Superfoods that fight colds
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yogurt and kefir
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.
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.
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.