Try as we might to ward them off, most of us will be affected by the odd sniffle this winter. The good news is that, even if you do fall victim to a cold or flu, knowing what to eat could reduce the severity of your symptoms and help you recover more quickly.
So should you feed a cold and starve a fever? There is a little scientific evidence to support this idea, but it’s hotly contested. Experts suggest you use your own appetite as your guide. Generally speaking, though, our bodies tend to require additional calories whilst recovering from illness. Let’s take flu, for example – calorie restriction can increase susceptibility, worsen symptoms and lengthen the duration of the illness. If you’re suffering from sickness and nausea, don’t force things but, once you are able, try to eat small, regular portions of food and plenty of liquids and fluid-rich foods.
Bounce back in record time with our guide to what to eat when you have a cold or flu, according to science…
Don’t fancy dry toast or crackers? Porridge is gentle on the stomach, making it the perfect choice if you’ve been suffering from nausea or diarrhoea. Oatmeal contains beta glucans, which help to bolster the immune system. Top with a chopped banana (or mash one up and stir it in – it makes a great natural sweetener) for a potassium boost.
Ginger is proven to tackle nausea – drink it in tea, blend it into juices, soups or smoothies, or add it to stir fries.
Pineapple is packed with bromelain – an enzyme which can help to reduce sinus and respiratory inflammation. Clinical nutritionist Sophie Manolas suggests topping pineapple rings with grated ginger.
New evidence suggests that, contrary to popular belief, vitamin C doesn’t necessarily shorten the duration of a cold. What does? Zinc. Eggs and mushrooms are both packed with the stuff.
Science backs this one up – cooked chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine which can help to thin mucus in the lungs. Hot broth (whatever you throw into it) also helps to prevent dehydration, open and moisten the sinus passages and fight inflammation in the throat.
Green and black teas are both packed with a bacteria-fighting compound called L-theanine. Drinking any kind of warm liquid will also promote hydration and decongestion.
Coconut oil maintains its antiviral properties when heated – use it to replace your usual cooking oil, or add a spoonful to a cup of tea.
If you’ve been having tummy troubles, coconut water will replenish electrolytes and rehydrate.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, which supports virus-fighting white blood cells and promotes the health of the mucus membranes.
Spicy foods such as wasabi, chilli and horseradish act as natural decongestants. Take it easy if you’re suffering from an upset stomach, though.
Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic. If you feel up to cooking, add a clove or two to stir fries, soups and sauces.
Cauliflower is packed with glutathione, an immune-boosting antioxidant also found in watermelon, broccoli, kale and cabbage. Add a few florets to your soup, or turn it into rice.
Gut bacteria are the unsung heroes of the immune system. Did you know that eating probiotic yoghurt could reduce your body’s inflammatory response, shortening the duration of your cold by two days and decreasing the severity of your symptoms by more than a third? Try adding raw honey (Manuka honey is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties) to a serving of unsweetened yoghurt. If you can, opt for a variety rich in Lactobacillus casei or Lactobacillus reuteri.
What to avoid…
If you’re hoping for a speedy recovery, lying on the sofa eating ice cream probably won’t help, unfortunately…. High-sugar foods can exacerbate inflammation and suppress the immune system, whilst fats can be more difficult to digest than proteins and carbohydrates, and may cause stomach pains if you are already feeling sensitive.