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It's surprising that there are not more quality research studies about soup. We all think of chicken soup as being good for whatever ails you and there are a few studies that indicate that this may be the case (only a few, mind you, and not all that great quality).
In a study of the effect of chicken soup on white blood cells, Barbara Rennard and her colleagues showed a slowing of movement of the cells in test tubes containing broth. In Dr. Rennard's study the more soup applied to the white blood cells, the greater the response. It may be a leap of faith to assume that this works in real life. That said, white blood cells do contribute to inflammation and the theory is that the soup may help to reduce the inflammatory symptoms associated with colds and flu (Chest 2000; 118:1150–1157).
In another study in Asia, researchers used Brand's Essence of Chicken and a prepared chicken meat extract and were able to show that these extracts reduced hypertension and heart enlargement in experimental rats. Tests with a prepared pork extract did not show any improvement, however. (Brit J Nutr 2001; 86, 97-103)
This is the sort of quality studies that we have. Not all that great and none of them really look at long term outcomes of how soup might help with colds or flu. There are a few that look at total calories consumed and weight loss, however.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania asked if having a bowl of soup before a meal's entree would help reduce the total calories eaten at that meal. They found that subjects who received soup as a first course ate 20% less of the main course than if they had no soup at all (Appetite 2007; 49 626–634). Dr. Rolls and her group at Penn also showed that having two servings of an energy dense soup when on a diet led to 50% greater weight loss that the same number of calories consumed as snack food (Obesity Research 2005; Vol. 13 No. 6).
While all of this research points to some benefits of soup, there are great reasons for having your favorite soup based on good old fashioned common sense. The first is that most soups are not calorie dense but are quite filling. You can make a big pot of chicken vegetable soup, for instance, and a large bowl will be satisfying, full of fiber, tasty and great for you. Make a big batch of soup on the weekend so that you have leftovers. During the week the soup will be ready when you don't have the time to make dinner. Lastly, this is a great way to get kids to eat vegetables where they might not eat them as a side dish.
I believe that these maxims apply to stews as well and the key is choosing a recipe with lean meat, lots of veggies and whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta or beans. Here are some examples:
All of these choices are simple and take only a few minutes of prep time. Make a double batch, and when the soup is cool, portion it into individual plastic containers so that it is easy to reheat later.