The Health Benefits of Winter Soups

| 2/10/2011 3:16:26 PM

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. 

Hearty winter soups keep you feeling full longer than other meals.
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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.

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