Superfoods that fight colds

Trying to avoid colds and flu? These foods can help.
Health.com // Health.com
They say you are what you eat, so it makes sense that eating healthy foods can help you stay, er, healthy.

"You can't underestimate the importance of good nutrition when it comes to...your immune system," says Karen Ansel, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants—these are what keeps your body strong, and without them you're not giving your body the edge it needs to ward off infection."

And we're not talking just fruits and vegetables: Foods from every food group are represented here. Make them a part of your diet for your best defense against colds and flu.
--By Amanda MacMillan, Health.com
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Fish

Oily fish—including salmon, tuna, and mackerel—are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that help reduce harmful inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation prevents your immune system from working properly, and can contribute to colds and flu as well as more serious diseases.

Omega 3s may fight colds on more than one front. In a placebo-controlled 2011 study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, medical students who took fish oil supplements for three months had lower inflammation levels and also fewer symptoms of anxiety—a condition that can itself weaken immune function.
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Oysters

Zinc, an essential mineral, has a strong track record of fighting the common cold. A comprehensive review of the research, published in a Canadian medical journal in 2012, concluded that taking zinc lozenges appears to shorten the duration of cold symptoms in adults.

Zinc supplements carry a risk of side effects such as nausea and headaches, however. A better bet, says Ansel, may be to get zinc straight from your diet. Oysters contain more of the nutrient per serving than any other food—but if you're concerned about staying healthy, you might not want to eat them raw. "Uncooked shellfish could contain harmful bacteria that could make you sick in other ways," Ansel says.silver.
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Garlic

These pungent cloves do more than just flavor your food. Garlic also contains allicin, a sulfuric compound that produces potent antioxidants when it decomposes.

A 2001 study in the journal Advances in Therapy found that people who took garlic supplements for 12 weeks between November and February got fewer colds than those who took a placebo. And of those who did get sick, those who took the garlic supplement felt better faster.

Garlic packs the biggest antioxidant punch when eaten raw. Flavor too strong for you? Consider taking aged-garlic extract capsules.
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Anise seeds

These licorice-flavored seeds, which have antibacterial properties, have been shown to ease coughing and help clear congestion from the upper respiratory tract.

Anise seeds can be eaten (in rolls and cookies, for instance), but for cold-fighting the delivery method of choice is usually tea. According to the American Pharmaceutical Association's Practical Guide to Natural Medicines, a typical recipe is to add one cup of crushed anise seeds to one cup of hot water, and flavor with sugar, garlic, cinnamon, or honey (if desired). Sip this concoction up to three times a day.
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Citrus fruits

Recent research suggests that vitamin C may not be as useful in preventing colds as once thought. However, studies do show that taking the vitamin at the first sign of illness may reduce a cold's duration by about a day, which can feel like a lifetime when you're suffering.

Eating lots of citrus—whether that entails digging in to orange and grapefruit slices, or using lemons and limes in recipes—will provide plenty of this powerhouse nutrient. Don't worry about overdoing it, since it's very hard to overdose on vitamin C. Anything your body doesn't use is just washed right out of your system.
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Fennel

Like anise seeds, fennel is a natural expectorant, and can help clear chest congestion and soothe a persistent cough. The two foods have similar flavors, in fact, and in supermarkets fennel is sometimes referred to as anise, even though they're different plants.

Fennel can be eaten raw or roasted, but you may get the best cold-fighting benefit from drinking a tea made from fennel seeds. Try Yogi Tea's Throat Comfort, or make your own with 1.5 teaspoons of fennel seeds and one cup boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes, strain, and sweeten with honey to taste.
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Yogurt and kefir

We usually think of bacteria as a bad thing, but some of these microorganisms are essential for good health. Eating probiotic foods, such as yogurt and kefir, is a good way to replenish beneficial strains of bacteria, which promote digestive health and help prevent stomach ailments. "There are over 10 trillion bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract, so you want to make sure the good ones outnumber the bad ones," Ansel says.

The benefits of good bacteria may go beyond our gut. A 2011 review of the research found that consuming probiotics—whether in food or supplement form—lowers the risk of upper respiratory tract infections better than a placebo.
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Tea

Everyone knows a steaming hot cup of tea can help break up chest congestion and soothe a sore throat, but the benefits may run deeper.

All tea—black, green, or white—contains a group of antioxidants known as catechins, which may have flu-fighting properties. In a 2011 Japanese study, people who took catechin capsules for five months had 75% lower odds of catching the flu than people taking a placebo.

Need another reason to turn on the kettle? Other research suggests catechins may help boost overall immunity, rev metabolism, and protect against cancer and heart disease.
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Red peppers

Like citrus fruits, red peppers are high in vitamin C. In fact, one red pepper has 150 milligrams of the nutrient—that's twice the recommended daily allowance for women. (A large orange, by comparison, only has about 100 milligrams.)

Even that may not be enough, however, as studies suggest you need much more than that to harness the nutrient's cold-fighting benefits. "If you're sick, you should be eating a lot of vitamin C throughout the day—400 to 500 milligrams," Ansel says.
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