But healthful foods are, happily, easily available to us all here, and there's one flu-busting food which is supposed to boost health and healing more than any other. Chicken noodle soup.
Huh? Which chicken noodle soup? Made by what recipe, with what ingredients? Surely the instant packet stuff can't be that great for you? Are the noodles essential? Can't I just eat chicken? I have long been suspicious of this claim, but in fact, studies have shown that eating chicken noodle soup can cut the duration of flu or similar illness by half, and another study even compared commercial brands to show that Knorr's instant chicken noodle soup was the most healing! So, well, seeing as I've had plenty of time on my hands, I've been thinking and reading about this a lot, and actually it really does make a lot of sense.
The base for most (if not all) chicken noodle soups is, of course, chicken stock, plus onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Onions and, particularly, garlic both contain anti-viral and anti-bacterial compounds, and strengthen the blood and the lungs. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene which assists production of infection-fighting cells in the body. Celery is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fibre and, unusually, stands up well to cooking, keeping most of its goodness when other green vegetables would lose it. Add chicken to the mix for a rich source of protein, which promotes healing, as well as zinc, which supports the immune system by helping the body to make better use of vitamin C, and cysteine, which stimulates the immune system. Noodles serve to fortify the dish, adding extra energy when it's most needed, and egg noodles provide even more protein. Add some chilli - the capsaicin which makes chillies hot is a powerful decongestant which loosens and liquefies mucus - and you have a cocktail of great nutrition ideal for someone fighting illness. Furthermore, making this into a soup means that it's easy to eat and digest, especially for the sick and those with agonising sore throats, and the (largely) liquid delivery makes the nutrients super-accessible, meaning they're fast-tracked into the system. Genius!
Of course, it doesn't stop there, either. It's easy to add extra vegetables, such as tomatoes perhaps for their many antioxidants, red peppers which contain many of the same health-boosting compounds as garlic and chilli, or chopped leafy greens for iron. Many people extol the medicinal properties of certain herbs when fighting colds, and you can, of course add herbs to your heart's content too.
Does an exhausted sick person want to stand in the kitchen cooking up soup for ages? No, of course not. But thankfully this is quite quick to make (about half an hour), and when I sat comfortably at the table to do all the chopping I actually found it quite therapeutic. And luckily a large batch keeps well in the fridge for a good few days, and would freeze well too ;)
Nome's Chicken Noodle Soup (not just for sick people!)
(makes five big bowls, or eight little ones)
- Bring 1.5 litres chicken stock to the boil. (Beware the high salt level in some stocks - choose low-sodium if possible, dilute with water to lower the salt, or use home-made.)
- Add one large onion, two large carrots and four or five sticks of celery, all chopped, plus 2 teaspoons mixed herbs and a generous grinding of black pepper.
- Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until soft.
- Blend with a stick blender (use your judgement and make it as chunky or smooth as you like).
- Add a red pepper and a chilli (or less, or more, depending on your taste), finely chopped.
- Break up two nests of dried egg noodles (to make the noodles shorter and easier to manage) and boil in a separate pan according to the instructions on the pack - usually about 4 minutes. (It's important that they're cooked before you add them to the soup, as they absorb so much liquid.)
- Add two chicken breasts, chopped up small, to the soup, along with 2-4 chopped cloves of garlic (adding it near the end like this means it is less cooked and its health properties will be stronger, but the taste will be stronger too so watch out!)
- When the chicken is cooked (only 3-4 minutes if you've chopped it really small), check seasoning, drain the noodles and stir them in, and serve.
Well, I've been eating chicken noodle soup for lunch for several days now, and no, I'm not better. I am improving slightly and slowly, I think. But well, it's delicious, I do feel good eating it, and I know I'm doing the right thing by my body by nourishing it with loads and loads of goodness - it's got to be helping at least a little! Forget the expensive supplements - these basic building blocks of health are accessible to us all and are the very first thing we should turn to when illness looms.