What we put into our bodies matters, and matters a lot. The clear, indisputable link between our health, weight and what we eat is more evident than ever before. Therefore it makes sense that you and I take an interest in the food we choose at the grocery store and bring home to be consumed by us and our families, as part of our daily nourishment.

While natural, whole foods should always be our first choice, it is evident that this is not most people’s choice today. We know that grocery and even health food stores are filled with processed foods. In fact by average estimates, it fills more than 75% of grocery stores today. Too many of us live busy lives that require convenience, and so we look to processed food as our answer. In this review I will share with you about a processed food many may consider healthy, but may not be aware of all of its attributes.

I was recently sent a particular product to review that I would not have purchased myself. This was Imagine’s Organic Southwestern Black Bean Soup. I decided to try it myself and review it for you as I feel there is a lot of value in sharing about it with you. As many of us become more health conscious, we have to make sure that we do not fall for the misleading idea that if something is organic, then it is automatically healthy or good for us. Processed food is processed food, and for those who rely on it, the key is to be fully aware of what we are putting into our bodies.

Imagine Foods (US) – Imagine Foods (Canada) was founded in Missouri in 1982 by Robert Nissenbaum and a partner. As of 2002, it is part of The Hain Celestial Group. They pride themselves for making some of the best-selling organic and natural soups, broths, stocks and gravy. Imagine shares that they are committed to “making the highest quality, exceptionally delicious all–natural food.” They strive to make products with real ingredients, quality, taste and convenience.

As part of their soup line they have dozens of different creamy soups, chunky and canned soups. The southwestern black bean soup is part of a new Canadian line of chunky soups, and the focus of this review.

In terms of taste, the soup was pleasant tasting, actually surprisingly pleasant. My point of reference for comparison are homemade soups of a similar nature, not other packaged soups. The soup had a well defined spicy quality, without being too strong. It was well balanced between its amount of sweet, salty and spicy undertones. Although I don’t think I had more than a handful of processed, packaged soups in my lifetime, I do recall that any I had, even one from another organic company, were very unpleasant and did not come close to anything homemade from fresh ingredients. This soup’s taste was very close to a homemade product and I would give it an 8 out of 10 in terms of being close to a quality, homemade soup.

In terms of texture, the soup had a good chunky texture. It was nice to see actual beans, corn, tomato and pepper pieces. There wasn’t too much of each, nor too little, but a good mix to make the soup hardy, while still being a soup. The liquid part was not watery, but a little thicker to hold everything together well. So in terms of taste and texture, the soup definitely got my vote.

In terms of nutritional qualities, this is where the soup lost most of my interest. The first thing that stands out about this soup is its incredibly high sodium amount. Per 1 cup serving, it packs 790mg of sodium! Now you have to figure if you are to get no more than 2000mg of sodium per day, typically 1500mg or less (especially if you already have hypertension) then this product is not for you. In fact, this is not a wise product for anyone who wants to prevent hypertension. The same goes for pretty much all processed food. I can tell you that 1 cup of this soup is not going to satisfy most adult appetites, unless eaten as an appetizer or side to a meal. This means that in not even a full meal, you are getting about half of your recommended sodium for the day. That is a lot, especially if your diet is already based on processed food. It is easy to see why most people’s daily sodium levels soar above 3, 4, 5 or more thousands of milligrams of sodium, which is extremely harmful! High sodium diets increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain and acid-alkaline imbalance, which leads to many other health problems. Yes, it is cholesterol free being a 100% plant product, and barely has any fat. Yes, it has a good amount of fiber, protein and iron. But these benefits do not override the ridiculously high sodium amount. This is where we as consumers cannot get fooled by health claims on the fronts of packages trying to distract us from the whole story, including the foods being marketed as being organic.

In terms of ingredients, they were very “real” and positive aside from one downfall – that being having added sugar. Sure, it was “organic cane sugar”, but it is still sugar and adds to the average person’s high amount of sugar in their daily diet, which is damaging to their physical, emotional and mental health, as well as weight. Again, for people who eat a mainly processed food diet, you can quickly see how all these hidden sugars add up to the current average of 20-30 teaspoons of sugar per day for North Americans. Optimal health experts may also pick on the fact that this product uses a refined salt, which has a slew of its own problems. The nice part in the end, was that there were no preservatives or artificial additives.

In terms of packaging, this was the soup’s other downfall for me, and ironically it is one of the company’s selling features for this product. The soup comes in a foil lined carton box called a Tetra Recart. The company promotes this as being a BPA-free, light-weight and more sustainable, eco option as opposed to cans (or glass), but this is not what I want my food to sit in for weeks or even months before I consume it. The composition of these Tetra Recarts is 75% paper, 20% polyethylene (a petrochemical) and 5% aluminum. There was a slight hint of a chemical taste I detected while eating, and I have no doubt that it came from this food sitting in chemical packaging for the time it did. Remember that for optimal health, you want a food product to come in glass or paper packaging, not aluminum cans, tins, aluminum lined cartons, plastic or other chemical lined containers.

Conclusion

So in the end, I wholeheartedly agree with Imagine’s claims that yes their soup(s) are made of real ingredients, have quality, good taste and convenience. However, Imagine also has a promotional tag line for these soups that states “Soups so hearty, chunky and flavourful – They’re better than homemade!” which in my opinion is nothing more than clever marketing, but far from true. No processed food beats a homemade product made from fresh, natural, high quality ingredients and consumed freshly made.

As we become more health conscious, many people are picking foods that are organic and thinking that as long as they are organic, they are healthy. For me, the amount of sodium in this product and even the packaging is sort of a contradiction to choosing an organic diet. If we are health conscious on an organic level, one would hope we are health conscious on other levels as well. There is no need to pay a premium for organic products, if we are going to allow our health to suffer in other ways.

To be fair, yes, Imagine Organic soups are no doubt perhaps “the best of the worst” where processed soups are concerned, and if someone uses them the “odd” time as part of a generally natural food diet, it may not be a big deal. I will also be the first to say that every step in the right direction helps, and a product like this can be a great transition food. But ultimately, we need to keep moving towards the healthiest choices possible—natural, homemade meals.

If for some strange reason you are completely stuck and your only choice is to pick a processed soup in your grocery store, then out of all the processed soups available, this is perhaps your best bet. All Imagine organic soups contain different amounts of sodium, so I would at least recommend a different variety that has no more than 300mg of sodium per cup serving. But the truth is that there are always other food choices, and it is not like this food product is cheap either. At about $5 per 2 cup carton, one can make at least a 10 cup amount of a similar soup at home for that price, avoiding the problems this soup comes with.

May we therefore continue to be discerning consumers to make the best choices for ourselves and our families that are based on real food that is natural, wholesome, unprocessed and fresh. Your body, health and wellness is worth it, and nothing should be sacrificed for that.

Ingredients

  • Water
  • Organic Black Beans
  • Organic Diced Tomatoes (organic tomatoes, citric acid, calcium chloride)
  • Organic Tomato Paste
  • Organic Onion
  • Organic Red Bell Pepper
  • Organic Corn Starch
  • Salt
  • Organic Dried Corn
  • Organic Cane Sugar
  • Organic Spices
  • Organic Chili Pepper
  • Organic Chipotle Pepper

Nutritional Information

(per 1 cup – 250ml)

Calories = 170
Fat = 0.5g
Saturated Fat = 0g
Trans Fat = 0
Carbohydrate = 33g
Sugars = 2g
Fiber = 7g
Protein = 7g
Cholesterol = 0g
Sodium = 790g
Iron = 20%
Calcium = 8%
Vitamin A = 4%

Packaging

The soup comes in juice-box-like, foil lined carton called a Tetra Recart. It comes in 500ml sizes.

Price (as of this posting)

  • Around $5 CDN/US per 500ml carton at local health food and grocery stores

Availability

  • Available at some grocery and health food stores across US and Canada
  • Other varieties available at online stores

The Good

  • Good taste
  • Mimics homemade soup
  • Good texture
  • Organic ingredients
  • Real food ingredients
  • Gluten free
  • Vegan/Vegetarian friendly
  • No preservatives
  • No additives
  • Some good nutritional benefits

The Bad

  • A very high sodium food
  • Has added sugar
  • Comes in unhealthy packaging