Chicken noodle soup is good for you when you’re sick. That’s the widespread consensus, the wisdom passed down by mothers and grandmothers for generations. Some claim that this is just an old wives’ tale, and that the soup is really just “comfort food.” But is that really true, or does chicken soup have some special health properties after all? Believe it or not, scientists have recently put this feel-good dish to the test and concluded that, once again, old wisdom holds true: chicken soup really is an effective home remedy for the common cold and flu.
Chicken soup’s reputation for curing the common cold goes back thousands of years, and this nourishing food is present in one form or another in just about every part of the world, from the traditional Jewish goldene yoich to Chinese QiguoJi. The earliest reference to chicken soup’s healing properties has been found in a 12th century book On the Cause of Symptoms by author Maimonides. He described chicken broth as a treatment for malnutrition, asthma, and even leprosy.
Most recently, a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. Stephen Rennard MD, began to study the effects of chicken soup after a conversation with his grandmother. His findings, reported in 1993, have since been cited in more than 1,200 publications.
What it does
Dr. Stephen Rennard found that chicken soup is a veritable “soup” of beneficial ingredients that can help alleviate common cold and flu symptoms, and even help the body fight off the infection itself.
The study began with a focus on possible anti-inflammatory properties present in chicken soup. His studies of white blood cell movement in particular showed that grandma’s chicken soup had the ability to inhibit that movement, which in turn would lead to decreased mucous production and reduced inflammation.
Besides boosting immune system function and helping with sickness symptoms, chicken broth has several other reported health benefits:
- Nutritious: A rich homemade chicken broth or soup is chock full of nutrients, including protein, calcium, and gelatin from boiled bones and vitamins and minerals from carrots and other vegetables. Chicken soup also provides electrolytes, which are especially valuable when the body is dehydrated from vomiting.
- Boosts liver function: The gelatin in chicken stock has numerous benefits, including providing the body with glycine, an amino acid that is critical for liver function and detoxification.
- Helps build bone and cartilage: The gelatin in chicken soup and chicken stock has also been reported to contribute to building healthy bones and joints, making it especially effective with the calcium that’s also present. Not long ago, this was common knowledge, but more recent statements by western doctors and publications have cast doubt on the early research. However, evidence to the contrary is still lacking.
- Improves digestion: Chicken stock’s gelatin content is also reported to increase digestibility, and may even help protect and restore the intestine lining.
How Does It Work?
Despite years of study, scientists have not managed to nail down exactly how chicken soup works the way it does. It has been made clear that gelatin and numerous amino acids may play a large role. In addition, the warm liquid of the broth may be partially responsible for relieving sinus pressure.
Some of chicken soup’s effectiveness certainly stems from the vegetables and spices that are added. Garlic, for example, is a popular remedy for respiratory ailments and helps boost the immune system. Ginger is another herbal remedy present in some soups that boasts anti-inflammatory and stomach-soothing properties. Carrots and onions offer antioxidants, while the chicken itself contains compounds that help loosen up mucous. Adding spices like green chile or other hot peppers can also offer some extra vitamin C and help relieve stuffy sinuses.
When combined, all these ingredients make up the perfect comfort food and cold-fighting remedy. There’s no doubt that chicken soup is very beneficial – even if scientists haven’t quite figured out all the details yet.
The Best Soup
As always, the best chicken broth or chicken soup is homemade. The stuff that comes in a can does not seem to have the same influenza-fighting properties as a fresh batch off the stove, which really isn’t all that surprising. Canned soup is much older, packaged in a dark airtight can, and is full of sodium and other preservatives. Best stick to the tried-and-true family recipe.
Chicken soup can contain a wide variety of different vegetables, including carrots, onions, parsnip, turnips sweet potato, celery and just about anything else you can think of. It seems like every family has their favorite combination, but below is a popular recipe made famous by Dr. Stephen Rennard, who used this exact family recipe in his study:
Grandma’s Chicken Soup
- 5- to 6-pound stewing hen or baking chicken
- 1 package of chicken wings
- 3 large onions
- 1 large sweet potato
- 3 parsnips
- 2 turnips
- 11 to 12 large carrots
- 5 to 6 celery stems
- 1 bunch of parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Clean the chicken, put it in a large pot and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to boil.
- Add the chicken wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, and carrots. Boil about one and a half hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates.
- Add the parsley and celery. Cook the mixture about 45 minutes longer.
- Remove the chicken. The chicken is not used further for the soup. (The meat makes excellent chicken parmesan.)
- Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. (Both were performed in the present study.)
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
(Note: This soup freezes well.)
Along with all its proven health benefits, chicken soup, especially if it’s made by mom or grandma, is just plain comforting. Next time you aren’t feeling well, don’t hesitate! Pour yourself a steaming bowl of chicken soup, and enjoy, now knowing for certain that it is every bit as healing as your grandmother claimed it to be.