Gluten-Free Broccoli Cheese Soup

by Amy on 10/19/2011


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Ah…broccoli cheese soup. Before making the change to a real food diet, and going gluten-free, I used to frequent Panera Bread and loved their broccoli cheese soup. But, I always got a headache and felt sick afterwards. And, upon inspection of their website and nutrition/ingredient facts, it’s absolutely no surprise! Here are the ingredients: (at least they post them!)

Broccoli cheddar (Water, milk, broccoli, pasteurized process cheddar cheese [cheddar cheese {pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes}, water, sodium phosphate, milkfat, salt, apocarotenal {color}], cream [cream, milk] carrots, modified corn starch, onions, chicken base [chicken meat in chicken broth {chicken meat, chicken broth, chicken fat, modified corn starch and/or rice flour, salt}, salt, hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, sugar, natural flavorings, potato flour, autolyzed yeast extract, carrot powder, turmeric], flour [bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], butter [cream, salt], seasoning [salt, spices, extractives of paprika], soybean oil, mustard [water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, white wine, fruit pectin, citric acid, tartaric acid, sugar, spice], pepper sauce [vinegar, red pepper, salt]).

Ok, folks, this is a SOUP. One part of a meal that I used to eat there. So when we think we are eating out and making an “okay” choice, this is what really shows up in the bowl. Let’s go through this a bit at a time, shall we?

First on the list is broccoli cheddar” (like is that a flavor of cheese now?) and that is made of (my notes in unbolded italics)Water (probably unfiltered tap water), (pasteurized) milk, (non-organic)broccoli, pasteurized process (yuck!)cheddar cheese [cheddar cheese {pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes}-   Then, water (again, unfiltered tap probably), sodium phosphate (a preservative), milkfat (from grain-fed, feedlot cows, probably), salt (industrial, refined), apocarotenal {color} (an industrial food color)]

It continues: cream [cream, milk] (pasteurized, from feedlot cows, most likely) carrots (non-organic), modified corn starch (eww! it’s chemically modified to change the structure and GMO, I’m sure!) onions, chicken base (never a good sign)[chicken meat (feedlot) in chicken broth {chicken meat, chicken broth (MSG, who knows what), chicken fat (from sick feedlot chickens, toxins accumulate in fat, no good!), modified corn starch and/or rice flour- (um, which one? and there we go with that modified junk again, and if it's corn starch it's probably GMO), salt}, salt (refined), hydrolyzed corn and soy protein ( Both genetically modified, I'm sure, and hydrolyzed is code for MSG), sugar (if it's not cane, it's probably GMO and why is it in soup?), natural flavorings (code for MSG, could mean ANYTHING), potato flour (just how much starch does a soup need?), autolyzed yeast extract (autolyzed is code for MSG), carrot powder- (why?), turmeric], flour [bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid] (refined flour-ugh, full of synthetic vitamins/minerals to make up for the refining process- it doesn’t!), butter [cream, salt] (at least it’s not margarine), seasoning [salt, spices,(could mean anything- MSG anyone?) extractives of paprika], soybean oil (horrible for you and full of GMOs), mustard [water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, white wine, fruit pectin, citric acid, tartaric acid, sugar (in mustard?), spice (too many ingredients here, and not from quality sources)], pepper sauce [vinegar, red pepper, salt]) (this is a weird ingredient, but probably not the worst thing in the soup!).

Needless to say, it’s no mystery why I felt like crap after eating this toxic swill. And is this unique to this one restaurant, and this one soup? NO! Anytime you are eating out, if it’s not a farm-to-table place that makes everything from scratch and you can ask what every ingredient is, it’s probably very similar to this junk- processed, industrial stuff that is made to be sold cheaply and microwaved just for you by some company that couldn’t give a flip about your health.

Was broccoli cheese soup born in a lab or a commercial food industry kitchen? No! It was born in a home kitchen, I’m sure, and made with ingredients you can pronounce, recognize and use in your own kitchen without a chemist’s license. Perhaps your grandmother used to make it for you. That’s real food. So, let’s go back to REAL broccoli cheese soup.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
by Amy Love, Real Food Whole Health

8 TBL butter (from grassfed cows)
1 organic onion, diced
2 organic carrots, diced
2 ribs organic celery, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed, diced
8 cups of organic broccoli, florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(4-5 stalks)
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ tsp white pepper
2 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock/broth
1 cup dry white wine (or additional cup stock)
1 cup of raw cream or crème fraiche (from grass-fed cows)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups extra sharp grass fed cheddar


Add the butter to a large stock pot over medium high heat until melted.  Add onions, carrots and celery and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add broccoli and stir to coat well with butter. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, pepper and white pepper. Add broth and optional wine. Turn up the heat, bring to a low boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook covered (with lid on) until broccoli pieces are soft, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat. With an immersion/stick blender, puree soup to desired consistency, or process in a regular blender, in batches, taking care not to burn yourself. Return to pot, off heat, stir in cream, dijon, nutmeg and cheese. Stir to combine and melt cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. If soup needs to be reheated, reheat slowly and do not allow it to come to a boil. Serve immediately.

On GAPS? If you use creme fraiche and cheddar cheese, this soup is GAPS friendly, as long as you tolerate dairy. Double check the ingredients on your dijon mustard to make sure it’s GAPS legal, or simply omit.

Vegetarian? Just sub veggie broth for the chicken broth.




lydia October 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm

It’s always so eye-opening when we actually read the labels. Too bad you can’t do that at a restaurant – you just assume it’s made in house, nuh uh!

Love how you broke it down in laymen’s terms – I just did that tonight in my boyfriend’s cupboards and I only touched 4 items and I just couldn’t bear to look anymore, lol!

WAKE UP AMERICA YOU HAVE BEEN DUPED – read your labels and question what it is you are really eating!


Amy October 20, 2011 at 10:41 am

Hey Lydia! It is, isn’t it? That’s why I never blindly walk into a restaurant. If we’re eating out, I’ve vetted the place well in advance. I generally start by checking out their website and reading the menu and any nutrition/ingredient lists I can find- this is generally only at chain restaurants and the only one we ever go near is Chipotle. Even then I am VERY careful what I order. Then if I still think the place has a chance, I’ll call and speak with either the manager or chef and find out where everything is sourced, what oils they use, spices/seasonings and ask about gluten, veggie oil and soy free options. Then, if all that is satisfactory, we’ll eat there. And when we find a place we like that accommodates, you’d better believe they get a lot of my business. We tell everyone we know, we hold WAPF chapter outings there, and we try to visit when we can!


Coral October 20, 2011 at 2:10 am

Well when you break it down like that…………….! Broke my Panera love right there. Question…my understanding is that if the product is organic it cannot have GMO’s or processed MSG in it BUT I have some organic Better Than Bouillon (that I almost never use) that says “natural flavor” as one of the ingredients, is it GMO? I worked hard to find MSG, GMO free bouillon too!


Amy October 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

Right now, organic does mean no-GMOs. I believe no MSG can specifically be added (and it’s also usually GMO), but I am not certain about those “code names” like autolyzed or hydrolyzed stuff. Natural flavors generally is a masking term that allows the company to use whatever they want that loosely falls into the “natural” category.

Remember that “natural” means nothing- it’s just a marketing term- and HFCS and feedlot meats are marketed as “natural”. You can call the company and ask questions about what is in their products. They don’t have to tell you- it’s “trade secrets”. If you ask if there is MSG, they can say NO if they did not add “MSG” specifically, but if they used one of the code names (like autolyzed/hydrolyzed stuff) then they can still say it has no MSG when it really does!! Tricky, tricky.

I wrote a bit more about this on our Chipotle vs Moe’s article because Moe’s says (in all their marketing material) that they use No MSG, but in fact when you look at ingredients, there is hydrolyzed/autolyzed proteins, which is MSG!

I pulled up the ingredients for the Organic Better than Bouillon. “Organic chicken meat and natural juices, salt, organic cane sugar, organic maltodextrin, natural flavor, organic dried onion, organic potato starch, organic dried garlic, organic turmeric, organic spice extractives.” It’s certainly not GAPS friendly and I wouldn’t call it a health food. It’s better than many other chicken bases on the market, but nowhere near homemade. We actually used it for a time a few years ago, but once I started reading ingredient labels, I threw it out. So bottom line, the Organic Better than Bouillon might not contain GMOs or MSG (still not sure on this), BUT homemade chicken stock would be SO much better, and without starches, sugar, refined salt and maltodextrin,.


Diann October 22, 2011 at 7:46 pm

It is just so amazing what reading labels will do. I lost 35 pounds to date just from prepping my own lunches to take to work (well, and ditching a potato chip jones…) — few starches, no added sugars, semi-Primal, farmers’ markets, it really makes a difference. I know what’s in the food I make, and weight change or no, I feel tons better for it. I don’t personally have a problem with gluten (I checked), but it comes down to: Real food is Real good.

You are correct, the term “natural” has no meaning. Anyone can use the term; it is not a legally-defined word.

Organic cannot contain GMO’s, at least known GMO’s… I fear, though, that Monsanto is getting everywhere.


Amy October 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Hi Diann! Thanks for sharing your story, it does make SUCH a difference! And you are right about Monsanto…it’s hard to keep them out of our food for sure!


Debbie @ Easy Natural Food October 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

That ingredient list is so gross! I used to eat at Panera too….a long time ago fortunately. I’m hosting a weekly blog carnival specifically for soups, stocks and chowders, every Sunday. I would love it if you would come over and post this recipe. Here’s a link with more info.

I hope to see you there!


Amy October 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

It is disgusting, isn’t it?? It’s a shame they can’t just make REAL FOOD! Thanks for the invite, Debbie, I’d love to check out Sunday Soup Night! :)


Lil January 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I visited Panera yesterday, thinking I would be making a healthier choice, since I avoid fast food chains. I had a bowl of broccoli cheese soup. The moment I walked out the door, I started developing a headache that got worse as the hours went by, even after taking an ibuprophen. I rarely ever get headaches. This was more than a head ache. I generally felt ill. I felt that not only my head was under pressure, but my whole body. I had a slight feeling of nausea and had to lay down for a couple hours. After this experience, which was so abnormal for me, I decided to check on the ingredients of their soup. I am very disappointed in Panera, and thought they were a better alternative. I will never go back.


Bethany February 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I love that when I searched “real food cream of broccoli soup” you were like 5th in the search options… :-) Going to use this recipe later this week. Thanks as always for your awesomeness !


Leslie March 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Hello! I have a few questions on this recipe.
1st, it says serve immediately… can this soup not be kept in a slow cooker or on a warm setting? (I am making ahead for a party)

2nd, how is the consistency of the soup? I know startches usually thicken the soup (liked this recipe because its GAPS friendly) but am curious of which ingredients make it thick?



Amy March 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Hi Leslie!

You can keep the soup WARM- just don’t let it boil. We often have leftovers and reheat it slowly without issue. Just make sure to stir it occasionally.

It’s moderately thick due to the cheese and cream. You can buzz it with an immersion blender, chopping up more of the broccoli, or add more broccoli (and then blend most of it) if you like it thicker. Typically, you would thicken it with butter/flour or potatoes, but to keep it GAPS friendly, that’s not an option…we feel like it is definitely a pleasing consistency!

Thanks for your comments! :)


Jennifer September 7, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Just made this for dinner tonight, YUM! Even my kids ate it. Cut up some turkey breast and made it a one-pot meal.


Amy September 25, 2013 at 10:38 am

Fabulous- it’s one of my favs. The turkey sounds like a great addition!


Callifax January 21, 2014 at 5:50 pm

This has become my go-to broccoli cheddar soup. I’ve probably made it a half dozen times and it’s always a huge hit. Thanks for sharing! :)


Amy January 22, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Awesome- so glad you like it! We love it, too…just made it a few days ago for lunch- yum! :)


Pam March 4, 2014 at 10:10 pm

It is sad and shocking but one of the things that Americans should know by now is that any chain restaurant uses highly processed mixes and “flavor bases” to make their food. Everything is made in a factory, boxed and shipped to each store. This is how a chain restaurant ensures consistent results – they are using the corporate equivalent of hamburger helper to make every meal.
If you want something that is real food, for example, a cheesy vegetable soup you must make it yourself, or, go to a local non-chain restaurant and ask the chef for real food.


Amy March 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Yes, it’s true…the chain restaurants ARE using an equivalent of Hamburger Helper (love this analogy!) Make your own or eat at real food restaurants!


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