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Eating Tips for Cold and Flu Season

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD
WebMD Feature

So you want to do everything you can to stay well and avoid this year’s cold or flu. You might want to start with your diet.

Of course, you need to get enough sleep, stay active, and curb stress. But then, certain foods can support your immune system and help it protect you.

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One of the first things you want to do, says Woodson Merrell, MD, author of The Detox Prescription, is cut down on foods that lead to inflammation. That includes refined carbohydrates like white flour or white rice, sugar, and saturated fats found in butter and other animal fats, such as chicken skin.

In place of them, Merrell recommends you eat:

  • Lots of vegetables, herbs, and spices
  • Some fruit, but not too much
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Moderate amounts of healthy oils such as olive oil

Feed Your Cold

Want to "feed your cold"? Make room on your plate for these items:

  1. Mushrooms: These are good for your immune system, Merrell says, especially shiitake, maitake (also known as hen of the woods), and reishi mushrooms. The familiar button mushroom is a good way to get vitamin D, which you also need. Mushrooms, says Elson Haas, MD, author of Ultimate Immunity, are most delicious when cooked.
  2. Garlic: Eating garlic regularly is one of the best things you can do during cold and flu season. Allicin, a natural chemical in garlic, fights bacteria and possibly viruses too. Remember, colds and the flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
  3. Citrus: These tangy fruits are a great way to get vitamin C. It’s a key antioxidant that also supports your immune system. In addition to oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruit, you can get vitamin C from peppers, kiwi, and strawberries.
  4. Herbs and spices: These not only make your food tasty, Merrell says, they also have been shown to kill germs. Try curry, which is a mix of spices like hot peppers, turmeric, garlic, and ginger that curb inflammation. Rosemary, oregano, and thyme are other herbs that give you antioxidants.
  5. Probiotics: These “good” bacteria help keep your gut healthy. That, in turn, is good for your overall immunity. You can find them in fermented food, such as sauerkraut, kefir, and some yogurts. Look for “live cultures” on the label.
  6. Prebiotics: These are carbs your body cannot digest. They are food for probiotics, so they’re good to include in your diet. Oats and barley have one called beta-glucan. Onions, bananas, and asparagus have another called inulin.
  7. Chicken soup: It really does help you through a cold. It helps fight inflammation. Warm liquids, including chicken soup, can soothe your sore throat and help relieve congestion.
  8. Astragalus : This root is used in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate the immune system. Some studies have found that astragalus can help your body fight off colds. Although it’s often added to soups, it is also available as a supplement. Before you take any supplement, check with your doctor.

Reviewed on July 09, 2015

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