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Chicken soup: Comfort your soul, nourish your body

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 12:33 p.m. CDT

We are all familiar with the comfort chicken soup provides our soul. You might have read one of the many “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. And just thinking about Mom’s chicken soup, whether lovingly poured from a can or simmered for hours on the stove, will conjure up feelings of love.

Now, science has shown there are some surprising ways chicken soup nourishes your body (not to take anything away from Mom).

The most widely cited study was published back in 2000 when a researcher from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha used his wife’s homemade chicken soup recipe to determine why chicken soup might help colds. Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection, which helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms. Other researchers at Mt. Sinai in Miami found that chicken soup did a better job than other hot liquids to help clear nasal mucus and nasal passages. None of the research can be called conclusive, but many of us have proven the chicken soup theory in the kitchens of our own homes, where it really counts anyway.

Studies also have been done on the effect of soup and weight loss. A study at Penn State found that eating soup before a meal can suppress hunger. Researchers gave women a 270-calorie first course before lunch. Some got chicken and rice casserole, others the casserole plus 10 ounces of water. A third group received chicken and rice soup made from casserole ingredients plus the water. The soup eaters took in about 100 calories fewer at the meal — and they didn’t eat more at dinner. The study found that the hunger-suppressing benefits of soup last a full two hours. Something to think about before attending your next holiday dinner.

Most recently, researchers at Iowa State University showed how hydration after exercise can be “mmm-mmm” good. In a study conducted in the Exercise Biochemistry department, chicken soup proved to be the best choice for rehydration following exercise. Subjects rehydrated with chicken noodle soup showed improved recovery times compared to those who rehydrated with water or a sports drink. Researchers conclude this is due to the sodium and carbohydrate content of the soup, both of which promote intestinal water absorption following exercise.  

Another study from the American College of Sports Medicine found that eating chicken noodle soup before exercise may be even more beneficial at improving fluid balance than commercial sports drinks or plain water. 

What wonderful news that something as simple as old-fashioned chicken soup can actually be more effective at keeping us hydrated, healthy and leaner than expensive sports drinks, bottled vitamins and diet pills!

Chicken Mushroom

Barley Soup

6 servings (1 ¼ cup each)

• 2 cups cooked diced chicken

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• 2 cups finely chopped onion

• 8 oz. sliced fresh mushrooms

• 1 cup sliced carrots

• 2 (13 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken broth

• ½ cup quick cook barley

• ½ tsp. dried thyme

• 2 cups water

In Dutch oven, heat oil. Sauté garlic, onions and mushrooms until tender. Add chicken, carrots, chicken broth, water, barley and thyme. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until barley is tender. 

Calories: 160, fat: 2g, sat. fat: 0, carbohydrates: 15g, fiber: 4g, sodium: 340mg.

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