13 Foods Doctors Eat When They Have a Cold
When illness strikes, this get-better menu is what the pros on the front lines of cold and flu season serve themselves
Feed a cold
That age-old advice is dead-on: When you’re sick, your body needs extra fuel in the form of calories to defend against germs and mount an immune response. “What you eat can be one of the best weapons in your arsenal,” says Gustavo Ferrer, MD, author of Cough Cures: The Best Natural Remedies and Over-the-Counter Drugs for Acute and Chronic Cough. The right nutrients can give your immune system a much-needed boost, help clear up some of those irritating symptoms, and get you back on your feet faster. Doctors shared their favorite home remedies when they feel a cold coming on—and some of their recommendations may surprise you. You may also want to check out 8 things doctors and nurses do to stop a cold in its tracks.
It’s not just for your soul—chicken soup can actually shorten the duration of upper-respiratory-tract infections, according to a study published in the Chest Journal. “When we get attacked by a virus, our natural defenses can cause an inflammatory response,” says Dr. Ferrer. Some combination of ingredients in the soup may inhibit the white-blood-cell activity that can cause inflammation. But canned soups didn’t work nearly as well as homemade. (Perhaps the secret ingredient is love.)
These berries are brimming with antioxidant power—they’re among the top 20 richest fruits when it comes to free-radical-slaying compounds—particularly vitamin C. And last year, a study in the journal Nutrients found that getting up to eight grams of vitamin C a day can help shorten the length of a cold by 19 percent. Adding a cup of strawberries to your smoothie will soothe a sore throat and net you about one gram of vitamin C. Check out these 21 natural cold remedies that really work.
This potent bulb contains a compound known as allicin, which has antioxidant properties that may help fight off the common cold. Chopping or crushing garlic activates this compound, so for maximum results, prep it and let it sit for several minutes before eating it. One study in Advances in Therapy showed that people who took a garlic supplement reported fewer colds over a four-month span than those who popped a placebo. Also consider eating these 10 winter foods that help ward off colds and the flu.
Sore throat? The sticky, sweet nectar was found to be superior to many over-the-counter cough suppressants, Dr. Ferrer says. For a soothing elixir that’s the bee’s knees, combine honey with lemon juice for a little vitamin C antioxidant action, he adds. Beware of these 13 household items that raise your risk of catching a cold or the flu.
These may be one of the ingredients that give chicken soup its curative properties. Carrots and other orange-hued produce contain beta-carotene. Your body converts this compound to vitamin A, a building block of your immune system, says Eudene Harry, MD. That boost can help your body fight off winter colds and flu. Learn about 50 more ways to avoid catching a cold this season.
These aromatics contain quercetin, an antioxidant with antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. “A lot of the symptoms you get when you’re sick is your body hyper-responding to things that are not necessarily a threat,” says Dr. Harry. “Antioxidants help quell some of that response so it doesn’t get out of control. They remove waste products and reduce inflammation.” Take note of these 10 reasons to take the flu more seriously.
Research shows that cold weather can suppress your immune system a bit, but vitamin C has natural immune-boosting properties. Loading up on C-rich foods can be a good way to compensate for a suppressed immune function this time of year, Dr. Harry says. A cup of chopped bell peppers has three times as much vitamin C as an orange. Winter isn’t all bad, though. Check out 10 surprising benefits of sweater weather.
The soothing powers of a steamy drink were backed up by a study in the journal Rhinology, which found that a hot beverage provided “immediate and sustained relief” from more symptoms of the common cold—runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chills, and fatigue—than the same drink at room temperature. And fluids are important when you’re sick because, Dr. Harry says, “Everything works better when you’re hydrated.”
Green tea is a good choice because it contains the potent antioxidants catechins, along with theanine, an amino acid. Both have been linked to immunity. A study of Japanese health-care workers who were given these supplements showed a lower incidence of flu among those who took the supplements than among those who took a placebo. Check out 20 things the flu virus doesn’t want you to know.
If the dreaded stomach flu is going around, stock up on this relieving root. It’s known for its anti-nausea properties. It also contains compounds known as gingerols that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which makes it an ideal addition to a cup of tea for soothing a sore throat. Dr. Harry likes to take hers with ginger, pomegranate, and lemon.
These fungi are one of the few edible sources of vitamin D, which we normally get from the sun. Shorter daylight hours during the fall and winter months can mean we’re not getting enough of that nutrient, which can open the door to lowered immunity.
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, may help in this regard, says Gerard Mullin, MD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of The Gut Balance Revolution. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that people who ate a four-ounce serving a day had improved markers of immunity, including better-functioning gamma delta T cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins in their blood. Read about the best cold and flu medication to have on hand.
A big hit of wasabi or sriracha can feel like it’s clearing your sinuses even when you’re not sick—and it turns out, that could very well be the case. Researchers found that a nasal spray containing capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers and other spicy foods, improved symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis (aka sneezing, congestion), possibly because of its anti-inflammatory effect. Plus, spicy peppers are another good source of vitamin C, and other research has shown that they can provide short-term pain relief.
Spiking your java with this spice, aka a golden latte, won’t hurt. Curcumin, the active compound in the vibrant yellow powder, has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. “Oxidative stress goes up when your body is under attack,” says Dr. Mullin. That can cause residual damage beyond what the invading germs cause. Turmeric, he says, can help with that. Learn about 14 surprising things you should not do if you have the flu.
Fermented dairy products may not be your go-to when you’re feeling under the weather, but they should be, says Dr. Mullin. “Most of your immune system is in your gut,” he explains, and probiotic-containing foods like yogurt help keep your gastrointestinal tract teeming with healthy bacteria. Indeed, research has found that the benefits go beyond digestive health: A 2017 study in the journal Nutrients found that eating yogurt daily increased the activity of killer T cells, whose job it is to destroy infected cells in the body. And there’s no evidence that dairy creates phlegm or contributes to congestion, so spoon away! Next, check out these 23 daily habits of people who are immune to colds and the flu.