Feeling under the weather? Soups are a comforting way to provide your immune system with the nutrients it needs to help you heal. An RD shares the best coups to eat when sick.
When you’re feeling under the weather, a warm bowl of soup is just the thing you need. It’s not just because the warm broth feels cozy and comforting, soup really can give your immune system and boost and deliver several important nutrients into your system. However, many store-bought or restaurant soups have less-than-ideal nutrition labels and ingredients: They’re often high in sodium and added sugars and use unhealthy fats or oils.
Fortunately, it’s easy to whip up a cozy soup in your own kitchen with healthy, healing, whole-food ingredients you can find easily at the store.
Read on to learn why soup should be your go-to option when you’re sick, plus our favorite immune-boosting ingredients to toss into your at-home soups. And for those who need to make a comforting bowl of soup ASAP, we included three soup recipes to try when you need a pick-me-up.
Why Is Soup Good for You When You’re Sick?
Soups are an excellent option for nourishing the body when you’re sick. Soups provide hydration, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and macronutrients to help you sustain energy and fight off illness more effectively. Being able to get adequate nutrition while you’re sick is key to healing faster and decreasing the severity of your illness.
The right combination of ingredients can help soothe your sore throat, keep you properly hydrated, calm your gut, and reduce inflammation. Inflammation in the body makes your immune system’s job much more difficult, which is why it’s important to reduce inflammation when you’re sick so you can help your body rid itself of whatever you’re fighting more effectively. By choosing the right ingredients for your soup, you can provide your body with high doses of nutrients that help ward off inflammation.
Another reason why soup has been a go-to sick day remedy for ages? It also tends to be easier to get down (and keep down) compared to other foods when you’re feeling unwell.
Soups are also convenient—you can prepare them with items you likely already have on hand. Think: Broth, vegetables, herbs, garlic, onions, that can of perfectly good black beans you’ve been ignoring at the back of your pantry–and so on. Your produce doesn’t have to be fresh, either. You can use frozen or canned veggies and legumes and still reap all of the health benefits.
But the best part about soups is you can get a lot of nutrition into them compared to other foods. Rather than losing vital nutrients in the cooking process, soups retain the nutrients of the ingredients you’re using in a flavorful, warming meal. There is also some data showing that consuming hot foods or beverages may help provide relief from symptoms like congestion, cough, sneezing, or sore throat—although these may be due to a placebo effect. (Still, we’ll take it!)
Plus, ingredients used in soups often contain combinations of vitamins and minerals that function in a complementary way (meaning one nutrient enhances or is needed to facilitate the absorption of the other). For example, vitamin A needs fat to be absorbed well, and coconut milk is a great source of fat. Turmeric is not absorbed well on its own, but add some black pepper, and turmeric’s absorption is increased by a whopping 2,000 percent!
The Best Immune-Boosting Soup Ingredients
If you’re wondering what sort of ingredients will specifically help support a healthy immune response when you’re under the weather, look no further. Here are some delicious additions you can include in your next soup-making session.
A powerful anti-inflammatory, garlic is a staple in soup recipes both for its flavor profile and its many health benefits. One specific compound in garlic called allicin has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Compounds found in garlic can enhance the functioning of the immune system by stimulating different types of cells that attack the bugs that make you sick. Consuming garlic regularly can help prevent these illnesses from making you sick as well.
Turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory root. It’s a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories—and it can be especially healing for the gut. It may also have some antiviral properties (perfect for flu season or prepping for holiday travel).
Due to its low bioavailability (read: its ability to be absorbed into the body), it’s important to sprinkle some black pepper in when you add turmeric, as this greatly increases its absorption.
While it’s more widely known for the calming effects it has on your stomach, ginger and turmeric come from the same family of plants and have similar benefits.
Ginger contains several dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, all of which help your body fight off illness and chronic disease, especially when it’s consumed regularly over time.
This means including ginger in soups could help not only with an upset stomach or nausea but also help keep your immune system strong while you’re fighting illness.
You may not be surprised to find carrots on this list (given they’re a staple ingredient in chicken noodle soup). That’s because they are high in vitamin A, which is important for a healthy immune response.
They also contain fiber, which is needed for a healthy gut. A healthy gut is key to a strong immune response. (And important for a soup-heavy diet, as it will work to keep your system regular.)
Wellness influencers everywhere sing the praises of bone broth, and with good reason. Using bone broth in soups rather than your typical beef, chicken, or vegetable broth is a great way to level them up.
Bone broth made from the bones of beef, chicken, or pork contains a compound called glycine, which helps heal the gut. In fact, it’s one of the most healing items you can add to your soup recipes because it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein—all of which you need to heal.
Celery used to be somewhat of an unsung hero that simply added its unique flavor to the base of many soup recipes. However, in recent years it has gained more notoriety for its health benefits (hello, celery juice).
According to a few studies, celery is considered a superfood due to it being a source of powerful antioxidants like vitamin C, flavones, flavonols, beta-carotene, and manganese. These compounds help the body decrease and prevent inflammation that can occur in response to illness—which helps you recover faster.
Our Favorite Soup for When You’re Sick
Want to get in on soup SZN but not sure where to start? Here are three of our favorite soups for when you’re sick.
Butternut Squash Soup with Turmeric and Sage (GF, DF, Vegan)
This soup is full of many of the ingredients from above and is delicious too! It’s a comforting blend packed full of vitamins, minerals, and compounds to help you heal.
- 8 cups butternut squash (approx. 1 3-lb butternut squash), cubed
- 8 oz carrots, peels removed and sliced about ½” thick
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-inch fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp avocado or coconut oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
- 2 cups bone broth or water (if preparing it vegan)
- Stockpot or dutch oven
- Immersion blender or blender
- Sheet pan
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wash and peel butternut squash. Dice it into 1-2” cubes. Note: The goal is uniformity, not perfection! They need to roast evenly in the oven, not look pretty–they’re getting blended in the end.
- Wash, peel, and slice carrots. Spread butternut squash and carrots out on the sheet pan in one even layer. Toss them in a bit of oil and salt.
- Place squash and carrots in the oven to roast for about 20 minutes, until very tender.
- While the squash and carrots roast, dice onions and mince garlic.
- To the stockpot, add a bit of oil and turn the heat to medium-low. Once the oil is heated through, add onions and garlic, stirring constantly to make sure they don’t burn. Turn the heat down if necessary while you await the veggies.
- Once the veggies are done roasting, remove them from the oven and carefully add them to the stockpot. Then add the coconut milk, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, black pepper, and bone broth or water. Let simmer for 5-7 minutes.
- Blend with an immersion blender until smooth, and add more liquid to achieve desired consistency.
- Serve immediately. Garnish with a splash of coconut milk, cilantro, avocado, pumpkin seeds, or hemp hearts. Enjoy!
Cold-Fighting Chicken Noodle Soup
This chicken noodle soup recipe from Damn Delicious is great for fans of hearty soups.
It features several immune-supporting ingredients:
- Lemon, which contains antioxidants
It also has noodles, which have carbohydrates that tend to be easier to digest when you’re feeling unwell and provide you with some much-needed energy so your body can work to help you heal while you rest and recuperate.
This veggie-forward soup is full of nutritious ingredients to help you nourish while you are under the weather.
- Kale, which is rich in antioxidants
- Sweet potato, a good source of vitamin A
- Cauliflower, a good source of glutathione, which helps your body remove toxins
It also contains several herbs that can help support a healthy immune response. This recipe is great because it uses items that you likely keep on hand.