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Whenever my husband is sick, he always opens a can of chicken noodle soup. His mom served it to him whenever he stayed home from school with a cold as a kid and he insists it soothes his aches and pains and helps clear his nose. He uses the same strategy with our two kids when they’re sick, and it seems to work.
“Chicken soup has value in that it’s a fluid, which helps you stay hydrated, and it has electrolytes in it, and these are good things for people who are sick,” says Daniel Flanders, a paediatrician in Toronto.
Chicken noodle soup has been used as a remedy for centuries, and there is some science to back up the feel-good factor. In a study published in the medical journal Chest in 2000, researchers found that the combination of certain ingredients, like vegetables and fats, had an anti-inflammatory effect that may help alleviate symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.
In another study published in Chest way back in 1978, researchers found that hot chicken soup increased the flow of mucus in the nasal passages better than hot water. While hot-water vapours do help relieve congestion, the study concluded that chicken soup had an additional mechanism that increased the benefit, either through the body’s reaction to the aroma or the taste.
While Flanders says there’s not enough conclusive evidence on the medical merits of chicken soup, he does believe that there is something about it that has a benefit to kids. “If it’s a part of the family culture and tradition to give soup to a kid who’s sick and it’s been done generation after generation, there’s no reason why you shouldn't give it, as it might have some healing aspect to it,” he says. Even if it’s just the placebo effect from telling your kids that grandma’s chicken noodle soup recipe will make them feel better.
If you do choose to serve a bowl of soup to your sick kid, be careful that it’s not so hot that it could burn their mouth. Test it yourself first before putting it on the table–if you can eat it comfortably then it’s fine to give to them. If your kid doesn't like chicken noodle soup, don't force it on them thinking it has a medicinal benefit, says Flanders. Instead, help them stay hydrated with an electrolyte drink (like Pedialyte) or some salty crackers and watered-down juice.
Besides hydration, the best treatment for the common cold is rest. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also help if your child is feverish or really uncomfortable, says Flanders. “The other thing I tell parents is lots of cuddles and lots of care. And the soup is part of that.”
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