Nutrition Myths Debunked: Does Chicken Soup Cure a Cold?

Chicken soup has been touted as a cure for the common cold for centuries. But is chicken soup really a miracle cure-in-a-bowl, or is that just a myth?

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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