It’s that time of year again. The long pyjama pants have come out of closet-hibernation, your bed is looking that much comfier (and harder to get out of), and we’re all getting the case of the sniffles.
Unless you're superhuman, getting a cold is inevitable. But eating and drinking the right foods at the beginning may help you feel better, and may reduce the severity if you’re already sick with a cold.
“There are specific foods that have properties which can help to fend off that cold when you feel it coming on,” accredited practising dietician Chloe McLeod told The Huffington Post Australia. “Obviously the earlier you pick up that you’re coming down with something, the more likely you are to be able to stop it in its tracks.”
Early symptoms of a common cold include a runny nose, scratchy throat, headache and feeling a bit run down and tired.
“As soon as you’re not quite feeling yourself and you feel these symptoms come on, hit it with everything you can and you’re more likely to avoid it,” McLeod said.
“Garlic would be my number one go-to. It’s really well-known for having great antimicrobial and antibacterial properties,” McLeod said.
“Research is showing that people who regularly eat garlic tend to have less colds than people who don’t include it as often.”
The major active component that is responsible for these antimicrobial and antibacterial properties is allicin, which acts to help ward off colds and help reduce their severity.
“Garlic is also a prebiotic and provides food for the healthy bacteria in the gut, so it helps to keep your gut healthy, as well. It’s got some great properties,” McLeod said.
“It’s gotten pretty trendy recently and it’s one that is trendy with good reason,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
“Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory spice which is used a lot in Indian-style cooking and, again, it’s got antibacterial and antiviral properties which also help with your immune system.
“It contains a compound called curcumin, and that’s the main compound in turmeric which has those great properties.”
Interestingly, to get the best of this healing spice, turmeric is best consumed with pepper.
“This helps the body utilise it more effectively,” McLeod said. “If you’re making a curry and putting turmeric in it, I would recommend adding some cracked pepper, as well.”
Because of turmeric's fairly neutral taste, we can also benefit from adding it to drinks.
“I often recommend to include it in your smoothies -- it works quite well when you blend it up with some pineapple and ginger. It’s pretty strong and gives you a nice boost of vitamin C, along with the turmeric and ginger.”
“Often you hear about having lemon and ginger tea when you’ve got a scratchy throat and it’s for good reason,” McLeod said. “Ginger has really similar properties to turmeric -- it’s a natural immune booster.”
Try incorporating ginger into a smoothie or a stir fry, or grate some into hot water to make a fresh ginger tea.
“This is a really good way to get a big nutritional punch -- include lots of different veggies and healthy spices (including turmeric),” McLeod said.
“Soup is warming and because it’s liquid, it’s easier to eat than if you’re trying to have something that you have to cut and chew.
“It’s also really important to keep fluids up, as well. So having a soup can help get the fluids in.”
Like vegetable soup, chicken soup helps to get in extra fluids -- plus, it also gets things moving in your sinuses, so to speak.
“Chicken soup helps to loosen up your airways and can help your body secrete that extra mucus that might be there,” McLeod said.
Another reason having chicken soup will make you feel better when we’re feeling the beginnings of a cold (or when we’re already in the snotty grips of one) is due to the presence of a particular compound.
“When the chicken is cooked it releases an amino acid called cysteine, which is similar to that of a drug used to treat some medical conditions,” McLeod said. “When you hear that chicken soup is great, there’s actually a bit of science behind it.”
Grandma was right, after all.
Water and tea
“It’s important to keep your fluids up to help flush everything through. The better hydrated your body is the better it’s able to function,” McLeod said.
But if you're feeling under the weather during the cooler months (chances are, you're huddled around the heater), you might not feel like drinking water. This is where tea can help.
“I like recommending green tea or herbal teas if you feel a cold coming on,” McLeod said.
“Kiwi fruit is really rich in vitamin C, which is quite well known for helping to ward off colds and reducing the severity of them,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
Other vitamin C-rich foods include oranges, dark leafy greens, capsicum and lemons.
“Lemons are another really great option,” McLeod said. “They are a rich source of vitamin C and good for its antibacterial properties.”
“Flavour-wise it works really well with turmeric and ginger, as well.”
“Carrots are rich in vitamin A. The reason I recommend this is because the skin is the body’s first line of defence against getting sick,” McLeod said.
“So if you’ve got healthy skin and mucosal surfaces (like the inside of our noses and mouth), that helps to reduce the risk of infection.”
Other vitamin A-rich foods include sweet potato, leafy greens, apricots and papaya.
Eating a range of colourful whole foods will not only help fight current colds, but help you from getting them in the future.
If you really want to kick the beginning of a cold, eat a combination of these foods to get the best of everything.
"The more things you do all at once -- and the earlier you take action -- the more likely you will not get sick or, at least, minimise the duration of it.”
If you’re thinking that milk chocolate and chips might be the answer to your impending cold, you'll be disappointed to hear that junk food is not doing you any favours.
“I would be careful to avoid processed foods -- so foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar,” McLeod said.
“They’re not going to help your body fight off a sickness.”
Wondering whether you should still hit the gym if you feel a cold coming on? McLeod suggests perhaps going for a walk instead.
“I would say to keep it a bit more relaxed and maybe go for a walk and get some fresh air,” McLeod said. “Gyms can sometimes be a bit germy and it might be better to avoid areas where there’s potentially other sick people -- you also don’t want to get other people sick.”