Nutrition Myths Debunked: Does Chicken Soup Cure a Cold?

by in Healthy Tips, November 29, 2011
chicken soup
Can soup cure the sniffles?

Going as far back as the 12th century, Jewish scholars have touted the effectiveness of chicken soup for a variety of ailments, including the common cold. Even today, when you’re in bed with a cold, someone has either reminded you of its goodness or brought you a piping hot bowl. Are the wonders of chicken soup just cultural myths passed down from generation to generation, or can soup really cure a cold?

What’s In It?
Chicken soup is made from a stock or broth and a variety of veggies. In a stock, the chicken bones are cooked for a few hours. This gives enough time for minerals like zinc, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to seep into the liquid stock. These same minerals won’t be in a broth since a broth is typically made from the meat only. Don’t discount out the nutritional goodness of broth though,  it’s still brimming with minerals like selenium and phosphorus. Of course both soups and stocks are made from a variety of veggies like celery, onion, carrots, leeks, parsnips, or turnips —  all of their minerals seep into the liquid too.

Proposed Theories
There are numerous theories of how chicken soup helps ward off the sniffles. One study found that sipping on hot chicken soup helped clear stuffy noses, but the study found it was effective only for a few minutes and that it wasn’t any more effective than sipping on hot water.

A few scientific studies showed that zinc can help shorten the duration of a cold. However, you need to start taking more zinc within 24 hours from the first symptoms. Many of these studies were done with lozenges or zinc supplements, so it’s difficult to say if chicken soup has enough zinc to be effective.

Other theories claim that chicken soup helps keep you hydrated and soothes a sore throat. But a recent study from the University of Nebraska found that chicken soup may contain anti-inflammatory substances that could help alleviate a cold.

Chicken soup is also a comfort food typically given to children when they’re sick. A warming bowl of the soup may provide emotional and psychological well-being to both adults and kids.

Bottom Line: For centuries, chicken soup has been the go-to cold fighter. Although the evidence isn’t terribly strong, numerous studies show that chicken soup may help fight a cold. If you’re a believer, then who am I to dispel the myth of chicken soup?

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (51)

  1. Pamellion says:

    Mind over matter!

  2. Jeremy T says:

    Nothing is better for a hangover than hot chicken soup in the morning. Don't ask me how I know that. Let's just say chicken soup (not Ramen, but the real thing) saved me in college.

  3. Laura says:

    I swear by chicken matzo ball soup. It will cure anything.

  4. Mike says:

    My Mother was Hungarian – she called her chicken soup (that I now make) Hungarian Penicillin.

  5. Shellsbells says:

    Is chicken soup a cure all because the chickens have been given antibiotics? I've always wondered that.

  6. Rena Barlow says:

    I have had Chicken Soup for colds and flu for 74 years and it is still the greatest when you aren’t feeling up to par. My Grandma, My Great-grandmother, and my Mother and now me and my 5 daughters all think the same way. Horrah for Good ole Chicken Soup.

  7. joe says:

    Antibiotics don't cure colds, so even if they were somehow in the chicken soup, they wouldn't help a viral infection. Plus, the heating of the soup would probably deactivate the antibiotics.

  8. Jim says:

    An old Jewish friend used to say, about chicken soup, "It's theraputic value is in question, but it couldn't hurt".

  9. Elizabeth says:

    What I like about chicken soup when I am sick is how easy it is to eat, in generally includes all the food groups, is warm when you are chilled, adds fluids, and just plain tastes good. I make my own stock and will frequently use the water from when I cooked vegetables as the base of the stock so it is full of nutrients. It always makes me feel better, even if I have to make it from scratch.

  10. Mary says:

    Chicken soup has definitely helped me feel better when I have had colds. For some reason, when sick, not many foods "sound good" but chicken soup always sounds good while your appetite is run down. Therefore, it could be that the "sounding good" gets us to eat when our body is requiring those extra nutrients to help fight the illness. The soup (food) helps do that. I don't know, but I am a strong believer that it helps simply because it has helped me.

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