Lightened-Up New England Clam Chowder for a Low-Cal, High-Protein Dinner

A healthy clam chowder? A few smart swaps make it possible.

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One of the most popular regional soups in the United States is New England clam chowder. It has all the factors that make a great comfort food: a creamy mouthfeel, a rich broth, slurpability, and a good dose of salt.

Unfortunately, those factors don't exactly do favors for your health. The typical clam chowder is made with copious amounts of heavy cream, whole milk, and bacon, all of which are high in saturated fat. Having too much of this type of dietary fat can increase the risk of high LDL ("bad") cholesterol over time, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Cholesterol can harden in the arteries and increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. 

Eating a heart-healthy diet is especially important for people with type 2 diabetes, since diabetes is a major risk factor of heart disease. In fact, American adults with diabetes are up to four times more likely to die from a cardiovascular disease than adults without diabetes, according to AHA. Thankfully, good management of blood sugar can prevent complications of diabetes, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

How to Healthify Clam Chowder

Although the classic New England clam chowder might be high in saturated fat and sodium (two unfriendly nutrients for the heart), you can totally make a lightened-up clam chowder at home that *tastes* indulgent (but totally isn't). In this episode of “Diabetes Bites,” find out what clever swaps can healthify clam chowder without compromising on flavor and creaminess, according to Fiorella DiCarlo, RD, CDN, registered dietitian in New York City. 

This lighter take on clam chowder makes a few smart moves:

  • Swap half the potatoes with cauliflower. Although potatoes have some health benefits, cauliflower helps lower some of the calories and starch content of the soup.
  • Replace whole milk and cream with low-fat dairy options. This helps cut back on all the saturated fat found in traditional New England clam chowder. For a non-dairy option, try soy milk or oat milk.
  • Rethink the bacon. In this recipe, DiCarlo opts for turkey bacon, but you can also swap in a meatless bacon, such as shiitake bacon or coconut bacon
  • Hold the salt. Soup is one of the biggest sodium bombs in the American diet, and making your soup at home with fresh ingredients allows you to make flavorful soups that are low in sodium. (Here are tips for buying healthier soup in the store.)


This take on chowder is proof that healthy eating doesn't have to feel like a deprivational diet. By using healthier ingredients for some of your favorite foods, you're empowering yourself to improve your overall diet and manage your health.

  • 2 10 - ounce can whole baby clams, undrained
  • Water
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 slices turkey bacon, halved
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups small cauliflower florets (about 1-inch pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup coarsely shredded carrots
Drain clams, reserving liquid. Chop half of the clams; set chopped and whole clams aside. Add enough water to the reserved clam liquid to measure 1 1/2 cups; set clam liquid aside. Coat a large saucepan with cooking spray; heat saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon, onion, and celery to saucepan. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until onion is tender and bacon is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan; drain on paper towels. Chop bacon and set aside. Stir potatoes, cauliflower, thyme, pepper, and reserved clam liquid into onion mixture. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Transfer half of the potato mixture (about 2 cups) to a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Return to the remaining potato mixture in saucepan. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, half-and-half, and flour until smooth. Add all at once to potato mixture. Cook and stir just until boiling. Stir in chopped and whole clams and carrots. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Cook for 1 minute more. Sprinkle each serving with chopped bacon.

Nutrition Information

Recipe Serves: 6
Nutrition Information Based on a Single Serving
Calories 23311%
Fat 2gr3%
Cholesterol 44mg14%
Sodium 699mg30%
Carbohydrates 28gr21%
Fiber 3gr12%
Sugar 9gr18%
Protein 20gr39%

*Percent Daily Value are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Dietary Needs

Diabetes Diet
Diabetes Diet
Lower Cholesterol