Are the winter blues during cold and flu season getting you down? Although the snow and ice is pretty from inside the comfort of your home, the dark gloomy days and nights can start to get to you. While being out in the cold seems dreadful, being sick in bed with a cold or flu can be even worse. Because of the weather, you spend more time indoors in close contact with people and viruses quickly spread in the air. The viruses can live on surfaces, such as door handles, keyboards, remote controls, etc., for several hours, which is why regular hand washing is so important. Make sure to avoid touching any area of your face without first practicing proper hygiene.
While there is no sure way to completely prevent or cure colds (I’m sure the person who comes up with that one would win a Nobel prize), there are healthy foods that can boost your immune system to help ward off germs that cause a cold or flu.
1. Get Enough Vitamin C
Healthy foods like vegetables and fruits have an abundance of nutrients such as vitamin C. Research is inconsistent about whether vitamin C can prevent the onset of a cold. One meta-analysis found that although supplementing with vitamin C did not decrease the risk of contracting a cold, it decreased the length of the cold by eight percent for adults and 14% for children. Also, the severity of some of the symptoms was reduced as well.
Vitamin C also decreased the risk of common colds for those exposed to short periods of extreme physical stress such as marathon running. While more studies are necessary to determine if vitamin C can help prevent a cold, you can definitely benefit from consuming an abundance of vitamin C-rich foods for the many added health benefits. The best sources are bright colored veggies and fruits such as colored peppers, guava, papaya, and oranges.
2. Zone in on Zinc
Zinc helps fight off infection and if you’re not getting enough, you’re more susceptible to getting a cold. While zinc supplementation may not prevent contracting a cold altogether, it has been shown to decrease the length of your illness and may even reduce the severity of your symptoms after a few days. One review summarizing 13 trials with over 1,400 participants found that consuming a zinc lozenge (containing at least 75 mg of zinc) could lead to a 42% decrease in the duration of the cold.
To help fight off your cold, consider a zinc lozenge or get your intake from consuming zinc-rich foods such as fish, oysters, poultry, eggs, milk, and cereals.
3. Pack in the Probiotics
Part of having a healthy immune system is having a healthy level of good bacteria. These bacteria enhance your immunity by either replacing or fighting off harmful bacteria found within the gut.
By consuming fermented dairy products such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut or taking a probiotic supplement, you can improve your immunity to ward off any infection and improve your gut flora, especially after a bout of antibiotics.
4. Stock up on Cystine and Theanine
The famous remedies for “curing the common cold” have always been your grandma’s chicken soup or a nice hot cup of tea—well, she wasn’t far off. A compound called cystine, found in beef, chicken, eggs and garlic, and a compound called theanine, found in green tea and bay bolete mushrooms, have been shown to decrease the risk of contracting a cold and decrease having the chills and fever for those who do get sick.
A study involving 173 healthy males found that over five weeks, only about 11% of individuals consuming a combination of cysteine and theanine got sick with a cold, compared to 27% of those in the placebo group. So make sure to get your daily does of chicken soup and green tea to ward off any cold germs!
While there is no magic cure to prevent or cure colds and the flu, eating a well-balanced diet with all four food groups can help fight off the winter bugs and keep you healthy. Your best defense is to include these four nutrients in your diet in order to ensure a healthy immune system.
Don’t believe all those gimmicks, advertisements, and health claims for any supplement because if there was a cure for the common cold, there would be a very, very rich and healthy person behind it!
Getz, L., “Winter Nutrition — Healthy Eating Offers Good Protection During the Chilly Season,” Today’s Dietitian 2009; 11(1):48.
Hemilä, H., “Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review,” The Open Respiratory Medicine Journal 2011; 5:51-58.
Hemilä H., et al., “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold,” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013; 1.
Kurihara, S., et al., “Effects of L-cystine and L-theanine supplementation on the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trial,” Journal of Amino Acids 2010; 2010: 307475