For many people, chicken noodle soup is a traditional staple in times of illness. Maybe you remember a parent serving you a steaming bowl of this soup when you had a cold or flu. But is chicken noodle soup really good for a cold? What is it about this soup that makes it so comforting when you’re sick? And how can you make it even healthier and more soothing?
Chicken Noodle Soup May Bring Back Comforting Memories
The curative effects of chicken noodle soup are partly psychological, especially if you remember a loved one making it for you when you were young. These memories of care, warmth and coziness can actually have a placebo effect that makes you feel better. So, while other soups and foods can be just as nourishing, it’s often the cultural associations between chicken noodle soup and comfort that make you feel better.
And if your family had a different sick-day tradition, or your culture associates a different soup or food with healing an illness, you may feel these same effects with that food.
How Can Chicken Noodle Soup Soothe a Cold?
When you’re sick, you need lots of fluids and healthy foods to keep your energy up and help you fight off the illness. And the ingredients that go into traditional chicken noodle soup can help you stay hydrated and provide the energy your body needs.
- Chicken is full of protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s also a source of tryptophan, which your body uses to make vitamin B3 and serotonin. Vitamin B3 helps your body turn food into energy, and serotonin lifts your mood and creates a feeling of comfort. Chicken also has zinc, a mineral that supports the immune system, and carnosine, an amino acid that reduces inflammation and congestion.
- Noodles are the main source of carbohydrates in chicken noodle soup — and carbs are a key source of energy. The carbs in chicken noodle soup can help you feel less run down while you’re fighting off a cold or flu.
- Salt and spices are essential to the comforting powers of chicken noodle soup. Salt and spices are strong flavors that can break through the loss of taste that sometimes happens when you’re sick — and that can help you eat more. Strong spices like black pepper or cayenne can also help clear your sinuses and make it easier to breathe.
- Vegetables like carrots, celery, parsley, garlic and onions are all great sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — which are essential to a healthy immune system. No matter what kinds of veggies you use, they’ll add great health benefits to your soup.
- Broth is traditionally made by boiling the entire chicken. Boiling the bones releases glucosamine and gelatin, which can help protect the lining of the digestive tract and help you swallow more easily. Breathing in steam from the hot broth can also help open airways and ease swelling and discomfort in your throat and sinuses. Clear liquids like broth are also a great way to stay hydrated when you’re sick.
Choose Healthy Ingredients to Give Your Chicken Noodle Soup a Boost
It’s easy to adapt chicken noodle soup to meet your healthy eating goals. For example:
- If you’re trying to cut down on saturated fat, opt for skinless white chicken breast meat instead of dark thigh meat or pre-cooked rotisserie chicken.
- If you’re trying to avoid simple carbs, choose a whole-grain pasta for the noodles. More complex carbs will digest slower and make you feel fuller for longer.
- If you’re trying to cut down on sodium, check the label on pre-made chicken stock or broth and choose one that’s lower in sodium. Or make your own broth at home!
Adding other ingredients to chicken noodle soup can also make it more nourishing and effective at relieving your symptoms.
- Add leafy greens like kale, spinach or dark green cabbage for an extra dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- Try using ginger or hot peppers to help unblock your airways.
- Squeeze in some lemon juice for a boost of vitamin C.
- Add beaten eggs to the broth for another serving of protein.
Remember, chicken noodle soup won’t cure a cold (or any other virus). If your symptoms don’t go away, see your doctor. But a hearty bowl of soup can give you the nourishment you need to fight an illness, and help to relieve your symptoms. And if you don’t like chicken noodle soup, try another kind! You can get many of the same benefits from other soups made with veggies, proteins, spices and comforting broth.