Unveiling the Therapeutic Qualities of Chicken Soup: The Science Behind This Timeless Comfort Food

by Amir Hussein
Chicken Soup's Healing Benefits

Chicken soup, renowned for its ability to alleviate colds and flu, owes its effectiveness to the umami flavor that stimulates appetite and facilitates nutrient absorption. Particularly in homemade renditions, its ingredients possess anti-inflammatory properties and offer relief from respiratory symptoms, transcending its reputation as mere comfort food.

Chicken soup, a traditional remedy for colds and flu, can trace its origins back to ancient medicinal traditions. Does it genuinely alleviate illness? A nutrition specialist delves into the science underpinning this beloved comfort dish.

The act of preparing chicken soup for an ailing loved one has been a global practice spanning centuries. Across diverse cultures, generations attest to the therapeutic benefits of chicken soup. While the American version typically incorporates noodles, various cultures prepare their own renditions of this soothing remedy.

The therapeutic use of chicken soup can be traced back to 60 A.D., credited to Pedanius Dioscorides, a Roman army surgeon whose five-volume medical encyclopedia influenced early healers for over a millennium. However, the roots of chicken soup extend thousands of years further back to ancient China.

A typical bowl of chicken soup comprises protein, vegetables, and a soothing broth.

In light of the prevailing cold and flu season, it’s pertinent to inquire: Is there scientific merit to the belief in its healing properties, or is chicken soup primarily a comforting placebo, providing psychological solace during illness without genuine therapeutic benefits?

As a registered dietitian and professor of dietetics and nutrition, I acknowledge the appeal of chicken soup—its warm broth and the savory amalgamation of chicken, vegetables, and noodles. What imparts the soup’s distinct flavor is “umami,” the fifth taste sensation alongside sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, often described as having a “meaty” quality.

This emphasis on taste is grounded in science, as amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, include glutamate, a prominent component in foods with umami flavor. Notably, not all umami-rich foods are meat or poultry; cheese, mushrooms, miso, and soy sauce also exhibit this taste.

Studies reveal that taste plays a critical role in the therapeutic attributes of chicken soup. When attending to patients with upper respiratory illnesses, it is apparent that many experience reduced appetite or even complete loss of appetite. Acute illnesses trigger an inflammatory response that can suppress one’s appetite. A diminished appetite translates to inadequate nutrition, a suboptimal condition for immune health and recovery from illness.

However, evidence suggests that the umami taste in chicken soup can stimulate a larger appetite. Participants in a study reported increased hunger after consuming soup infused with umami flavor.

Furthermore, research indicates that umami may enhance nutrient absorption by preparing our digestive tracts to assimilate protein more effectively once umami is detected by our taste receptors.

This adjustment can alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms, commonly experienced during periods of illness. Although upper respiratory infections aren’t typically associated with gastrointestinal issues, research involving children has revealed that the flu virus can exacerbate abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Numerous approaches exist to craft chicken soup.

Potential for Reducing Inflammation and Alleviating Nasal Congestion

Inflammation is an inherent response of the body to injury or illness, involving the migration of white blood cells to inflamed tissue to aid in healing. In the upper airways, this inflammatory process manifests as typical cold and flu symptoms, including nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, and thickened mucus.

Conversely, a reduction in white blood cell activity within nasal passages can mitigate inflammation. Intriguingly, research demonstrates that chicken soup can indeed decrease the number of white blood cells traveling to inflamed tissue by inhibiting the ability of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, to reach the inflamed area.

Key Ingredients

To grasp the soothing and healing qualities of chicken soup, it is essential to consider its constituent ingredients. Not all chicken soups offer the same nutritious properties. Canned, highly processed versions, whether with or without noodles, lack the antioxidants present in homemade counterparts. Most canned chicken soups are deficient in substantial vegetables.

The core nutrients found in homemade versions distinguish them from nutrient-poor canned options. Chicken supplies a comprehensive source of protein to combat infection, while vegetables provide an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If prepared in the American style, noodles serve as a digestible source of carbohydrates, offering energy and support for recovery.

Even the warmth of chicken soup holds therapeutic potential. Consuming the liquid and inhaling its vapors elevates the temperature of nasal and respiratory passages, facilitating the loosening of thick mucus frequently associated with respiratory illnesses. Studies indicate that chicken soup is more effective at mucus clearance compared to hot water alone.

Additionally, herbs and spices commonly employed in chicken soup, such as pepper and garlic, contribute to mucus thinning. The broth, containing water and electrolytes, aids in rehydration.

In conclusion, recent scientific findings affirm that while chicken soup may not be a definitive cure for colds and flu, it indeed aids in the healing process. It appears that Grandma’s wisdom was well-founded.

Authored by Colby Teeman, Assistant Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, University of Dayton.

Adapted from an article originally published in The Conversation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chicken Soup’s Healing Benefits

Q: Is chicken soup really effective in treating colds and flu?

A: Yes, chicken soup has therapeutic properties. Its umami flavor stimulates appetite and aids nutrient absorption, while its ingredients can reduce inflammation and alleviate respiratory symptoms.

Q: What is the science behind the umami taste in chicken soup?

A: Umami, the fifth taste sensation, comes from amino acids like glutamate found in umami-rich foods. It enhances the flavor of chicken soup and may stimulate appetite.

Q: How does chicken soup help with appetite during illness?

A: Chicken soup’s umami taste can increase appetite, which is crucial because illness often reduces the desire to eat, leading to potential nutritional deficiencies.

Q: Can chicken soup improve nutrient digestion?

A: Yes, umami taste in chicken soup can prepare the digestive tract to absorb protein more efficiently, potentially reducing gastrointestinal symptoms during illness.

Q: Does chicken soup have anti-inflammatory properties?

A: Chicken soup can lower white blood cell activity in the nasal passages, reducing inflammation associated with upper respiratory infections like colds and flu.

Q: What ingredients make homemade chicken soup more nutritious than canned versions?

A: Homemade chicken soup contains essential nutrients from chicken, vegetables, and noodles, while canned versions often lack antioxidants and hearty vegetables.

Q: How does chicken soup help with nasal congestion and mucus?

A: The warmth of chicken soup raises the temperature of respiratory passages, loosening thick mucus. Herbs and spices in the soup also contribute to mucus thinning.

Q: What is the recommended approach for maximizing the health benefits of chicken soup?

A: To maximize benefits, opt for homemade chicken soup with a variety of ingredients, including carrots, celery, fresh garlic, herbs, and spices, or choose soups with diverse vegetables over highly processed canned versions.

More about Chicken Soup’s Healing Benefits

  • “The Conversation” (Original Article): [Link](insert link here)
  • “Umami: The Fifth Taste” (Scientific Explanation): [Link](insert link here)
  • “Effects of Umami on Appetite” (Research Study): [Link](insert link here)
  • “Chicken Soup and Immune Health” (Study on White Blood Cell Activity): [Link](insert link here)
  • “Nutritional Benefits of Homemade Chicken Soup” (Nutritional Analysis): [Link](insert link here)

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SoupLover87 November 19, 2023 - 6:46 pm

this article makes me hungry for some good homemade chicken soup. yum!

GrammarPolice November 19, 2023 - 7:54 pm

Some grammar errors here and there, but overall, informative and useful info on chicken soup’s benefits.

Reader123 November 19, 2023 - 9:09 pm

wow! chicken soup helps with sick? who knew! very intresting article

HealthNut2020 November 20, 2023 - 6:20 am

thx for explaining how umami works, now i get why chicken soup tastes so good!

FluFighter55 November 20, 2023 - 11:20 am

never knew chicken soup could help with inflammation, gonna have more of it next time i’m sick.


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