In a 12th-century treatise, the great medieval rabbi, physician, and philosopher Moses Maimonides recommended chicken soup for treating respiratory tract disorders and he may have been on to something. Today, science suggests that a warming bowl of chicken soup may not only provide good nutrition, it may even help relieve cold symptoms.
How chicken soup can help
Researchers from the Nebraska Medical Center tested a traditional chicken soup recipe, which was cooked and liquidized for the laboratory experiment. It was also tested at different preparation stages to determine the individual actions of its ingredients and how they might relieve cold symptoms.
The study, published in the journal Chest in 2000, showed that chicken soup components could inhibit the movement of immune system cells called neutrophils. It’s possible this could help suppress the body’s natural inflammatory response to an infection, including the streaming flow of mucus that normally accompanies a cold. Each of the ingredients showed a similar effect, suggesting that you could get the same impact from vegetable soup.
A 2012 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics noted that chicken is rich in a compound called carnosine. According to researchers, carnosine influences the body’s immune response and could further help fight off viruses. A variety of phytochemicals within the vegetables have medicinal properties, too. And, while simply drinking hot liquids is known to relieve congestion by loosening secretions, past research suggests that chicken soup does this much more effectively than mere hot water. (Not sure if you have a cold or the flu? Here’s how to find out.)
Get the most out of chicken soup
Here are the basics of the traditional recipe used, though other versions can work just as well, according to the Nebraska researchers who tested commercial brands as a comparison.
- 5 lbs. chicken
- 1 package chicken wings
- 3 large onions
- 1 large sweet potato
- 3 parsnips
- 2 turnips
- 12 large carrots
- 5 celery sticks
- Parsley, salt, and pepper to taste
Place the chicken in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Add all other vegetables except the celery and parsley and cook for 90 minutes. Add the celery and parsley, cook for another 45 minutes, then remove the chicken (which can be used in another dish). Chop the vegetables in a food processor; season soup to taste.
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Next, see if other classic remedies, like zinc, are also effective for cold symptom relief.