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The Health Benefits of Winter Soups

2/10/2011 3:16:26 PM

Tags: Lauren Holt, Winter Soups, Herb Health Benefits, Rosemary, Garlic, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Parsley, Miso

L.HoltJust when I can start to make out the lines of my apartment parking lot again there’s yet more snow on the way. There might have been a time in my life that I enjoyed the prospect, but these days I’m ready for spring as soon as February hits. Between my aversion to cold and my persistent symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the warmth and sunlight really can’t come quickly enough.

But I don’t control the weather, so I have to latch onto simpler things, like brightly colored sweaters and rare rays of sunshine. (I have been known to stretch out next to my bedroom window and stare at a clear sky on occasion.) If such measures are ineffective in lifting my mood (or simply unavailable), I move to the surrogate warmth of soups and hot drinks. My favorite recipes for those days are hearty broths like my boyfriend’s Miso Ramen or spicy curries we can make at home.

Soups aren’t just a delicious winter meal—they can also help control weight gain and boost your immune system. Vegetables, herbs and meat cooked into a soup retain more nutrients than if the same foods are baked or stir-fried. (Stir fry of one form or another is the principal cooking method in my kitchen.) In addition, soups are easily refrigerated or frozen for later consumption, and often improve in flavor if allowed to settle for a day or two. The warm liquid can help control your blood pressure and keep your body feeling full for longer between meals. If you make your own soups (or perhaps buy natural food or organic mixes) you can cut down on both sodium and overall caloric intake. Common health-boosting soup ingredients include alliums like garlic and onions, ginger, mushrooms, culinary herbs and miso. 

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Hearty winter soups keep you feeling full longer than other meals.
Photo by www.WorthTheWhisk.com/Courtesy
Flickr 

Garlic and onions both contribute to immune system health as natural antibiotics. Garlic in particular is antifungal and can lower cholesterol levels. The sulfurous compounds released when alliums such as garlic and onions are chopped, crushed and cooked might be best absorbed when inhaled during the heating and eating processes.

Ginger is widely known as a digestive and antinausea aid, but it has also been shown to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Fresh ginger shows the strongest health benefits and is a traditional ingredient in many Asian soup and fish dishes. I also enjoy it in teas, especially combined with lemon balm and honey.

Note: Onions, garlic and ginger are anticoagulant. Please consult a health professional before consuming any of these in large quantities if you have a clotting disorder, are taking anticoagulants such as aspirin or are scheduled for surgery. 

Mushrooms have numerous health benefits, but the best varieties for your immune system are probably reishi, maitake and shiitake. Medicinal mushrooms like these improve immune function by promoting the growth of white blood cells and the macrophages that destroy harmful microorganisms in your body. Because each variety contains different compounds, it is best to use a mix of mushrooms to get full benefits. In soups these mushrooms have distinct earthy tastes that add dimension to every spoonful.

Culinary herbs add flavorful depth and health benefits to any dish, but are especially useful in avoiding bland soup recipes. Rosemary retains its health properties through cooking and can penetrate the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain cells. Sage is a brain stimulant—anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to boost memory and combat degenerative brain disease. Oregano is the highest ranked herbal antioxidant, according to the USDA, and has antimicrobial properties. Parsley is also an antioxidant, best used as a garnish, and thyme is an expectorant that can help soothe coughs and congestion. Thyme has also been used both inside and outside the body as an antiseptic to fight bacteria and fungi.

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Culinary herbs such as thyme and rosemary add health benefits to soups.
Photo by Jack Lyons/Courtesy
Flickr 

Miso is one of my favorite ingredients to add to soup. I first fell in love with it while studying abroad in Japan, where I drank a steaming bowl of my host-mother’s classic soup at dinner every night. Now I add it to ramen and use it marinate pork or salmon. Miso is a fermented soybean paste, which might sound a little disgusting, but it does have significant health benefits. In Asian cultures it is associated with anti-aging benefits because it supports the growth of your body’s digestive system and helps you absorb more nutrients from everything you eat. Miso doesn’t have the potential health risks that many soy-based foods carry, and it may also protect you from some forms of radiation and reduce your risk of degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease. It’s antioxidant, antiviral and immune-boosting , and it can also improve the health of your skin.

I’d like to share my favorite miso soup recipe (the one I ask my boyfriend to make whenever I’m feeling ill), but it’s still pretty experimental and we don’t have set measurements for it. Really, that’s my advice for any soup creation: experiment. You won’t know which flavors shine through and what you’d like to taste more of until you try it. If you want a template, however, try the following recipes from The Herb Companion archives.  

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Rosemary Dumplings
Seafood Cioppino
Avocado Soup
Arugula, Potato, Chive and Leek Soup
Chicken and Parsley Noodle Soup 

Also check out these articles for more recipes and notes about healthy soups.

Boost Your Immune System with Chicken Soup
Healing Soups from Green Farmancy
Warm Up with Herbal Soups 

Read More: Health Benefits of Soup—Even If You Don't Have a Cold - HubPages
Health Benefits of Soup In Your Diet - top54u
Miso Soup: A Delicious Bowl Full of Health and Anti-Aging Benefits - Natural News
Top 5 Herbs & Spices for Winter Woes - About.com
Health Benefits of Soup - At Darwin's Table 



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