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Nutrition 101

What to Eat When You Have a Cold

What to Eat When You Have a Cold

Culinary Nutritionist Natalia Hancock and Dietetic Intern Keeley Mezzancello discuss the best foods to eat when you're sick.

Q: What do I eat when I have a cold?

With the numbers of reported flu cases quadrupling since last year, it's only sensible to do everything you can to avoid getting sick, or -- if sickness is already setting in -- to try and reduce the duration of your illness.

Feel like you're coming down with something? Or perhaps you're confined in close quarters with sniffling, sneezing, coughing co-workers, loved ones, or even complete strangers on the subway? Instead of giving them the evil eye, be proactive and try these immune-boosting tips that will have you covered before you can say "gesundheit!" Everyone knows the old adage to increase your vitamin C intake to fight a cold, but what other nutrients or nutrient-dense foods should you eat when you have a cold?

1. Zinc

This essential mineral is naturally present in some whole foods, is added to others, and also exists in the form of a dietary supplement. Zinc supplementation, taken either as a syrup or lozenge during the initial onset of a cold, may shorten the duration of an upper respiratory infection. In a review study, The Cochrane reviewers selected 15 studies that enrolled a combined 1,360 participants and found that zinc appeared to prevent colds in people who used it over the course of about five months. Excellent sources of zinc in the diet include oysters, crab, beef, peanuts, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate.

2. Hot tea

Whether it’s black, green or white tea, you've probably heard it’s good for your metabolism. But did you know that drinking tea can also boost your ability to fight off pesky germs? Hot fluids in general will help literally "flush" or move bacteria through the gastrointestinal tract. Once these harmful strains reach your stomach, your stomach acid will see to it that they won't survive. Furthermore, tea contains antioxidants called catechins, which are known to have flu-fighting properties. Tea also contains theophylline, which opens your airways to help you breathe easier if mucus has taken hold.

Be sure to add some honey and lemon to your tea. According to Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, honey may reduce coughing by coating and soothing an irritated throat. Lemon adds more vitamin C and creates a lovely synergy with the flavonoids present in tea, which -- when consumed together -- will allow you to absorb more flavonoids and vitamin C. Two or three cups a day are recommended for optimum benefits, so drink up!

3. Vitamin C

Yes, it’s true. Research has shown that vitamin C can reduce the duration of a cold by as much as 24 to 36 hours. Keep in mind that the high doses of vitamin C sometimes recommended for cold and flu can cause GI distress and even diarrhea in some people. And because it is water soluble, over consumption will be in vain, as excessive amounts will be excreted via the urine. So to reap its benefits without the unwanted side effects by consuming vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, mango, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and greens.

4. Chicken soup

Chicken soup may offer relief for your cold and flu symptoms in a number of ways. Just like hot tea, it speeds up the movement of germs and mucus, helping relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time bacteria or viruses linger in your mouth and throat. And similar to a salt water gargle, the broth can help temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. This combination may explain why in a study comparing consumption of liquids at various temperatures and chicken soup, chicken soup possessed an additional substance for increasing nasal mucus velocity. It also is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, related to inhibiting the movement of neutrophils, the immune system cells that participate in the body's inflammatory response. Guess Mom was right, after all. Check out Natalia's healing chicken soup recipe for inspiration.

5. Selenium

This mineral occurs naturally in soil, and when ingested, it increases the activity of antioxidants and supports your immune system. While it has been strongly correlated to preventing more chronic conditions, from cancer to diabetes, arthritis, and infertility, there is also evidence that it may thwart the flu virus as well. In terms of your immunity, if you are not getting enough in your diet, your immune system may not be performing optimally. And because vitamins and minerals are best absorbed via the diet, you'll benefit from eating some selenium-rich foods such as crab, liver, fish, meat, poultry, brazil nuts. Wheat and whole grains are also generally good sources of selenium.

6. Echinacea

This herb has earned itself the street reputation of helping fight the common cold but the scientific evidence is mixed, likely due to a general lack of well-controlled, low-quality trials. Furthermore, tests have been conducted on different species of echinacea, which may contribute to the confusion. Although some studies do not show that it works as a treatment, others show it can reduce the length and severity of colds by 10% to 30%. Despite the confusion, many experts are fairly sure that echinacea can help treat colds. Can echinacea also help prevent you from catching cold or flu viruses before you actually catch it? Most studies agree that it can't. Keep in mind that echinacea is a common offender for drug interactions, so steer clear if you're currently taking any other medications.

Do you have and cold and flu-fighting tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!

nutrition advice, nutrition facts, health

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