Tradition has it, at least for non-vegetarians, that a chicken noodle soup is a real tonic for the immune system. But what if you’re vegetarian or just fancy a meat-free alternative?
We were contacted by a member, Sue, who had spotted a lack of a truly nourishing veggie soup. Sue had asked whether there was a good vegetarian alternative recipe they could try, full of nutritious ingredients. And so, seeking to remedy this lack of remedy – with the help of our research department – we took to the Vegetarian Society Cookery School’s kitchen to start experimenting.
We used ingredients previously scientifically tested in a study of noodle soup, which showed that many of these vegetables and herbs were effective in reducing inflammation associated with having a cold.
Here’s the science behind the delicious vegetarian alternative we came up with.
Tradition Meets Science
The tradition of chicken noodle soup goes back generations. As far back as the twelth century, the Egyptian Jewish physician Maimonides recommended it for chest infectionsi. The scientific research on the other hand, into the effectiveness of the soup, started around 40 years ago with some detailed experiments conducted by researchers at Nebraska University.
When we came to put together our vegetarian alternative recipe, we teamed up with a registered dietitian to see what we could learn from this research. We found the science has potentially quite a bit to say about which vegetarian ingredients should be included. But just how could the ingredients in a soup work to reduce the symptoms of a cold and make you feel better?
Anatomy of a Cold
Having a cold means a miserable combination of sore throat, sneezing, a stuffy nose or sometimes an endless reach for the tissues. These symptoms are all caused by our immune system going into overdrive as it receives non-stop chemical signals that a virus is on board. In response, the immune system releases white blood cells called ‘neutrophils’ to fight the infection. These neutrophils travel to the lining of our nose and throat and this influx of blood and immune cells causes inflammation, discomfort and the need for tissues.
Nebraska University Breakthrough
In 1978, when the scientists at Nebraska University set out to study the effects of chicken noodle soup using a time-honoured folk recipeii, they were interested in how the human immune system might react to components of the soup. Under laboratory conditions it was found the soup reduced the level of chemically stimulated activation or ‘chemotaxis’ between virus and neutrophils. This led the scientists to put forward the theory that, when eaten, the chicken noodle soup could likewise control the symptomatic effects of a cold.
Chicken or Vegetables?
During their experiments the Nebraska University team observed that ingredients in the soup developed a predictable potency. Having tested the chicken component they also went on to test each vegetable and herb ingredient in turn and found that, as with the chicken, each vegetable and herb portion of the soup had the effect of lowering the neutrophil activity in the laboratory.
Figure 1 (pictured left) shows how each vegetable and herb component had a comparable effect on the immune system neutrophils as measured by the rate of chemical stimulation or ‘chemotaxis’. [note: ‘turnip’ in the United States is the vegetable known as swede in the UK.]
Since the Nebraska publication, other studies have shown it’s not just the neutrophil lowering effect of hot noodle soup that’s important when you have a cold. It’s been found that simply sipping a hot liquid such as soup, has a positive effect on the lining of the noseiii and improves the function of the fine hairs or ‘cilia’ that protect the body from invading bacteria and virusesiv. A hot noodle soup is, of course, also a good source of hydration and vitamins but not only that, the little bit of carbohydrate in the noodles serves to release serotonin (the ‘happy hormone’) in the body which, when we’re laid low with a cold, make us feel relaxed and comfortedv.
A Vegetarian Noodle Soup Recipe
When we came to develop the recipe, we were interested in the science because we wanted to pick out the ingredients that would make for the tastiest and most effective combination for our vegetarian version. We’ve included all the ingredients from the Nebraska study (minus the chicken of course!) and added a couple more to create a really balanced fuller flavour.
If you don’t have all these ingredients to hand, don’t worry you can still make a tasty broth, and as is always the case with soup, you can add in your own ingredients to taste.
i 1 Rosner F. Therapeutic efficacy of chicken soup. Chest 1980; 78:672–674
2 Rosner F. The medical writings of Moses Maimonides. NY State J Med 1973; 73:2185–2190
3 Rosner F, Muntner S. The medical aphorisms of Moses Maimonides. New York, NY: Bloch Publishing for Yeshiva
University Press, 1973
4 Muntner S. The medical writings of Moses Maimonides: treatise on asthma (vol 115). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1963; 18–20, 42, 68
ii Rennard BA, Ertle RD, Gossman GL, et al: Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest 2000; 118 (10): 1150-1155.
iii Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA: Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on mucous velocity
and nasal airflow resistance. Chest 1978;10:408-410.
iv Grossan MD: Chicken soup for allergies and asthma. Cope Asth Allerg 1998;11(45).
v Nurse Pract. 2003 Jun;28(6):16.Chicken soup cure may not be a myth. Hopkins AB.
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