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10 Best Diet Tips for Common Cold Prevention

diet for common cold

Did you know that by making small modifications to you daily diet, you can turbo-charge your body's natural defense mechanisms targeting viruses that are responsible for the common cold and flu? Here's a round-up of the best diet tips for preventing and treating the common cold and flu.

#1: Up Your Allicin Intake

Since ancient times, garlic has been a popular folk remedy for a vast range of ailments, including the common cold and flu. In 1858, Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria died when they were exposed to garlic. More recent research has shown that garlic's anti-bacterial and anti-viral activity against infections comes from allicin, a compound that is found in garlic when the plant is crushed or chopped. Allicin is also found in other plants of the Allium family, including onions and shallots. For more information about garlic and flu, see the article Garlic – A Natural Cure Common Cold and Flu?.

#2:  Cut Down on Foods That Are High in Sugar

Reduce your sugar intake is undoubtedly one of the best diet tips for preventing the common cold. There is strong scientific evidence suggesting that sugar decreases the function of the immune system. When white blood cells, the defenders of the immune system, are exposed to high levels of sugar, their ability to fight bacteria decreases significantly, which makes the body more prone to all infections. In addition, sugar depletes the body of some very important cold-fighting vitamins, including vitamins C, E and B. When adopting a low-sugar diet, read food labels carefully as many so called healthy foods contain extremely high amounts of sugar. Also many processed foods, even if they do not taste particularly sweet, often contain high amounts of hidden sugar.

Vitamin C has been widely touted for its cold and flu preventing power.

#3:  Eat Plenty of Foods Rich in Vitamin C

Since the release of the book Vitamin C and the Common Cold, authored by the two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling about 40 years ago, vitamin C has been touted as the natural cure for the common cold. However, scientific studies have shown mixed results, some suggesting that vitamin C can, indeed, help prevent and treat cold and flu, while others have not found any significant effects. The studies that have associated vitamin C with a reduced incidence of the common cold have shown that large doses of vitamin C taken before at the onset of cold can shorten the duration of symptoms or prevent the symptoms completely. Vitamin C is believed to act against cold viruses by stimulating the white blood cells which defend the body against viruses.

#4:  Try Limiting Dairy Products

Many alternative therapists advocate avoiding milk and other dairy when you have a cold. Dairy products are thought to promote the build-up of mucus in the throat and may thus worsen cold symptoms. However, clinical research supporting the avoidance of dairy to treat cold is limited and the results are inconclusive. The best way to find out whether limiting dairy intake helps to alleviate cold symptoms is to experiment yourself: next time you have a cold, skip the dairy and see if that helps.

#5:  Step Up Your Zinc Intake

Oats are a good plant-based source of zinc.

'Add more foods that are rich in zinc to your diet' is yet another good diet tip for preventing the common cold. Zinc enhances the immune system and may reduce the intensity of cold symptoms as well as the duration of colds. This is because zinc promotes the production of bacteria-busting white blood cells and maintains the proper functioning of the thymus gland which is heavily involved in the regulation of the immune system. Zinc, which requires vitamin B6 for proper absorption in the intestines, is found in a variety of foods, the best dietary sources being oysters, red meat, and poultry. Zinc from plant sources such as nuts, legumes, and grains is of a different type than that found in animal sources and is not readily used by the body, although oats are a good source of zinc that the body can easily use.

#6:  Relief Cold Symptoms with Hot Drinks and Soups

Hot tea and soups have been used as a folk remedy for colds and flu for centuries. Recently, also the scientific community has recognized the power of hot liquids to treat cold symptoms. A research conducted at the Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre found that a simple hot drink of fruit cordial can provide "immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness". The researchers compared the effects of an apple and blackcurrant cordial drunk either hot or at room temperature.

Spicy and pungent foods stimulate the mucus membranes.

#7:  Spice it Up

Anecdotal evidence suggests that pungent and spicy foods — such as ginger, chili peppers, curry, hot mustard, onions, and horseradish — can ward off colds. The beneficial effects are thought to result from the ability of spicy foods to clear congestion by stimulating the mucus membranes.

#8:  Eat Foods that Provide Probiotic Bacteria

Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum (or L. acidophilus and B. bifidum, for short) are so-called probiotic bacteria which live in the gastrointestinal tract where they aid digestion and fight the overgrowth of disease-causing bacteria. Some new studies suggest that these health-promoting bacteria may also be effective at preventing respiratory infections such as flu and the common cold. Regular intake of certain probiotic bacteria has also been shown to reduce the duration and the severity of common cold symptoms. Indeed, yoghurt containing live cultures of probiotic bacteria has been used as a folk remedy for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Other dietary sources of probiotic bacteria include milk and sour milk enriched with the bacteria, miso, and tempeh. Increasing your intake of probiotic bacteria is particularly important if you have recently been taking an antibiotic medication as antibiotics are known to destroy the healthy flora in the intestines.

Water helps keep mucus lines moist.

#9:  Drink Enough Water, Avoid Alcohol

Drinking water helps keep the mucus lines in the throat moist, which helps flush viruses and bacteria down to the stomach, where powerful acids destroy them. Drinking plenty of fluids when you have a cold is also important because you lose more fluids when you are sick. Stick to water, unsweetened fruit juices, or soup and avoid alcohol beverages as alcohol can deplete immune-boosting nutrients and cause dehydration.

#10:  Be Sure to Get Enough Vitamin D

Here's our final diet-related tip for preventing the common cold and flu: make sure you get enough vitamin D! Vitamin D appears to have protective effects against colds and other respiratory tract infections, especially in people with asthma and other chronic lung conditions. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained through diet by eating foods like liver, egg yolks, fish, and dairy products fortified with vitamin D. However, most people meet their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight which triggers the body to synthesize its own vitamin D. However, keep in mind that overexposure to the sun can cause short-term sunburn as well as long-term damage, including premature skin aging and cell mutation in the skin layers, which may lead to skin cancer. For most people, 5 to 30 minutes per day of sun exposure on the face and arms is enough.

Related to Diet & the Common Cold:

For further information on the nutritional approach to fending off colds and flu, see: