the GI. Conversely, adding proteins or fats, like ham or olive oil, may help to stabilize blood sugar levels further.

Here are some factors that can affect the glycemic impact of split pea soup:

  • Fiber Content: Fiber-rich foods can decrease the GI of a meal. Split pea soup typically contains a good amount of dietary fiber, which helps mitigate rapid blood glucose increases.
  • Protein and Fat Content: Protein and fats slow down gastric emptying, reducing the speed with which carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed as glucose.
  • Cooking Time: Overcooking split peas can increase the soup's GI since it breaks down the legumes' complex carbohydrates into simpler forms that are more quickly absorbed.
  • Serving Size and Accompaniments: Larger portions could have a greater impact on blood sugar levels. Additionally, consuming the soup with a source of protein or healthful fats can improve glycemic response.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that legumes, such as split peas, might be beneficial for glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, research supports the inclusion of low-GI foods to improve diabetes management as well as in preventing conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

When considering the impact on blood sugar levels, one should also think about the individual's overall diet and physical activity level as these can influence how the body responds to different foods. Regular consumption of split pea soup as part of a balanced diet, therefore, may contribute positively to blood sugar management, when other lifestyle factors are also conducive to good health.

For specific dietary advice, especially for those with diabetes or other health conditions concerned with glucose metabolism, consulting with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian is recommended for tailored guidance.

Homemade Split Pea Soup: Healthier Variations and Ingredients

Split pea soup is a traditional dish that can be a nutritious addition to any diet when prepared with the right ingredients. Opting for homemade versions allows you to control what goes into your soup, making it possible to create a healthful meal that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Below are several ways to enhance the nutritional value of your homemade split pea soup, ensuring it contributes positively to your diet without unnecessary additives or excessive sodium often found in store-bought varieties.

  • Choose Low-Sodium Broth: Traditional recipes often call for chicken or vegetable broth. Use a low-sodium or sodium-free broth to keep blood pressure in check and avoid fluid retention.
  • Increase Dietary Fiber: Split peas are already high in fiber, but you can boost the fiber content even more by adding other legumes such as lentils or beans, or vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions.
  • Enhance with Herbs and Spices: Instead of seasoning with salt, flavor your soup with a bouquet of herbs such as thyme, bay leaves, parsley, and spices like black pepper or smoked paprika for an aromatic and healthful twist.
  • Opt for Lean Protein: If including meat, choose lean cuts such as chicken breast or turkey, or consider a vegetarian version by excluding meat altogether to reduce saturated fat content.
  • Use Fresh Ingredients: Fresh vegetables provide more nutrients and are free of the preservatives found in canned alternatives. Opt for fresh, organic ingredients when possible to maximize the health benefits.
  • Incorporate Whole Grains: Adding whole grains such as barley or brown rice can further enhance the soup’s nutritional profile, adding complex carbohydrates for sustained energy.
  • Skip the Cream: Traditional recipes may include cream to create a richer soup. For a healthier version, blend some of the peas to thicken the soup naturally or use plant-based milk alternatives for creaminess without the added fat.

Below is a table that breaks down healthier ingredient swaps for each component of traditional split pea soup:

Traditional Ingredient Healthier Alternative Benefits
Regular Broth Low-Sodium Broth Reduces sodium intake, lower risk of hypertension
Ham/Bacon Lean Chicken/Turkey or No Meat Less saturated fat, lower calories
Cream Pureed Split Peas or Plant-Based Milk Lower fat, dairy-free, and increased fiber content
White Potatoes Sweet Potatoes or Cauliflower Higher vitamins, lower glycemic index
Salted Butter Unsalted Butter or Olive Oil No added sodium, healthier fats
Refined Carbohydrates (Croutons, White Bread) Whole Grain Bread or Crackers More fiber, better for blood sugar control

By being mindful of your ingredients, you can transform a simple split pea soup into a powerhouse of nutrition without sacrificing the comforting, savory flavors the dish is known for. Integrating these healthier components not only improves the overall health profile of the soup but also caters to a wider range of dietary needs and preferences.

Frequently asked questions

Split pea soup may contain allergens depending on the recipe. Common allergens that might be present include gluten (if flour is used as a thickener or served with bread), and less commonly, legume allergens from the split peas themselves. For those with specific allergies, it's crucial to check the recipe or label for allergen information or consider making a homemade version to ensure the soup is allergen-free.

Yes, people with diabetes can include split pea soup in their diet as it is made with low-glycemic split peas, which have a slow digestion rate, helping to manage blood sugar levels. Homemade versions with controlled ingredients can be particularly beneficial. However, it's essential for individuals with diabetes to be aware of portion sizes and the total carbohydrate content in the context of their overall meal plan.

To lower the fat content in homemade split pea soup, you can skip the addition of meat, opt for a lean protein like chicken or turkey, use unsalted butter or olive oil instead of salted butter, and avoid adding cream. Blending some of the split peas can naturally thicken the soup without needing to add cream or other high-fat ingredients.

Split pea soup can be a suitable and nutritious option for vegetarians and vegans, especially when prepared without meat. Split peas provide plant-based protein and can be paired with whole grains to form a complete protein. Homemade soup allows for customization, ensuring the dish aligns with vegetarian or vegan dietary preferences by omitting any animal-derived ingredients.

Ask a question about Split Pea Soup and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood pressure
  • allergic reactions (to msg)
  • gastrointestinal distress (in sensitive individuals)
  • fluid retention (due to high sodium)

Possible long-term side effects

  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • stroke
  • increased risk of chronic health conditions (due to excessive sodium or additives)
  • potential bpa exposure risks

Ingredients to be aware of

  • sodium
  • msg
  • artificial colors and flavors
  • bpa
  • food preservatives like potassium chloride and disodium inosinate


  • rich in plant-based protein
  • high dietary fiber
  • contains essential vitamins and minerals
  • slow release of energy
  • low in fat (without added pork/ham)
  • may aid in blood sugar control
  • can contribute to satiety and weight management
  • beneficial for digestive health

Healthier alternatives

  • low-sodium broth
  • fresh vegetables
  • lean protein sources
  • whole grains
  • herbs and spices instead of salt
  • plant-based milk instead of cream

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Amy's Vegan Split Pea Soup

  • Low in sodium
  • Gluten-free
  • Organic vegetables
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Convenient canned soup
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-24-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-24-2024

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