We all know the dreaded feeling…a tickle in the throat, itchy nose, aches, fatigue, the works. Getting sick is never fun, and the winter and early spring are prime time for coming down with something. While there are no “cures” for the common cold, some foods may help our bodies recover — or at least make us feel a little better. To load up on the best remedies for when a cold comes on, we turned to our coalition of nutrition and health experts for their best tips.
Ask the experts, cold remedy edition
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. I’m all about keeping hydrated and there’s no better way than with homemade chicken stock made with chicken bones and mirepoix (mixture of onion, celery, and carrots). Not only is it bone-warming when I’m feeling sick, but I am also getting the nutrients from the bones and veggies that have seeped into the stock.
– Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More than 130 delicious, healthy recipes for every meal of the day.
Treat Yourself Well. Before I became a dietitian, I had little idea of the connection between what I ate and how I felt when I was sick. It was perfectly normal for me to eat cookies, macaroni and cheese, and drink sugary sodas when I had a cold. This was, of course, a disaster for my body. My simple cold would usually turn into bronchitis, often landing me miserable in bed for a week or two. Once I began to really pay attention to my body and what it needed, my “healing habits” changed signiﬁcantly. My go-to remedies now are Chicken Leek Soup (courtesy image below) and a hot tea made with fresh ginger root, lemon, and honey. Chicken soup with vegetables has been shown to reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms and increase the ﬂow of nasal mucous (this is good). Ginger is an anti-inﬂammatory and honey has been shown to help decrease the frequency of coughing which then leads to better sleep and increased healing. Both the soup and the tea are easy to digest, which lets my body direct all of it’s energy to healing instead of breaking down heavy foods. Now, when I get a cold, I eat a lot of soup, drink a ton of tea and I haven’t had bronchitis in years. My colds are less dramatic and I heal much more quickly.
– Bill Bradley, R.D., L.D.N., lecturer, cookbook author, and founder of Mediterranean Living
Go Green. A big green smoothie (here’s a basic starter recipe) and a solid night’s sleep. I like that the green smoothie gives me a serious infusion of vitamins and minerals — especially because colds can sometimes derail my diet a bit. Green smoothies are also very hydrating, and ﬂuids can help thin congestion. Tea with honey is another staple for me during colds. The warm liquid is soothing on my throat and there’s some evidence that honey may help quiet a cough.
– Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, RealMomNutrition.com
The Key is C. I recommend making sure you meet your vitamin C needs, which helps support your body’s immunity. So, make sure you are getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are the best source of vitamin C. In particular, berries, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, citrus, and dark green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin C. Sometimes when you’re not feeling well, you don’t feel like eating a huge, crunchy salad. That’s why I love the comforting feel of this recipe, Pantescan Potato Salad (courtesy image below), which has fresh tomatoes, potatoes, and onions—all good sources of vitamin C.
– Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Blog, nutrition consultant for Oldways
Be Proactive. At the ﬁrst hint** that a cold might be thinking of settling in, I spring into my 3-part prevention protocol: 1. Use a neti pot to irrigate sinuses with warm saline twice a day. 2. Brew up a batch of STRONG ginger tea, by simmering ½ cup of roughly chopped fresh ginger root in 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain and add a bit of honey and sip throughout. 3. Zinc lozenges every two hours, which helps prevent viruses from attaching to cell surfaces. Learn more about how zinc impacts a cold’s duration here.
**Early response is the key here. If you spring into action at the very ﬁrst tickle or suspicion, you have a much better chance of shutting down a cold before it gets going. As a classically trained singer, I’m probably more attuned than most to the slightest little sensation or change in my throat or nose. (Some might say “neurotic,” I say “better safe than sorry.”) Unfortunately, people often ignore those early warnings and hope they’re just imagining things. But once a cold is fully up and running, these interventions are much less eﬀective.
– Monica Reinagel, MD, LDN, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast, nutritionovereasy.com
Fight with Fennel. Ease your cold symptoms with fennel! Fennel has a celery-like crunch and licorice ﬂavor — it’s native to the mediterranean area and is part of the parsley family. Fennel is in season October through April, making this cold ﬁghting food abundant during the cold season. Fennel has been shown to reduce inﬂammation, which may help clear congestion and soothe a cough. When I encounter symptoms of a cold I try to incorporate fennel into various meals and snacks to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Fennel can be added to soup or salad and enjoyed raw or roasted. Fight your cold with my Kale, Fennel and Sorghum Salad recipe (courtesy image below).
– Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN Nutrition Communication Consultant at Triad to Wellness
Don’t Avoid Coﬀee. Coﬀee is a superfood in that it’s one of the highest sources of antioxidants we can eat or drink! Coﬀee, even caﬀeinated forms, are still hydrating, and can even help you feel better when you have a head cold by boosting alertness. For decreasing long-term chronic disease and boosting health, people who drink 3 to 4 cups per day are at decreased risk of heart disease, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes than those who abstain.
– Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director, Good Housekeeping Institute, @jaclynlondonRD
Eat the Rainbow. Vitamin C is important for immune health and may even help get rid of your cold faster. Colorful fruits and veggies do the trick — red and yellow peppers, broccoli, mixed greens, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, orange, and grapefruit. Enjoy a “kitchen sink” salad with as many colorful veggies you can ﬁnd, snack on a colorful fruit salad, and include hot water with lemon and a little honey throughout the day. The lemon contributes vitamin C and the honey can soothe a sore throat and may even help clear up a cough.
– Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, www.portionteller.com
Heat It Up. When you are not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is eat, but eating and drinking are important to your recovery. Even when your appetite is poor, drinking soothing liquids like hot tea and chicken soup will be comforting. Add vitamin C-rich foods and beverages because studies show that vitamin C can help lessen the severity of symptoms. My tip: Be prepared with a batch of this healthy whole grain chicken soup in your freezer.
– Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD, webmd.com/kathleen-m-zelman
Have Fun(gi). In addition to having anti-viral properties, Asian mushrooms, such as shiitake, enoki, and maitake, may also boost your immunity. Each mushroom oﬀers diﬀerent immune-boosting beneﬁts, so use a variety to maximize any healing eﬀects. This dairy-free, Creamy Mushroom Soup (courtesy image below) is just what thedoctor ordered when you’re down and out with a cold or ﬂu. It also comes together in minutes so you can spend more time resting, an important part of the recovery process.
– Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN, Living Plate Nutrition Education and Counseling Center, livingplate.com
Soup is Up. Whenever I feel a cold coming on I take a two pronged approach of rest and diet. In addition to getting as much sleep as humanly possible, I load up on foods ﬁlled with vitamin C which can shorten the length of a cold and lessen its severity. Since it takes a lot of vitamin C to do this (think 400 to 500 milligrams), I try to eat as many vitamin C-containing foods as possible like oranges, orange juice, strawberries, kiwis, red bell peppers and broccoli.
– Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer
ACV for the Win. One of the most important things to do when you’re sick is drink plenty of ﬂuid to replenish what your body has lost. My cold remedy is to sip on warm water with apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. The warm beverage will hep sooth a sore throat. The addition of the apple cider vinegar and lemon juice helps the body ﬁght oﬀ germs, gives you some energy, and helps improve digestion.
- Julie Harrington, Registered Dietitian and Culinary Communications Consultant of RDelicious Kitchen
Healthy Gut, Healthy You. Did you know that approximately 80% of your immune system is in your gut? Known for making your digestive system happy, probiotics (“good” bacteria) and prebiotics (“good” bacteria promoters) also play vital roles in supporting your body’s immunity. Fermented foods are extraordinarily rich in probiotics, and my Red Cabbage Sauerkraut with Bay and Fennel (courtesy image below) ﬁts the bill. With it also comes many of the other important nutrients that help ﬁght oﬀ infection and illness, including vitamins A and C, folate, ﬁber, and plenty of potent antioxidant phytochemicals, notably isothiocyanate, lycopene, and anthocyanins. Enjoy a serving of kraut with beans or barley (sources of prebiotics) for an even bigger immunity bump – the two nutrition boosters work best together. Eat to your good health!
–Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, nutrition consultant and food blogger at Heather Goesch Nutrition, contributing author to Food & Nutrition Magazine, www.heathergnutrition.com
Think Zinc. In a review of 15 controlled trials, zinc lozenges or syrup were shown to help reduce the duration and severity of colds in healthy people, when consumed within the ﬁrst 24 hours of the ﬁrst sniﬄe. But there is a catch. Those taking zinc lozenges may experience nausea and a bad aftertaste in their mouth. More research is needed to determine the correct dosage and usage for the general population, especially those with chronic illnesses. Check with your health care provider before you pop a lozenge or take a dose of zinc syrup.
– Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, clinical associate professor for Boston University, salge-blake.blogspot.com
Tea Time. When I feel like I’m getting sick, I take massive quantities of ginger tea! I grate or slice peeled fresh ginger into a teapot or mug, add some manuka honey and fresh mint, and pour boiling water over it. Letting it steep increases that yummy, warming gingery taste. Manuka honey has antibacterial properties and it really helps a sore throat; ginger is anti inﬂammatory; and ﬂuid helps hydrate. The mint? That’s just for taste!
– Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition in Toronto, Canada
Seek Soothing Foods and Drinks. I always reach for something warm to soothe all that ails. Chock full of tummy soothing ginger and anti-inﬂammatory turmeric, my Golden Milk Latte (courtesy image below, and at the top of the page) is at the top of that list right now. It helps me recover after a long day and I love to whip it up when I feel something icky coming on.
– Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, contributing editor for Food & Nutrition Magazine, marisamoore.com
The Good Stuﬀ. When I start to feel a cold coming on I up my intake of liquids and include plenty of chicken soup. Research shows that chicken soup can decrease cold symptoms by preventing inﬂammatory white cells from moving to other parts of your body. Plus chicken contains cysteine, an amino acid thought to help ﬁght illnesses. The hot liquid helps to loosen secretions and can help you stay hydrated, which is important when ﬁghting a cold.
– Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness Consulting
No More Red Nose. Truth be told, I had the nickname Rudolph a majority of my childhood because every time I would get sick I would rub my rose raw! In an eﬀort to keep my sniﬄes at bay (and my nose in tact), I have become fond of self care. Whether it’s letting myself lay in bed an extra 30 minutes, sipping a nice warm cup of hot tea or planning an extra walk, I feel so much better when I just let myself veer from the schedule and just be. Also, I really enjoy a delicious broth based soup, like Chicken Noodle (courtesy image below; coming in the Fertility Cookbook!), Heirloom Bean or Stir Fry Soup.
– Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, C0-Author of Fertility Foods Summer 2017 Hatherleigh Press, Nutrition Communications Consultant at Shaw’s Simple Swaps