Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Chicken Soup Bad For You?

Also Known As: Chicken broth, Chicken stew



Short answer

Chicken soup can be both good and bad for you. Homemade versions with low-sodium broth, fresh veggies, and controlled salt can be healthy. However, traditional recipes may have high sodium levels that contribute to heart disease risk. Store-bought soups often contain preservatives, which some studies link to health concerns. Bone broth in the soup provides valuable nutrients, but watch for calorie content. Balance macronutrients by using lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs.



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Long answer

Sodium Content in Traditional Chicken Soup Recipes

The humble bowl of chicken soup has been a staple in many cultures, lauded for its comfort and supposed healing properties during cold and flu seasons. However, when discussing the healthfulness of chicken soup, a critical component to consider is the sodium content, which can significantly impact the nutritional value of this comfort food.

Traditional chicken soup recipes often call for ingredients such as store-bought chicken broth, canned vegetables, or seasoning mixes, all of which can contribute to a high sodium intake. The dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which can easily be exceeded with just a single serving of chicken soup if not carefully prepared.

Examining Sodium Sources:

  • Broth/Bouillon: Commercial chicken broths can carry between 500 to 800 milligrams of sodium per cup. Concentrated bouillon or stock cubes are also notably high in sodium.
  • Canned Vegetables: If used in the soup, canned vegetables bring along their preserving liquids, which are often brimming with sodium to enhance shelf life and flavor.
  • Seasonings: Packaged soup mixes and seasoning packets, while convenient, are frequently laden with salt, contributing to increased sodium levels in the final dish.

Given these common contributors to sodium content, consumers should be aware of the potential risks associated with high-salt diets. Consistently high sodium intake is linked with increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke, according to the CDC. It is, therefore, essential to consider these factors when consuming chicken soup, especially for those with existing health concerns or dietary restrictions related to sodium.

Alternative Choices for Sodium Reduction:

  • Low-Sodium Broths: Opting for low-sodium or no-salt-added chicken broths can significantly reduce the overall sodium content.
  • Fresh Vegetables: Using fresh vegetables instead of canned ones not only lowers sodium but also enhances the soup's nutritional value.
  • Herbs and Spices: Flavoring the soup with a blend of herbs and spices, such as thyme, rosemary, garlic, and black pepper, can provide robust taste without the added salt.

When examining labels, it's wise to note that terms like "reduced sodium" do not equate to low sodium. Products labeled as "reduced sodium" simply contain less sodium than the original product, which may still be too high for those monitoring their intake.

Homemade Integrations:

  • Homemade Broth: Preparing a homemade chicken broth allows for complete control over the amount of salt added.
  • Portion Control: Consumers can better manage their sodium intake by being mindful of serving sizes and not treating chicken soup as an all-you-can-eat meal.
  • Natural Flavor Enhancers: Ingredients like lemon juice, bay leaves, and onions can elevate the taste of soup while circumventing the need for added salt.

For those looking to monitor or reduce their sodium consumption, it's vital to look beyond the traditional recipes and make modifications that prioritize health without sacrificing flavor. Awareness of sodium content in chicken soup is a step towards mindful eating habits and better health outcomes.

Bone Broth Benefits: Nutrients from Chicken Soup

When pondering the health implications of chicken soup, the spotlight often shines on its base: the bone broth. Bone broth, a liquid derived from simmering bones, marrow, and connective tissues, has become a staple for many seeking its array of potential benefits. Let's delve into the nutritional profile of bone broth and understand its role in the diet.

The pivotal aspect of bone broth is its mineral content. Minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium are leached from the bones during the slow cooking process. These are essential for maintaining strong bones, regulating heartbeat, and ensuring muscle function.

Another key component is collagen. As bones and connective tissues break down, collagen is released into the broth. Once consumed, collagen can promote joint health and potentially improve skin elasticity, although more research is needed to prove its efficacy when derived from dietary sources. Amino acids, such as glycine and proline, are also present in collagen, which can support the body’s detoxification processes and wound healing.

Furthermore, bone broth contains glucosamine and chondroitin, two substances known to support joint health. Regular consumption may benefit individuals experiencing joint pain or arthritic conditions, a perspective supported by studies demonstrating symptom relief from supplements containing these compounds.

Bone broth is also rich in gelatin, which helps maintain a healthy digestive tract by providing a protective layer for the gut lining. Its role in digestive health is crucial, as it may aid in the proper digestion of nutrients, and assist in repairing and growing gut flora.

Let’s not forget hydration; the broth aspect of chicken soup contributes to fluid intake. This can be particularly beneficial when ill, as staying hydrated is pivotal for recovery.

In addition to these constituents, there may be variances in the nutrient profile depending on the specific preparation method and additional ingredients used. Herbs, spices, and vegetables added to chicken soup can further enrich the broth with vitamins, antioxidants, and enhanced flavors, all contributing to overall wellness.

While bone broth indeed packs a nutritious punch, it is important to consume it as part of a balanced diet. It is not a cure-all and should not be relied upon to meet all dietary needs. Nevertheless, when consumed responsibly, the bone broth in chicken soup is associated with several beneficial nutritional properties.

Summary of Bone Broth Nutrients and their Benefits:

  • Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium: Minerals important for bone health and bodily functions.
  • Collagen: May improve joint and skin health; provides amino acids like glycine and proline.
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Substances that support joint health and may relieve arthritis symptoms.
  • Gelatin: Assists in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and promotes digestive health.
  • Hydration: Bone broth contributes to fluid intake, crucial for overall health and recovery when sick.

To maximize the benefits of chicken soup, especially via its bone broth component, individuals should consider including a variety of additional nutrient-dense ingredients and consuming the soup as part of an overall nutrient-rich diet.

Hidden Preservatives in Store-Bought Chicken Soup

When discussing the potential health implications of store-bought chicken soup, it's crucial to address the presence of preservatives often used to extend shelf life and maintain product quality. The addition of these substances can sometimes cast a shadow on the warm, comforting image of chicken soup. Let's break down the common preservatives you might find in a store-bought variety and what the science says about them.

Sodium-Based Preservatives: Sodium is a staple in the preservation industry, often used to enhance flavor and prevent the growth of bacteria. Some of the sodium-based preservatives to watch out for include:

  • Sodium Benzoate: Added to a variety of foods to inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria. However, studies have shown a potential link to increased hyperactivity in children and adverse effects on the immune system when consumed in high amounts.
  • Sodium Nitrite: Commonly found in processed meats, its use in chicken soup can help maintain color and inhibit bacterial growth. Research has raised concerns about its formation of nitrosamines, compounds associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer in animal studies.

Artificial Antioxidants: To keep fats from spoiling in soups, artificial antioxidants are often employed. Some include:

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): While BHA can prevent rancidity, the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services has listed it as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" based on animal studies.
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): Similarly to BHA, BHT is used to prevent spoilage. The U.S. National Institutes of Health report that high doses have led to tumor growth in animal studies.

It's important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) places limits on the concentration of these preservatives. However, health-conscious consumers are often cautious regarding their cumulative exposure from multiple food sources.

Natural Preservatives/Alternatives: Some store-bought chicken soups may feature natural preservatives, which can be a safer, though sometimes less effective, alternative. These include:

  • Rosemary Extract: A natural antioxidant that can help extend shelf life without the potential side effects of synthetic antioxidants.
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherols): Another natural antioxidant that can serve as a preservative by protecting fats from oxidation.

When considering the health impact of hidden preservatives in store-bought chicken soup, always review the ingredient label thoroughly. It's advised to opt for products with shorter ingredient lists and recognizable items, leaning towards natural preservatives when available. For individuals with sensitivities or dietary restrictions, making homemade chicken soup can be a safer way to control ingredient quality and avoid unwanted additives.

Lastly, consulting a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian can offer personalized advice on the role of preservatives in your diet, especially for those dealing with chronic health conditions, allergies, or food intolerances.

The Caloric Content of Homemade vs. Commercial Chicken Soup

When considering the nutritional profile of chicken soup, the caloric content is often a significant point of consideration, especially for those monitoring their energy intake. The caloric content can vary considerably between homemade and commercial chicken soup, influenced by ingredients, preparation methods, and serving sizes.

Homemade Chicken Soup

Homemade chicken soup typically consists of chicken, vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onions, and sometimes grains or pasta. Here's what influences its caloric content:

  • Quality of Ingredients: Opting for lean cuts of chicken and a larger proportion of vegetables can keep calorie counts lower.
  • Cooking Method: Simmering the soup without additional fats, such as butter or oil, also reduces calories.
  • Control over Components: When making soup at home, you can tailor the recipe to your dietary needs, such as using less salt or incorporating more fiber-rich ingredients.
  • Typical Serving Size: A standard homemade chicken soup serving (1 cup or approximately 245 grams) can range from 100 to 200 calories, depending on the recipe and ingredients used.

Commercial Chicken Soup

Commercial chicken soup, on the other hand, is often available in canned or boxed varieties. Here are the factors affecting its caloric content:

  • Processed Ingredients: They often contain more calorie-dense ingredients like heavy cream or added sugars.
  • Preservation Techniques: Many processed soups contain additives that can increase the calorie content indirectly.
  • Consistency in Nutritional Content: Packaged soups provide a consistent calorie count, which can be found on the product's nutrition label. However, additional preservatives and sodium can affect the overall healthiness of the soup.
  • Typical Serving Size: Calories for these soups also vary widely, with some brands offering light versions. A 1-cup serving of a regular canned chicken soup can range from 70 to 150 calories, whereas cream-based versions may climb to over 200 calories per serving.

It's worth noting that following specific diets or nutritional plans can significantly influence the caloric merit of chicken soup. For instance, ketogenic or low-carb diets would require modifications to the standard recipe to align with their specific frameworks. Therefore, while homemade chicken soup offers more control over the caloric content, both homemade and commercial versions can be included in a balanced diet when mindful of the overall ingredients and serving sizes.

In conclusion, the caloric content of homemade versus commercial chicken soup can fluctuate greatly. Understanding the source of calories—whether from lean proteins, vegetables, or added fats and carbohydrates—can help determine how chicken soup fits into your personal dietary goals. When selecting a commercial chicken soup, scrutinize the label for calorie information, and when cooking at home, consider using leaner meats and an abundance of vegetables to keep the meal hearty yet healthful.

Balancing Macronutrients in Your Bowl of Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is a staple comfort food that is often turned to for its soothing and healing properties. Beyond its comforting vibe, it's important to consider the nutritional content, particularly the balance of macronutrients - proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. An ideal bowl of chicken soup should have a balanced ratio of these macronutrients to optimize its health benefits.

Chicken is an excellent source of high-quality protein, which is crucial for muscle repair, immune function, and overall health. A proper serving of chicken soup should include a generous portion of chicken to meet part of the daily recommended intake of protein. For example, adding about 3 ounces of chicken breast to your soup can provide approximately 26 grams of protein.

While chicken soup generally contains a low fat content, some fat is essential for nutrient absorption and satiety. If the soup is made with chicken skin or dark meat, the fat content might be slightly higher. However, for those monitoring their fat intake, using skinless chicken breasts can keep the fat content in check. Adding a tablespoon of olive oil, or tossing in some avocado slices, can provide healthy monounsaturated fats beneficial to heart health.

The carbohydrate content in chicken soup can vary widely depending on what else is in your bowl. Typical additions like noodles, rice, or potatoes contribute carbs, which are the body's primary energy source. To balance the carbs, ensure they come from whole grains or vegetables like carrots, peas, or celery. For instance, a half-cup of cooked whole grain noodles can offer around 18 grams of carbohydrates, along with dietary fiber.

Additionally, one must consider the glycemic index of the carbohydrates used in their soup. Choosing low-glycemic options, such as brown rice or whole grain pasta, can help maintain stable blood sugar levels, particularly important for those with diabetes or insulin resistance.

Here's a quick guide to balancing macronutrients in your bowl of soup:

  • Protein: 3-4 ounces of chicken (about 26-35 grams of protein)
  • Fats: 1 tablespoon of olive oil or a serving of avocado (roughly 14 grams of fat)
  • Carbohydrates: 1/2 cup of cooked whole grain noodles or rice, or 1 cup of mixed vegetables (approx. 15-30 grams of carbs, depending on the source)

It's also important to be aware of the sodium content in chicken soup, particularly in store-bought or canned versions, as high sodium intake can lead to increased blood pressure. Opting for low-sodium broth or making your soup at home allows you to control the amount of salt added.

By keeping these factors in mind, one can ensure that their bowl of chicken soup is not only comforting but also nourishing and aligned with their nutritional needs. Always consider your overall dietary goals and adjust the soup's ingredients as needed to better support a balanced diet.

Frequently asked questions

Collagen from bone broth is generally considered safe for most people. However, individuals with histamine intolerance might react to bone broth, as it can be high in histamines due to the long cooking process. As with any dietary supplement or food, it's essential to listen to your body and consider dietary restrictions or allergies. Consult with a healthcare provider if you have concerns about incorporating bone broth into your diet.

To make a low-carb chicken soup suitable for a ketogenic diet, you should eliminate high-carb ingredients like noodles, rice, or potatoes. Instead, increase the protein by adding more chicken, and include non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale, or zucchini. Use full-fat broth to ensure you're getting enough healthy fats for ketosis, and season with fresh herbs and spices instead of carb-heavy seasoning packets.

Vegetarians can make a nutritious soup by using a base of vegetable broth and adding various legumes, such as lentils or chickpeas, for protein. They can also include a mix of vegetables for vitamins and minerals, and consider adding tofu or tempeh for additional protein. For collagen-like benefits, vegetarians can consume plant-based foods rich in proline and glycine, such as mushrooms and seaweed.

Chicken soup can be a good option for weight loss as it is often low in calories and can be filling due to its high water content. Opt for homemade versions with lean chicken, plenty of vegetables, and mindful seasoning to avoid excess sodium, which can lead to water retention. However, as with any food, portion control is key, and it should be integrated into a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients.

Ask a question about Chicken Soup and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood pressure
  • risk of dehydration
  • potential hyperactivity in children
  • immune system effects

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of hypertension
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer risks from certain preservatives

Ingredients to be aware of


  • hydration
  • joint health
  • skin health
  • digestive health
  • nutrient intake
  • muscle repair
  • immune support

Healthier alternatives

  • low-sodium/no-salt-added broths
  • fresh vegetables
  • herbs and spices
  • homemade broth
  • natural flavor enhancers like lemon juice
  • rosemary extract
  • vitamin e (tocopherols)

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Pacific Wild Rice Chicken Soup

  • Organic ingredients
  • Rich in protein
  • Convenient meal option
  • Non-GMO project verified
  • Comfort food classic
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-26-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-26-2024

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