Make no bones about it – chicken soup is the nation’s go-to dish when we’re feeling blue - but is there more to this brothy tonic than its comforting connotations?
What do you reach for when your body succumbs to the winter sniffles? Our State of the Nation survey revealed the majority of us find sanctuary in the warming goodness of chicken soup – but why are boiled bones so restorative? With the help of nutritionist Jo Lewin, we discovered that the classic tonic delivers more than just a placebo high…
Prevention is better than cure
It may be worth giving yourself a dose of chicken soup as a preventative measure before the first twinge of a cold appears. A 1998 report from Coping with Allergies and Asthma found that broth may improve the function of cilia (the tiny hairs in our noses) that prevent contagions getting into the body.
Read more about how to prevent a cold.
Support your immune system
Why wait until you’ve been struck down with a circling lurgy? Bone broths feel so restorative and therapeutic because they’re packed with immune-supporting minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon and sulphur. What’s more, a warming bowl of chicken soup delivers these nutrients in a form that’s super easy for a poorly system to absorb.
Other key ingredients in a chicken soup include onions, garlic and additional vegetables that add flavour and a healthy dose of phytonutrients - vital for a well-functioning immune system. They can also help to reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn may help to ease the symptoms of a pesky cold.
At the first sign of sickness, your body will be working overtime to fight off infection, and this takes energy. Often we don’t feel like eating much when under the weather, but this is where the old adage, 'feed a cold' rings true. Chicken soup is a great source of healthy, easily digested calories, with heaps of added nutritional benefits.
Keeping our digestive system healthy is especially important when we’re sick so that our bodies are able to absorb all the infection-fighting vitamins and minerals it needs from the food we eat. Glucosamine is one of the main building blocks of our digestive system and is released from bones when they’re cooked down. As your broth cools, a layer of gelatine will congeal on the surface. This combination of gelatine and glucosamine can help protect and heal the lining of the digestive tract.
Discover more about how diet affects gut health.
Chicken is especially rich in a compound called carnosine, and it's this that studies suggest helps reduce that stuffy, congested feeling in your nose and throat. It's thought that carnosine minimises inflammation in the upper respiratory tract by stopping the migration of white blood cells. The benefit only lasts for as long as the soup remains in the body - so be sure to make up a big batch!
When cooking bones with joint tissue on them (like necks, knuckles, ribs or the leftover carcass from a roasted chicken) the joint tissue cooks down and dissolves into the broth. The gelatine, glucosamine and chondroitin contained within are released into the broth, absorbed by our bodies and used to repair and rebuild our own connective tissue while reducing inflammation, helping you to get back on your feet faster after a bout of illness.
The nostalgia factor
While the evidence stacks in favour of chicken soup being the ultimate cold remedy, don't underestimate the power of placebo. If your mum used to tuck you up with a bowl of boiling broth and promised it would make you feel all better, these associations probably still influence how you feel today. The placebo effect is a well-documented phenonemom, relating to the power of the mind over the body - if we expect to get better as a result of a medicinal or natural tonic, we often will feel that we are on the mend. The message? Think positive and eat up!
You’ve read the science, now it’s time to try some of our favourite chicken soup recipes.
This article was last reviewed on 9th November 2017 by Kerry Torrens.
A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.
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Do you have a different go-to cold remedy? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments below…