Kiss the Sniffles Goodbye With These Dietitian-Approved Tips for Making the Best Soup for When You’re Sick

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Soup lovers, assemble.

It’s no coincidence that soup is just what the doctor ordered for when you’re feeling under the weather. In most cases, a big ol’ bowl of chicken noodle is packed with the necessary, nutrient-rich ingredients to help support immune health and get you back up and running in no time.

But with so many options to choose from on the menu—minestrone, vegetable, broccoli cheddar, the list goes on—what’s the best soup for when you’re sick? We caught up with two registered dietitians that share their comprehensive guide to choosing the best soups (homemade or store-bought) for feeling better in no time. Spoiler: They’re soup-er tasty, nourishing, and have one thing in common—lots of protein.

What is the best soup to eat when you’re sick?

According to Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and neuronutritionist, soups have been helping folks get over colds for ages. “Dating back to the 5th century BCE, soup was used to supply a substantial amount of nutrients from herbs, vegetables and meats—or even the bones of animals—into an easily digestible broth or liquid,” she says.

Richter says what makes a soup ideal to eat when you’re sick boils down to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and, most importantly, protein it provides. According to her, protein is the number-one vital ingredient necessary for when you’re under the weather. “When we are healing from anything, our daily protein requirements—aka the building blocks of our entire body—increase, as do our need for certain minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium and sodium, to name a few,” Richter says. “Finding a soup that is high in protein will ensure you are getting the much-needed repair of protein.

That’s a main reason why Richter often relies on bone broth when making the perfect homemade soups for a quick recovery. “When I make soup at home, I typically use bone broth because of its high protein and mineral supply,” Richter says. For an even heartier combination Richter pairs the broth with low FODMAP vegetables for easier digestion to make her go-to “Ultimate Healing Soup” (recipe ahead). Best part? It’s ready in no more than 30 minutes and loaded with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and anti-inflammatory properties thanks to ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.

A vegetarian-friendly soup option

Don’t eat meat or consume animal products? Lauren Manaker, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, recommends making a simple, veggie-packed, sippable soup by blending sautéed onion, garlic, and carrots to make a veggie-based broth paired with Greek yogurt (for creaminess), and a splash of her secret immune-boosting ingredient: orange juice.

Her go-to is Uncle Matt’s Organic Ultimate Defense Orange Juice that’s contains 300 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C thanks to ingredients like organic OJ, pineapple juice, ginger, and organic turmeric that not only add a delicate tanginess to the stock, but also an infusion of immune-boosting vitamins. “I blend all of the ingredients together and serve the soup either hot or cold. When served cold, I also reap the gut health benefits of the live and active cultures provided by the Greek yogurt,” Manaker says. Prefer a more spoonable consistency? Learn easy tips and tricks for how to thicken soup in a flash.

What is the best canned soup to eat when sick?

Down bad with a cold and can’t even fathom the thought of cooking at the moment? No worries. The two dietitians shared several best store-bought soups for when sick. “I lean on pre-made chicken soup because when I am feeling under the weather, the last thing I want to do is spend too much time in the kitchen,” Manaker says. But she warns you should always read the ingredient label before you make a purchase. “Many canned chicken soups are made with low quality ingredients that may be pro-inflammatory, ultimately working against my immune health goals,” Manaker says.

On that note, Manaker’s go-to, dietitian-approved store-bought soup is Kevins’ Natural Foods Chicken Soup with Cauliflower Pasta. “It’s made with antibiotic-free chicken breast, real veggies, gluten-free cauliflower pasta, and a savory chicken broth; this soup is made with no added sugars, it’s Paleo-friendly, and it’s incredibly delicious. Plus, it doesn’t require water, unlike a concentrated chicken soup—I just open the package, heat, and enjoy,” Manaker says. Easy enough, right?

A few additional noteworthy grocery picks according to Richter: Amy’s Organic Soups, Kettle & Fire Lentil & Veggie, Pacific Foods Chicken & Wild Rice, or Organic Sweat Pea Soup.

Does soup actually help when sick?

According to both dietitians, the answer is: yes. “Different types of soup can indeed provide relief for various ailments,” Manaker says. For instance, she recommends a clear broth as the best soup for an upset stomach as it may be easier to digest. “Meanwhile, chicken soup with vegetables can be beneficial for those with a cold or flu, providing necessary nutrients and hydration to help the body fight infection which is crucial for recovery,” she adds. Plus Manaker points out that the warmth and steam from hot soup can also potentially help clear nasal congestion, making it a comforting remedy for respiratory symptoms—and there are scientific studies to back it up.

The trick is ensuring you have the right nutrients in the mix. This is why Manaker avoids pro-inflammatory ingredients, like added sugars, and sticks to soups that serve some role in boosting immune health. As such, like Richter, she leans on soups rich in protein, such as those made with bone broth or chicken, “which can help the body to repair itself and vegetables that are great sources of vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy immune system.”

A few key ingredients (and nutrients) for making the best soup when sick 

  • Protein: “While you can choose traditional animal proteins like chicken or beef, plant-based proteins like peas, lentils and beans are often even better because they also have a hefty dose of carbohydrates to help supply our body with necessary energy as well as fiber for optimal gut function,” Richter says. “ Our gut houses 70 percent of our immune system and keeping it healthy is critical as we’re healing.”
  • Lots of veggies: “Finding [or making] a soup with other micronutrients, especially those found in vegetables and herbs is great too,” Richter says. “Micronutrients found in veggies and plant-based foods help to maintain a robust immune system; can help support our ability to fight oxidative stress when we are sick; assist in repairing our cells; and can also maintain our electrolyte balance for proper hydration and nerve function during this healing time as well.”
  • Hearty stock: What is the best broth to eat when sick? Manaker says chicken (or bone) broth and veggie stock are your best bets when making easy soup recipes or chicken soup for colds. “Broth provides electrolytes that help support hydration,” she says.
  • Vitamins and minerals: “Micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—are necessary as coenzymes and supportive nutrients,” Richter says. “They not only help us to properly digest our macronutrients—like protein for instance—but they also help to ensure that our immune system functions properly; that we have enough antioxidants to fight off these pathogenic invaders that might be making us sick; and they also supply the needed electrolytes to keep us hydrated during this time.”

Two especially important vitamins for immune support include vitamin C and A, which Manaker recommends getting via foods like oranges, red peppers, carrots, sweet potato, and kale. Meanwhile, Richter says vitamins D, E, and K, as well as zinc, selenium and iron, are also excellent for when you’re sick as they play crucial roles in supporting your immune system.

Richter’s Ultimate Healing Soup Recipe

Yields 2–4 servings 

Ingredients

2 cups of carrots, peeled and chopped
1 zucchini, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled
1 inch turmeric root, peeled (optional)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of fresh pepper
A pinch of sea salt
4 cups of bone broth (substitute with water, if needed)
1 tsp lemon juice

  1. Combine everything except the lemon juice in a pot over medium heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, and blend until smooth. Serve.

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