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How Should You Feed A Cold?

Can you see the love floating out of the bowl?” my husband asked our 12-year-old daughter as he brought her a steaming bowl of chicken soup.

“I’m kind of hungry. This is the best chicken soup ever,” she said as she propped herself up on our couch and took a sip of soup. She looked pale and kind of fragile wrapped in a fuzzy blanket.

My husband had just gotten over a fever, chills, sore throat and bad cough. I overheard my son sneeze five times consecutively. Illness was working its way through my family.

I was glad my daughter’s appetite was returning. I’d like to say I made the “best soup ever,” but the chicken soup came out of a can.

Most people struggle with a cold one or more times a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colds and flu share many symptoms. The flu is associated with more serious symptoms, including fever, aches and extreme fatigue. Colds usually are not linked with pneumonia and hospitalization.

Does chicken soup have any properties that help relieve cold symptoms or does it just act as a “vaporizer in a bowl?”

Chicken soup may have some special properties, according to a laboratory study published in 2000 by Stephen Rennard at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He put his wife’s homemade soup, as well as canned soups, to the test. The homemade soup included a variety of vegetables, including carrots, celery, parsley, onions and sweet potatoes.

When he and his research team diluted the soups and performed their lab tests, they found that homemade and canned chicken soup reduced the movement of white blood cells known as neutrophils. As a result of this effect on white blood cells, they theorized that homemade soup and canned soup might reduce inflammation and, therefore, some cold symptoms.

Because colds are so common, many hot beverages are used to help relieve sore throats and coughing. For example, many people use hot water with lemon and honey to soothe colds. Also consider these cold-and flu-prevention tips from the CDC:

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

In parts of China, ginger tea is used to relieve some symptoms during the beginning stages of a cold. To make ginger tea, add chopped, fresh ginger root to boiling water and let it steep a few minutes, then strain and sweeten with brown sugar or honey.

Few clinical studies have tested the effects of beverages on cold symptoms. A researcher in Wales reported that a hot fruit drink made with juice from apples and black currants might have promise. They provided the purple, vitamin C-rich beverage to 30 students with colds who had not taken any medication to relieve their symptoms.

The students reported that their sore throats and coughing were less severe within a half-hour of drinking the hot fruit beverage. However, when clinical breathing tests were done, there were no differences.

If you’re feeling ill, you might want to have some chicken soup and a hot beverage. It won’t hurt you, and it just might help hydrate and nourish your body. There may be psychological benefits if someone prepares it for you.

Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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