When it comes to finding relief from congestion caused by cold, allergies or sinus infections, many of us turn to over-the-counter medications and decongestants. However, over centuries, this natural and time-tested remedy has been soothing people with congestion: a hot bowl of soup.
Not only is it a comforting and delicious choice, but it also offers several benefits for managing cough and congestion. Interestingly, every ingredient of a soup, the aromatic steam emanating from it and the temperature at which we sip it are its soul. Together they provide some much-needed respite from nasal or chest congestion.
Let us break down how soups help manage the congestion. But first, what makes for a healthy and soothing soup?
The right choice
Picture it – a tomato soup with a ring of melting cream and served with fried bread croutons It is delicious, right? But it is not a healthy choice to drink.
Sonia Velarsan, a nutrigenomics and onco-nutrition specialist at the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Bengaluru, recommends making the soup healthy – which also will please the palate.
Choosing the right ingredients is what makes the soup either a daily dose of nutrition or an occasional sip. And it depends on the right ingredients that go into it.
Hydration and thinning of mucus
One of the primary reasons soups effectively address congestion is their hydrating properties. Research has consistently shown that maintaining adequate hydration is essential for overall health, and this holds true when dealing with congestion as well.
“Warm, liquid-based soups, such as chicken broth, vegetable soup or hot watery broths provide much-needed hydration and contribute to thinning of the mucus, [thus] helping to alleviate congestion,” says Velarsan.
Staying hydrated keeps the respiratory tract and the mucous membranes of the sinuses healthy. This reduces irritation and prevents infections from getting worse or spreading.
A study published in Pubmed found that increasing fluid intake during congestion can significantly thin the mucus, making it less likely to clog airways and nasal passages.
Soups are effective in managing congestion because of their nutrient-rich ingredients. A balanced soup typically contains a variety of vegetables, lean proteins and often, whole grains. These provide essential vitamins and minerals that support the immune system and help the body ward off infections.
“Curcumin and capsaicin are found in turmeric, black pepper, ginger and garlic. They are responsible for helping in decongesting the nasal passage and building immunity,” says Srishti D Chatlani, a sports nutritionist from Bengaluru.
Garlic and onions which are common in soups contain sulphur compounds that have been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, she adds. Research also highlights the immunity boosting properties of garlic.
Additionally, chicken soup, in particular, has received attention for its potential to alleviate cold symptoms. A study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup can help reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract, potentially easing congestion.
Steam and warmth
The warmth and steam produced by hot soups can also work against congestion. Inhaling steam loosens mucus and soothes irritated nasal passages, providing immediate relief.
The UK’s National Health Service suggests that inhaling steam can help reduce nasal congestion – it improves the flow of mucus and relieves pressure in the sinuses.
“When you consume hot soup, you benefit from both the internal hydration and the external relief provided by inhaling steam,” Srishti Chatlani points out.
There are psychological benefits to enjoying a bowl of hot soup when you are congested. The comfort and warmth of a bowl of tasty soup can provide a sense of relaxation and well-being, which can be especially helpful when you are feeling under the weather.
This mental comfort can, in turn, contribute to reducing stress, which may in turn positively improve your overall health and recovery.
Velarsan says she feels relaxed while sipping hot soup, particularly in winter or when she has a cold and cough.
Modern medicine may offer a range of treatments for congestion, but it is worth remembering the age-old remedy of soup.