Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever?

If you're not quite sure how this saying goes, you can relax: Starving is never the correct answer.

When you eat a good-for-you, well-balanced diet, many other things fall in place that keep your body working well. Foods that are rich in nutrients help fight infections and may help prevent illness. They’re delicious, too! Get to know the best sources.

Antioxidants

These can help keep your immune system strong. Antioxidants -- which include beta carotene and vitamins C and E -- are essential nutrients and can help keep your immune system strong. They help protect your body on the inside. One way they do that is to target “free radicals,” which are molecules that can harm things including cell membranes. By taking away their destructive power, antioxidants may help you stay healthy or bounce back faster if you do get sick.

The best way to include them in your diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables. If you cook them, use as little liquid as possible to keep the nutrients in the food.

Most health organizations recommend eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That will give you plenty of antioxidants. For example, one quarter of a cantaloupe gives you nearly half the beta carotene you need in a day. Plus, it’s a rich source of vitamin C. And spinach gives you beta carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, and magnesium.

Foods rich in beta carotene and other carotenoids include: Apricots, asparagus, beef liver, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, guava, kale, mangoes, mustard and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash (yellow and winter), sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Foods rich in vitamin C include: broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, orange juice, papaya, red, green or yellow pepper, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Foods rich in vitamin E include: almonds, corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, lobster, peanut butter, safflower oil, salmon steak, and sunflower seeds.

Bioflavonoids

Foods high in bioflavonoids may also help you stay healthy. Research shows that these key nutrients help to boost immune system activation. These natural substances accompany vitamin C in plants and act as an antioxidant.

Food sources: You can find bioflavonoids in the pulp and white core that runs through the center of citrus fruits, green peppers, lemons, limes, oranges, cherries, and grapes. Quercetin is a highly concentrated bioflavonoid found in broccoli, citrus fruits, and red and yellow onions.

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Glutathione

Glutathione is another nutrient that helps the immune system work well so it can fight infections.

Food sources: You can get it from broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, and other cruciferous vegetables.

Phytochemicals

Foods high in phytochemicals are also important for wellness. Phytochemicals are in all plants, so a diet that includes a variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables will give you these healthy substances.

Food sources: Apples, apricots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, legumes, onions, red peppers, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Protein

You need protein to build and repair body tissue and fight viral and bacterial infections. It’s rare for anyone in the U.S. to be low on protein, and too much can be bad for your kidneys. Make sure you choose lean sources, such as beans and soy, lean beef, and skinless chicken or turkey.

Chicken Soup

Chicken soup appears to help fight colds in at least two research studies. It helps clear nasal congestion as well as thin mucus so you can better cough it up. Also, research shows it may have a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can help ease cold symptoms.

Drinking hot tea is another great old home remedy. Hot tea helps to thin mucus and ensure proper hydration of the body. Green and black teas are filled with flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on January 25, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Bruce, D. The Sinus Cure, Ballantine, 2007.

Mayo Clinic: "Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, What Can't Hurt."

eMedicineHealth: "Colds Treatment: Self-Care at Home."

FDA: "Colds and Flu: Time Only Sure Cure."

American Lung Association: "A Survival Guide for Preventing and Treating Influenza and the Common Cold."

Nutrients: “Dietary Natural Products for Prevention and Treatment of Liver Cancer.”

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