Second to the chills, the worst thing about coming down with a cold or flu is losing your appetite. What is life without being able to eat?
But here’s why you should suck it up and chow down anyway: Since a cold and the flu are both caused by viruses, foods with antiviral properties may speed up recovery (or fight off those viruses in the first place), says Monica Auslander Moreno, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
Here are the best foods for a cold or flu that you should put in your shopping cart ASAP.
1. Chicken soup
There’s a reason your mom always had a bowl of this at the first sign of sniffles. Not only does chicken soup provide the fluids you need to help fight off viruses, but it also reduces the inflammation that triggers symptoms and leads to more colds.
2. Citrus fruits
Vitamin C, most commonly found in citrus fruits, is an antioxidant that can reduce cold symptoms, says Dr James A Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods.
Get your C from supplements or from vitamin-packed citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, papaya, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
3. Garlic, onions and leeks
Kissing is off the table to prevent the spread of germs, so you might as well indulge in this pungent garnish (along with its antiviral cousins onions, chives, and leeks) to help fight that nagging cold. “It has long been revered in its ability to help natural killer cells purge the body of invaders,” says Moreno.
Ginger contains chemicals called sesquiterpenes that specifically target rhinoviruses, the most common family of cold viruses, as well as substances that suppress coughing. It also contains anti-inflammatory gingerols that can fight infection.
Adding a couple of tablespoons of shredded ginger root to your tea can do the trick, but you can also look for ginger chews or real ginger ale, although most of the canned stuff has very little real ginger.
Honey is often touted as a cure-all for everything from burns (put raw honey on a burn as soon as possible to speed healing) to cuts and scrapes (honey’s natural antiseptic properties allow it to work a bit like hydrogen peroxide).
Because it coats your throat, it’s a great cold- and flu-friendly sore-throat reliever, and its natural antioxidant and antimicrobial properties help fight infections from viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Kefir is loaded with probiotics that strengthen your immune system, says Dr Mike Roussell. With more protein than yoghurt and milk, it also regulates digestion, enabling your body to actually use all the kilojoules and nutrients you consume, he says.
Other fermented foods like sauerkraut, dill, carrots, kimchi and kombucha also get the job done by populating your gut with good bacteria, thereby potentially leading to fewer colds.
7. Selenium-rich foods
A single ounce of Brazil nuts contains well above your recommended daily value for selenium, a mineral that helps boost your immunity. Having enough selenium in your body increases its production of cytokines, which help remove the flu virus, says Dr Duke.
Other sources of selenium include lobster, oysters, clams, crabs and tuna.
8. Red wine
The resveratrol and polyphenols in red wine work the same way that beneficial bacteria in yoghurt do, says Dr Duke. When cold and flu viruses enter your system, they start to multiply, and these compounds prevent that from happening.
To get the most bang for your buck, grab a bottle of pinot noir. Tests have found it to have some of the highest levels of resveratrol.
While mushrooms have long been a staple in Chinese healing, they’re having a modern medicinal moment. Moreno says they likely have antiviral properties, thanks in large part to their rich vitamin D content. They produce cytokines, a cellular protein, which helps fight off infections. Their polysaccharidesare another class of compounds that boost immunity.
For frequent exercisers, Dr Roussell recommends not going crazy with the carb-cutting. “Taking in carbs while you’re training helps counter immune dysfunction and immune inflammatory responses due to the stress hormones released during hard exercise.” Translation: Those carbs are helping your body stay strong.
11. Fatty fish
Good thing there are many fish in the sea – Dr Roussell says their vitamin D content helps maintain optimal blood levels when your body isn’t converting much of the vitamin from sunlight. A bonus is that stocking up on vitamin D may help fight certain cancers, strengthen bones and aid in weight loss, too, he adds.
12. Zinc-rich foods
Moreno says that due its high zinc content, lamb is a strong contender for cold-fighting food of the year. One recent study found that consuming zinc at the onset of a cold shortened it by one day, and consuming a preventative tablet daily reduced its severity. Other great zinc-packed options include pumpkin seeds and chickpeas.