This time of the year comes with dark nights, icy mornings and Jack Frost nipping at your nose, but there is one thing that appears to come hand in hand with all these things: colds and flus. Hopefully this year with less interaction and everyone practicing better hygiene, there may be less colds and flus going round, but that said if there was ever a year you want to avoid coughing in a public place, it’s this year. So, can we do anything to prevent or treat cold and flus through nutrition, well we’re about to find out. In this post I will be explaining suggestions of how to fight cold and flus and the evidence behind these suggestions.
Foods that you may want to avoid
The elimination of dairy products is one tip that I have seen circulating resources on colds and flus, but the evidence behind this is not that strong. The belief is that dairy products create more mucus, which is associated with colds and flus. Evidence to support the elimination of dairy in products to treat cold and flus, is however limited (Bartley & McGlashan 2010), so I wouldn’t go chucking out the milk just yet.
Avoiding Greasy Food
I have also come across suggestions that greasy foods worsen cold and flu symptoms, but could not find any evidence to back this claim. Personally I think greasy food would be the last thing I’d want if I was suffering with a cold or flu anyway.
Things you can do that might help
First off rest is the main thing that will help you fight off a cold or a flu. Your body is focusing on energy on your immune response to the illness, so it doesn’t need you carrying on as normal to wear that energy out!
Lots of Hydration
Hydration is key whether this is water, herbal teas or hot water with honey and lemon!
Water-based soups, such as a chicken broth or a vegetable soup, are often the source of comfort for many when suffering from illness. Is this because we tend to get colds and flus in the winter seasons so a soup warms us up, is it because the warm soup is soothing on a sore throat, or is it that soups actually work as a form of medication? It also may not even be the soup itself that works to help symptoms, but rather the hydration that comes from the water.
So, it seems logical that soups do in fact help us, but what is the evidence behind it? Hopkins (2003) found that chicken soup does in fact offer benefits. One study (Saketkhoo et al. 1978) has even compared hot water to soup, and still found that soup offered more benefits that hot water alone, suggesting that it is not simply a benefit of hydration.
Chicken soups vary in ingredients and more research needs to be conducted but it seems logical that any chicken soup will give you some comfort, but maybe some more than others.
Having Vitamin C rich food/drinks
There are various food and drinks that contain vitamin C, such as orange, guava, tomato juice, strawberries etc. Vitamin C contains antioxidants, as well as immune system boosters which are said to enhance the body’s ability to fight cold and flus. Vitamin C contains flavonoids, as well as essential minerals and vitamins, so this means the body still gets nutrients despite lack of food or lack of good quality food, which is often common when people are suffering cold and flus.
There are a few studies which support vitamin C as a benefit to colds and flus. One study found that administering vitamin C resulted in 80% more decrease in self-reported cold and flu symptoms, in comparison to doses of decongestants and pain relievers (Gorton and Jarvis, 1999). So, this does show there is evidence to support the claim that vitamin C can support recovery from cold and flu symptoms. It also suggests that vitamin C may even be better than some shop bought medicines we may rely on.
However, in the study, the vitamin C doses used were 1000mg which was taken hourly within the first 6 hours and then three times a day after that. So, it would be extremely unlikely you would reach this amount through a normal diet. For those of you that may not know just how much 1000mg of vitamin C is, to put it into perspective, the average orange contains around 53mg of vitamin C. So just be mindful that having one orange may not cure your cold! Nonetheless, we should be having vitamin C regularly anyway as part of a healthy diet, so this shouldn’t be a new food/drink just because you are ill.
Garlic can be used in lots of meals and when garlic is chopped, crushed or chewed it is said to boost the immune system. This is because it enhances the immune response of white blood cells which play a key role in the immune system. Therefore, it makes sense that anything that would boost the immune system would help cold and flus.
This claim has been supported in studies. Nantz et al (2012) found consumption of aged garlic extract, resulted in reduced severity, instances and length of time of self-reported cold and flus. Garlic extract also appeared to modify immune cells and this was suggested to be the reason for the effect on cold and flus.
This evidence does suggest that garlic may help to reduce cold and flu symptoms and instances. However, the study used aged garlic extract and it may be this particular type of extract that observed this effect, therefore garlic in its natural form may not see the same effect. So, although this suggests that garlic is beneficial, it doesn’t necessarily mean that by having garlic you will observe the same results. I wouldn’t say on the basis of this to go and chomp on a raw piece of garlic by any means, but garlic is in most cooking anyway so by adding it you may experience some benefits.
Having Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is said to help fight illnesses due to its antiseptic properties. I have seen suggestions to either shot apple cider vinegar or have apple cider vinegar with water each day.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much evidence to support these claims. So, I don’t think it is worth putting yourself through this as it would be horrible, not to mention the harmful effects on teeth and your stomach from its high acidity. So, this one is a big no no from me.
Eating More Ginger
Ginger is found to have positive effects on the gut, and as the gut is linked with the immune system, it is important that the gut functions effectively in order to have a good immune system. This is possibly why it is suggested to be good for colds and flus.
However, once again there was little literature support this so if you like ginger then give it a go but maybe if you don’t it’s not something you should go out of your way to eat. Ginger can be used in many forms: cookies, added to water, ginger ale, ginger tea etc.
So, I hope you that your main takeaway from this blog post is that while you can do things that may help a cold or flu, there is no guarantee. At this stage in research it is best to eat a balanced diet, rest well and practice good hygiene so you have less chance of catching a cold in the first place. If you do happen to get ill then by all means try recommendations and old wives tales, but don’t expect them to work miracles. More importantly if you don’t like the food/drink that might help, don’t put yourself through it when it may not even work!
Bartley, J. and McGlashan, S.R., 2010. Does milk increase mucus production?. Medical hypotheses, 74(4), pp.732-734.
Hopkins, A.B., 2003. Chicken soup cure may not be a myth. Nurse Practitioner, 28(6), p.16.
Gorton, H.C. and Jarvis, K., 1999. The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 22(8), pp.530-533.
Nantz, M.P., Rowe, C.A., Muller, C.E., Creasy, R.A., Stanilka, J.M. and Percival, S.S., 2012. Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Clinical Nutrition, 31(3), pp.337-344.
Saketkhoo, K., Januszkiewicz, A. and Sackner, M.A., 1978. Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest, 74(4), pp.408-410.