Why is diet important?
Feed a cold and starve a fever, so the old saying goes. Some people may take this to mean that when you are gripped by a cold you can at least alleviate your misery by snacking to your heart’s content. Sorry, but this isn’t the case!
As naturopath Alfred Vogel would have pointed out, when battling with an infection the last thing your body wants is to be lumbered with heavy, hard to digest food, so choosing the right things to eat when you have a cold or flu is so important.
If you feed up your cold with stodgy foods you may find yourself having to starve out a fever, as your body resorts to burning off the infection.
Good foods to help fight your cold or flu
There are lots of good foods that can boost your immune system to build up your resistance, but if you do catch a cold or get a bad case of the flu there are also many (non stodgy) foods which can help ease your symptoms, as well as speed up recovery.
Although feeling run down and sick can often ruin your appetite, it really is important to stay well nourished and hydrated to help your body fight off infection. So what should you eat?
1. Chicken soup
That age old cure of a bowl of chicken soup might be seen as an old wives’ tale, but as with many traditional remedies, studies have found that it is actually true.
Chicken soup contains a substance known as carnosine which works on the body’s immune system, especially during the early stages of infection by the cold or flu. It helps to reduce inflammation, ease symptoms and reduce the duration of your cold. This tasty broth can also help prevent dehydration and is great for soothing a sore throat.
2. Vegetable soups & stews
It’s not just chicken soup that’s good to eat. Hearty soups or stews, full of vegetables and lean meats, give you the protein and nutrients you need to fight off a cold or flu.
Tip: Add mushrooms and garlic to your soups and stews as these both stimulate the immune system.
3. Foods rich in zinc
Zinc is a great immune system booster. Studies have shown that zinc, taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, can shorten the duration of colds. Good foods rich in zinc include shellfish such as oysters, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains.
Tip: Try snacking on pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, which are easy to nibble, and adding green leafy vegetables, such as chard and kale in your stews.
4. Spicy foods
They may make your eyes water, but spicy foods such as hot sauce, wasabi, peppers, chilli or spicy sauces can help to temporarily open sinuses and ease congestion. Be careful though – spicy foods have a tendency to upset stomachs, which isn’t good when you are already feeling the worse for wear.
These are a great source of potassium, a mineral which is often lost due to fever and vomiting. They also contain vitamin B6, which helps your body fight infection.
6. Foods rich in vitamin A
Vitamin A is important for maintaining a strong immune system and strengthening your mucous membranes, so when you have a cold, make sure you eat more foods containing this vital vitamin, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and spinach.
7. Foods rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C is not only important for boosting your immune system; studies have also shown that it can help get rid of your cold faster, so try eating more foods such as strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes are especially rich in vitamin C. The soft white layer of skin found on these fruits contains flavonoids, which can help boost the immune system and are also great for speeding up recovery.
For an extra boost of vitamin C, try Nature-C, a vitamin C supplement made from natural sources, so it's easier to absorb.
Another food from the fruit family which is great to eat when you have a cold or flu is blueberries. Studies have found that blueberries contain more antioxidants than many other fresh fruits, so eat up to help keep your body strong and able to fight that infection.
The live, friendly bacteria in yogurt can aid your immune system response to give you that added edge when fighting a cold. The majority of your immune cells live in your gut, so keeping them happy with friendly bacteria is a good notion.
10. Oily Fish
Oily fish rich in omega 3, including herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna, help reduce harmful inflammation in the body, lessening the severity of symptoms, as well as having pain relieving benefits.
What to drink when you have a cold or flu
Hydration is so important when fighting a cold or flu virus. I can’t stress this often enough, but drink, drink, drink, especially lots of warm drinks! Cardiff University researchers found that hot drinks can help ease sneezing, sore throats, chills, and tiredness – perfect for fighting off the common symptoms of cold and flu.
Herbal teas such as green tea, camomile tea and peppermint tea are all great choices due to their cold & flu busting benefits, as well as hot drinks such as warm cordials or Echinaforce® Hot Drink.
Which food and drinks to avoid when you have a cold or flu
Diary – in some people, dairy products such as milk and cheese can actually increase the production of mucus, so it may be wise to avoid them until you have recovered from your cold or flu.
Sugar – this is a very common immune suppressor. It also competes with vitamin C, which is good for the immune system. You may think that bit of chocolate will make you feel better but it’s working against your body in its fight against that cold or flu virus.
Fatty fried foods – eating lots of fatty foods makes our immune cells lazy, making them too weak to fight off infection efficiently, so keep them to the minimum, especially when you have a cold.
Alcohol – drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also weakens your ability to fight off infection as it will disorientate and confuse your immune cells. It’s not just you that will get a little fuzzy headed!
Caffeine drinks – avoid or try to limit drinks such as coffee, tea, and fizzy juice that contain caffeine. When consumed in excess, these drinks contribute to dehydration.