Well Being

Chicken Soup For The Vegetarian Soul: Meat-Free Alternatives That Work

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chicken soup vegetarian

It's official: Cold and flu season is fully upon us. And while there are a few tried-and-true home remedies for stuffy noses and scratchy throats, few get the coveted Grandma Seal of Approval quite like a hot bowl of chicken soup. But as a vegetarian, I've found myself wondering: What's my Nana-approved cure-all? Is there a vegetarian-friendly alternative that still offers the same miraculous healing powers of chicken soup?

Because the thing about chicken soup is that it's more than just folk medicine–it does actually have some proven benefits for bodies that are contending with cold and flu viruses. According to a 2007 New York Times piece, chicken soup actually does cut down on the movement of white blood cells which fight infection. And while that may sound negative, what it actually means is that the soup reduces the symptoms of a cold or flu, which are caused by your body's attempts to fight off the disease. But don't worry–even without the symptoms, you're getting better.

Unfortunately, it's hard to determine what it is about chicken soup that seems to have these effects. Drinking any kind of hot liquid is beneficial when you've got a cold–it helps move mucus, and keeps you hydrated–but salty, vegetable-rich soups seem to be the most effective at actually cutting down on the sniffling and sneezing. A more recent 2011 study found the same to be true and similarly couldn't isolate chicken soup's magical healing ingredient.

So, it seems, almost any kind of hot, clear soup–dairy products, like cream-based soups, can make some people feel like they have more phlegm, though that hasn't actually been scientifically-proven–could do the trick, whether you eat meat or not. But there are definitely some that are better choices that others. Here are a few suggestions I found while doing research for this piece (and really, while doing research for myself):

  • Phở: Pronounced “fuh,” phở is an inexpensive Vietnamese noodle soup that is often made with beef. But almost also phở places also have a vegetarian option, which comes served with aromatic basil, soft noodles, mixed veggies, tofu…and hot peppers. Spicy foods can really help open up your sinuses, and the flavorful broth is about the most comforting thing. Plus, if you live in an urban area, your local phở join might even deliver. You can also hack your own phở by boiling long rice noodles and veggies in vegetable broth and adding Sriracha sauce.
  • Miso: Miso soup, though high in sodium, is really nutrient-rich. High in dietary fiber and a complete source of protein, miso paste is a great resource for a body that's fighting a cold. Plus, miso soup usually has tofu and seaweed, both of which add nutritional complexity–which helping clear out your nasal passages.
  • Garden-variety veggie soup: The thing about soup is that, when you're sick and don't have much of an appetite, it's easy to get down. And if you make it with the right stuff–like kale, broccoli, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes–you can pack many much-needed nutrients into a single pot. Start with veggie stock (pro-tip: If you're going to make your own, make it when you DON'T feel sick, so that you've got it in the freezer when you DO get sick), and then add in whatever you've got on-hand.  It's basic, but it's also totally effective.

Do you have a favorite sick-day soup? Share it in the comments–I'm sure all of our vegetarian readers would be excited to start stockpiling.

Image (and homemade chicken soup recipe, if you're interested) by Flickr user www.WorthTheWhisk.com

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