When my kids don’t feel well, one of the only things they will eat is chicken soup – my homemade chicken soup.
But do they want the soup because it represents a strong comfort food they have known all of their lives, or is there something more?
The answer is yes, and the old wives’ tale is right. Chicken soup really is good for you.
Dr. Stephen Rennard and his team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha conducted a series of tests to study the health benefits of chicken soup.
“Everyone’s heard this from their mother and grandmother in many cultures,” Rennard said. “We found chicken soup might have some anti-inflammatory value.”
After examining blood samples from study volunteers, the researchers found that homemade chicken soup reduced the movement of a type of white blood cells, called neutrophils, which help defend against infection. By inhibiting movement of these cells in the body, chicken soup can help reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms, Rennard theorized.
“Researchers suspect the reduction in movement of neutrophils may reduce activity in the upper respiratory tract that can cause symptoms associated with a cold,” the University of Nebraska said in a press release.
The study used a soup made by Rennard’s wife, Barbara. (The recipe is below.) But is also compared results of the homemade soup with several commercial brands of chicken soup and found similar results. The brands tested included Progresso chicken noodle, Knorr chicken noodle, Campbell’s Home Cookin’ chicken vegetable, Lipton Cup-a-Soup chicken noodle and Campbell’s Healthy Request chicken noodle.
Although they were not able to pinpoint exactly what ingredients made the soup so effective against cold symptoms, the research suggested that it is the combination of chicken and vegetables that does the trick.
An earlier study conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai in Miami found that consuming chicken soup helped sick study volunteers to breath better and to have less mucus. The 1978 report, which, like the 2000 Rennard study was published in the medical journal Chest, found that chicken soup boosts the function of cilia — the microscopic hair-like projections that help prevent germs from entering the body.
Given the nickname “Jewish penicillin,” chicken soup has been a mainstay for generations of mothers and grandmothers from many cultures who seek to comfort their families.
Some scientists theorize that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties and that the soup provides the fluids needed to flush out viral infections in the upper respiratory tract.
Staying well-hydrated is a key part of recovering from a cold or the flu. Research suggests then chicken soup may provide better hydration than either water or commercial electrolyte drinks. Here are other reasons chicken soup heals:
- Chicken soup usually contains salt, which in a broth can help soothe your throat much in the same way that gargling with warm salt water can.
- The soup’s warm liquid can help clear the sinuses with its steam.
- Chicken provides lean protein to give your body strength when you are sick.
- The vegetables in chicken soup can help heal the body. Carrots contain beta-carotene and celery contains vitamin C, both of which help boost the body’s immune system and help fight infection. Onions help reduce inflammation and can act as an anti-histamine.
Convinced? Here is the recipe for the soup used in the study:
- 1 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 1 and a half hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates.
- Add the parsley and celery. Cook the mixture about 45 min. 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.)
Matzo balls were prepared according to the recipe on the back of the box of matzo meal (Manischewitz).
What is your favorite chicken soup recipe? Do you eat chicken soup when you are sick? Share your thoughts in the section below: