Why Soup?

Friday’s post about sinuses, and my conversations with coworkers about soup preferences when sick got me thinking. Why soup?

When I’m sick, I tend to want chicken soup, even if it is such a cliche. When I’m stuffed up and can barely breathe, I want spicy soup, so my sinuses can be flushed out and I might get a breath of air. I’m not alone – we all seem to have our favorites when we’re under the weather. Whether it’s chili, hot and sour soup, my personal favorite Thom Kha Gai, or the classic meat broth, we all seem to crave that salty warm goodness.

There is something to the theory that sipping soup will help our heads on a stuffy day. As a matter of fact, this epicly named paper was written after a study of just that: Effects of Drinking Hot Water, Cold Water, and Chicken Soup on Nasal Mucus Velocity and Nasal Airflow Resistance. It might be the warmth loosening things up, but there does seem to be more to it. “Hot chicken soup, either through the aroma sensed at the posterior nares or through a mechanism related to taste, appears to possess an additional substance for increasing nasal mucus velocity.”

Personally, I like to add a level of heat to the soup with the addition of spiciness, usually in the form of capsaicin. Either a hot soup like Tom Yum or Thom Kha, or Hot and Sour, or just a squirt of sriracha in my noodle soup.  Not only does this make my nose run, on sick days and regular ones, but it helps with the fever by flushing my skin through the dilation of small blood vessels. I find it really helps to get me breathing easier and feeling better.

Soup also helps with hydration, an important factor while sick. When you breathe through your mouth, you’re losing more moisture than breathing through the nose, plus all that snot you’re collecting in tissues is lost water. Hot tea and soup help replenish this, better than cold water (see study above) does. In addition, I’m sure you’ve noted that snot is salty (just from it running down the back of your throat, ew) and replacing that is important if you don’t want to wind up with unpleasant muscle cramps when you finally manage to get some sleep.

But we cannot live on soup alone! While I was looking for studies on soup’s efficaciousness, I found a case study on a person who, well, tried to use it as a cure-all and failed. “in which a previously healthy individual, having received an inadequate course of chicken soup in treatment of mild pneumococcal pneumonia, experienced a severe relapse, refractory to all medical treatment and eventually requiring thoracotomy. The pharmacology of chicken soup is reviewed and the dangers of abrupt termination of therapy are stressed.”

In other words, if you’re not getting better, see a doctor. Antibiotics trump chicken soup in a case of pneumonia. As for me, this was just a cold virus running amok, and I kept the bacteria down to a dull roar by drinking enough to keep my snot thin and running profusely to flush the little pathogens away from a danger zone. Soup helps with that.

And there’s just something about soup that is soothing when you’re sick. Takes you back to childhood and the comfort of mother and warm bed to curl up in.


7 responses to “Why Soup?”

  1. Yep, chicken soup. It’s a cliche because it works. I keep a couple cans of plain ol’ Campbells in the house for cold emergencies. I also put additional vitamin C into my diet when I have a cold – supplements and OJ. Kick the crap out of those germs, so I can get back to being normal again. (Or as normal as I ever am. LOL) I thought I was coming down with something on Friday night. I could not quit sneezing and blowing my nose. Must’ve been an allergy thing, though. It was gone by the next day.

    1. Glad you feel better! Mine has been hanging on for most of a week, but no fever today, so I have hope.

      And sometimes Campbell’s is just the thing. No fuss and bother, just hot and savory.

  2. I tend to have a certain amount of sinus year-round, whether sick or not, and find that I sometimes enjoy going for buffalo wings or buffalo chicken cutlets at the fast food places just because of the stimulation of sinus drainage. Always feels good to be able to breathe more.

  3. When the household was suffering from the mutant flu, those cans of Campbells chicken soups were the only thing we could keep down. Then I’d make Arroz Caldo – a big large pot! – to help ease delicate stomachs back to solids. When we started getting much better, we went and got KFC Zinger sandwiches, because we were craving spicy chicken.

    But even if it’s a cliche, it’s a delicious cliche!

    1. Chicken broth really does help, since it’s not likely to upset tummies. I can’t do beef broth if I’m nauseated, but the First Reader can, so I’m not sure if it’s an individual thing, or just him being odd. Which is quite possible.

  4. paladin3001 Avatar

    Neat little history of words. The word “restaurant” was originally used to describe restorative liquids like consommé and soups. The first named restaurant was in France in the late 18th century where the proprietor served all manners of bouillons and soups.
    Something I read years ago.

    1. That’s nifty. I know I don’t feel like cooking when I’m sick, so I can see how that would make a nice business in an era when everyone ate at home.