Remember the old saying “ there is a pill for every ill”? Now you can say “ there is a diet for every illness” and you will be right. There are hundreds of diet books on the market. While many of these diets aim to help you lose weight, there are plenty of diets created to help prevent or manage heart diseases, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, autoimmune diseases, skin diseases, and more. Is there a cold and flu diet, too?
While there is no standard diet specifically for colds and flu, certain foods have been researched and may help promote quicker recovery from a cold or flu. These foods support the immune system, decrease inflammation, fight viruses and other microbes. According to Harvard researchers, it is well known that nutrition is intricately connected to immunity and plays a role in how severe the infection is. Therefore you can create your own cold and flu diet, using the recommendations below:
The best foods you could eat when you are sick
- Chicken soup (warm or hot). Have one or two bowls of soup during the illness. Hot soups and beverages are generally recommended during a cold or flu, because they help eliminate excess mucus and prevent dehydration caused by fever, vomiting or diarrhea. However, chicken soups seem to be particularly beneficial. Chicken soups are a good source of vitamins, minerals and proteins which are needed for the immune system and help you recover from the illness. Some preliminary studies suggest that chicken soup helps reduce inflammation by influencing the activity of special immune cells called neutrophils. Furthermore, research also notes that soups are made by a loved one, and thus they also involve psychological support that is also beneficial to fight a viral infection. For extra benefits, have some garlic and add herbs and spices like turmeric and pepper, ginger, oregano and basil. Each of them has anti inflammatory, and antiviral qualities.
- Garlic is one of the most researched foods in the world, and has a long history of use in folk medicine. Ancient Chinese and Indian systems of medicine recommended garlic to manage respiratory infections for thousands of years. Research found is also helpful to prevent or manage heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and it also shows anti tumor effects. Garlic has broad spectrum antimicrobial effects. It helps fight various bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses- including viruses responsible for cold and flu, herpes simplex and rotaviruses.
- Herbs and spices. Add plenty of herbs and spices to your soups, salads and other dishes. You can also make hot tea with them. Many of them are great sources of antioxidant, antiinflammatory and antiviral compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and alkaloids. However, there are a few superstars you may want to choose more often during the cold seasons. Turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, sage, and peppermint have documented activity against viruses responsible for common cold and flu. A few notes on how to get the most out of these herbs and spices: turmeric should be consumed with black pepper or ginger, because these combinations significantly increase the absorption of curcumin (the key active ingredient in turmeric). Oregano oil is more potent than oregano leaves, and is available in supplement form.
- Nutrient rich foods, and an overall balanced diet. Your body uses large amounts of nutrients during an illness- particularly more vitamins B, C,D, and minerals like magnesium, zinc and iron. Macronutrients like proteins, fats and carbohydrates are also important. Follow a Mediterranean style diet with plenty of vegetables from all colors, some fruits (include some vitamin C rich foods like berries and citrus fruits), legumes, grains, nuts, healthy oils (ie olive oil, avocado), fish, poultry, herbs and spices. This diet has documented anti-inflammatory qualities. Add some probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir and pickled vegetables. Small meals are usually better tolerated during an illness. It is normal to eat less during an illness due to decreased appetite, but it is important to eat nutrient rich foods. Choose more often to boil or baked foods, rather than fried foods. Eating easy to digest foods like oats, bananas and sweet potatoes. Drinking enough water is also important. If you want both hydration and electrolyte replacement consider coconut water.
Foods you should avoid
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the benefits of eating wholesome foods and limiting processed foods and meats. Western-style diet (fast food) is associated with increased inflammation which would interfere with the recovery process. There are a few issues with processed foods. They are empty in vitamins and some minerals, while high in simple carbohydrates and in unhealthy fats (ie increased omega 6 fatty acids: omega 3 fatty acids ratio).
Excess alcohol should also be avoided because it depresses the immune system.
Finally, diet is only one part of your plan to recover quickly from cold and flu. Make sure you get enough sleep. Very intense or heavy exercise is also suppressing the immune system temporarily- choose light stretching or yoga over training hard during the illness. Supplements like vitamins C, D, and zinc can also help – check out this article for more details. Elderberry is also a good option