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. Preesi says:

    OMG i cant believe you totally dont get what makes chicken soup "Jewish Penicillin"
    Its not the bones or vitamins and minerals!
    Garlic has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Most chicken soups have a whole head of garlic in them plus onions which are also chock full of ALLICIN
    Allicin is the key germ fighter in all Alliums (garlic, onions, shallots etc)
    Im baffled that none of you know this

    • Piya says:

      you are so correct plus the celery is a diuretic and sage is an expectorant as well as an astringent so this is why it's cold fighting properties are trulely a wonder and cure for the common cold its just that we want a cold to ebd so as we get it but fact remains a germ is in the body 3 to 4 days by the time our bodies give us the symptoms which is the sneezing and coughing its our bodies way of trying to expel the invading germ so hats off to you PREESI for knowing that chicken soup is a true cure.

      • piya says:

        dorry that ebd should be end typos gotta love em lol and that shouldve went as soon as we get it in this fast paced world we want everything in seconds besides taking lots of over the counter meds aren't good for us we must learn to strengthen our immune systems not to trough religion at anyone who doesn't believe put our creator made our bodies to heal naturally with herbs and vegetables but we stress and add toxins so we make it harder for the body to heal.

  2. Greg says:

    I had heard that chicken soup has cysteine in it and that helps break up the mucus. That allows the body to clear all that out and return to health. If you check centrum cold formula, you'll see it loudly proclaims that it contains cysteine. Some coincidence, probably not. The story I was told was that a bunch of good Jewish doctors at Sinai medical got curious and ran tests to figure this out. True????? Like all these other people, I've seen it work too many times.

  3. I loved the article and it clears up an old myth in my opinion.

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  5. Jeremy says:

    "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?"

    The final two lines of the article completely summed it up to me: As a contributor, you really have no opinion either way, and I suspect someone is simply looking for a paycheck from the sponsors. I don't know either, but Wow. :(

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