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Soup label conundrum: Less is sometimes more

March 8, 2010 1:10:23 PM PST
You've seen the labels on many products that say "heart healthy" or "low sodium," but are you really getting anything more, or less, than the regular products? 7 On Your Side made a couple of surprising discoveries.

Lots of common brand names are now coming in new varieties to appeal to health conscious consumers. The healthier brands are usually a little more expensive than the regular ones. But we found two examples of a supposedly healthier product that may not be any better for you than the cheaper stuff.

Deirdre Owen loves a good bowl of soup, but she is also careful not to get too much salt or fat. That is why she was drawn to a can of her favorite Campbell's tomato soup. The green label says "25 percent less sodium than regular."

"Heart healthy or low sodium or whatever, of course it catches your eye," she said.

Before buying, she compared the less sodium soup with the regular tomato soup. What she found was astonishing.

"That's when I found out they were 100 percent identical," Owen said. "I thought I'm not going crazy, it's the same."

The label shows Campbell's regular tomato soup has 480 milligrams of sodium, and yet the soup with "less sodium" has 480 milligrams, too. The only difference seemed to be the price. The soup labeled "25 percent less sodium" cost about 50 cents more per can than the regular soup.

We asked shoppers to compare the two cans.

"Sodium: 480 milligrams. They're the same. I wonder why they're doing that," Phyllis Goodman said.

"Oh, this is exactly the same!" Kelli McLaughlin said.

"They both have the same amount of sodium even though this says 25 percent less. Who knew?" Doug Page said.

"If I was just running in and grabbing something off the shelf and I wanted less sodium, I'd grab the one that says 'less sodium,'" Ellie Suida of Phoenix, Arizona said.

That was not all we found. A can of Campbell's Healthy Request tomato soup says it is low in fat. In fact, it only has 1.5 grams of fat per serving. While the healthy soup has 1.5 grams of fat, the regular soup has no fat at all.

"This has more fat!" McLaughlin said.

"The one that's less fat, says less fat, actually has more fat in it," Suida said.

Plus, the healthy soup retails for about 50 cents more per can than the regular soup.

"I'm wondering what they've added that makes it healthier," nutritionist Toby Morris said.

Morris tried to find a reason to buy the healthier kind over the regular.

"It seems that they're essentially the same," she said. "One just has a more pronounced label."

According to Campbell's, the label saying "25 percent less sodium" is comparing that soup with the average of all varieties of Campbell's condensed soup, not just the tomato.

As for the Healthy Request soup, Campbell's says it does contain fat, but still falls within American Heart Association guidelines. The fat is added to improve flavor and help the body absorb nutrients.

Campbell's said the healthy varieties are more expensive because the recipes are different and they are made in smaller batches.

"You think, oh boy, this is good and healthy for me," Owen said. "It could lead people into thinking they're eating better, when in fact they aren't necessarily."

Campbell's says its regular tomato soup used to have twice as much sodium as it does now. The company also says it plans to reduce the salt in its less sodium variety. So eventually it will be lower in sodium than the regular kind -- just not right now.


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