Exactly What To Eat To Stop A Cold Or Flu In Its Tracks
Megan Fahey, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medicine Nutritionist and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Bastyr University, where she was trained to artfully blend eastern and western healing modalities.
When you feel a tickle in your throat or stuffiness in your nose, it's easy to feel helpless. Whether it's because of the dry air or the increased amount of time spent indoors, colds can strike with greater frequency in the winter. The good news? There's a lot you can do about it.
Sip chicken soup.
It's not just an old wives' tale—chicken soup is an R.D. go-to. "My No. 1 go-to when I feel a cold coming on is homemade chicken noodle soup," says Tori Eaton, a registered dietitian and founder of Eaton Wellness. "The health benefits of homemade chicken noodle soup are indeed factual and not just hearsay." She points to a study that found that chicken soup might help defend against infection and inflammation; interestingly, the study found that the benefits weren't due to a single superfood ingredient but rather the synergistic effect of all of the ingredients. Another older study found that chicken soup may be an effective remedy for clearing nasal passages compared to other hot and cold liquids. "I encourage my clients to add more vegetables like carrots and celery to increase the antioxidant and vitamin and mineral content," says Eaton.
Load up on nutrients.
Samantha Voor, a registered dietitian and founder of Fresh Plates, gives her body a leg up by adding in as many nutrient-dense foods to her daily routine as possible. "Adding more antioxidants like vitamin C helps boost our immune defense, so I like to add more foods like citrus, berries, pomegranate seeds, bell peppers, and greens into my meals and snacks," she says. "Blending up vitamin C and fiber-packed smoothies with raw spinach, strawberries, ginger, and lemon with a good source of protein is a great way to boost antioxidants and immunity when I feel a cold coming on."
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The smoothie serves another purpose, too. "You may not have much appetite or energy for cooking," says Desiree Nielsen, R.D. and author of Eat More Plants, which means you want to get the most bang for your buck, nutritionally speaking. She recommends snacking on berries such as blackberries and raspberries. "The anthocyanins in berries support immune function and also have natural antimicrobial properties," she says. "Bell peppers, papaya, and kiwis have more immune-supportive vitamin C than citrus fruits."
Make some ginger tea (with honey!).
"Fresh ginger contains sesquiterpene, a phytochemical that targets rhinoviruses, which are one of the most common causes of a cold," explains Voor. "Ginger has also been found to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha, IL-1, and IL-8." You can use a microplane or fine-chop the ginger to make a fresh tea, which you can then supercharge by adding honey. "Honey has been found scientifically and anecdotally to be an immune booster and has been found to increase T- and B-cell lymphocytes, antibodies, and white blood cells during a healthy immune response," says Voor. She notes that choosing the right honey is important. "Skip the clover honey in the teddy bear jars and opt for raw Manuka honey," she says.
Don't skimp on zinc—or protein.
"Zinc is critical for immune system function, and if you're plant-based, you might not be getting enough," say Nielsen. "Snack on pumpkin seeds—just ⅓ cup of raw pumpkin seeds contains about a third of a woman's daily requirement for zinc. Hemp hearts are another great zinc option that provides some protein, which is also critical for immune function." Nielsen recommends blending them into a simple berry smoothie with some ginger (which is healing unto itself, as noted above!) and plant-based milk.
Add in eggs.
Eggs are another great way to make sure you're getting your zinc, and they offer a bonus benefit of being rich in protein. "Although you may not think of eggs as an immune-boosting food, they are a great source of protein, which is important for fighting sickness of any kind," says Voor. "Eggs from free-range, pasture-raised hens are a staple of mine when I'm feeling under the weather, and I enjoy these for breakfast often in the form of egg muffins or a veggie frittata!"
Load up on antimicrobial foods.
Nielsen attacks this two ways: by introducing plenty of good bacteria with fermented foods and trying to eliminate the bad bacteria and viruses with healing foods. The most powerful one-two punch? A garlic miso soup. "The miso is fermented, which provides immune-supporting microbes, while the garlic supports the immune system and has antibacterial and antiviral properties," says Nielsen. "I love making a simple miso broth: I gently sauté 1 to 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil in a small soup pot. Add 2 cups water and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and add some white miso to taste."