Wave goodbye to hankies by eating these foods this winter
Vitamin C can’t stop you from getting a cold, but it can ease the suffering and speed recovery. And kiwis are packed with the stuff – just one contains 75mg of the C vit. Up your intake at the first sign of a sniffle to get back to good health superquick. Don’t want to eat something that’s green and furry? Get your vitamin C from strawberries, blackcurrants or citrus fruits.
Blueberries have the highest antioxidant content of any fresh fruit, and this helps maintain your immune defences against illnesses. Most of this benefit is thought to come from anthocyanins – the pigments that make blueberries blue. (Prunes are even better for antioxidants than fresh fruit, if you can bear to eat them.)
Eat foods with zing to help clear a bunged-up nose and cough. Capsaicin, the mouth-burning compound in chilli peppers, is similar to a compound found in many over-the-counter cough mixtures and expectorants. Hot English mustard, horseradish and ginger also help beat congestion.
Medical studies have shown that Manuka honey has an antibacterial effect when applied to wounds, and there’s some evidence that this, along with its anti-inflammatory effect, could help tackle sore throats. Honey is also soothing in its own right – use it to make alcohol-free hot toddies with lemon and ginger.
They’re one of the best sources of zinc, an anti-viral, antioxidant and all-round immune booster. Studies suggest that zinc could also help stop the cold virus sticking to the lining of the respiratory tract. If you don’t like seeds, meat and seafood are also good zinc sources.
Scientists have shown that people who eat garlic suffer from fewer, and shorter, colds than non-garlic eaters. But you need to eat around a clove every day, as it doesn’t appear to help much once a cold’s taken hold – it’s more of a preventative aid. Bung a teaspoon of freshly crushed garlic into salad dressings, or add to pasta sauce just before serving – cooking makes the beneficial allicin in the garlic less effective. Garlic’s also great for selenium, known to be an immune-boosting mineral.
Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant phytochemical that strengthens the immune system. The body also converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, essential for keeping the mucous membranes in the nose, throat and lungs intact and healthy, so they can act as a barrier to cold bugs. You can also get beta-carotene from other orange and yellow veg and fruit, like red and orange peppers, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe melons.
UK scientists have discovered that the theobromine in chocolate is as good as or more effective at tackling coughs than a leading cough medicine. It’s also a fantastic antioxidant, and rich in immune-boosting polyphenols. What’s not to like about that kind of research? Well, we’re not talking any old chocolate – it needs to be the darkest and bitterest you can find, with the highest possible percentage cocoa solids.
When your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids when you’ve got a cold, it’s to keep your mucous membranes moist and able to trap and dispose of cold viruses. Water’s the best hydrator, but if you drink orange juice (neat or diluted) you’ll get a healthy slug of cold-beating vitamin C at the same time. And it tastes far more interesting.
NB Don’t even think about upping your fluid intake with alcohol when you’re sniffling – it hampers the immune system’s ability to destroy virus-infected cells.
Scientists have suggested that drinks containing probiotics or ‘friendly bacteria’ can shorten a cold by nearly a quarter, and reduce headaches, coughing and sneezing. The effects seem to be down to the beneficial bugs boosting the immune system, particularly the defensive T cells, so you need to take them long term to toughen up your body’s defences for when the cold virus strikes.
Words by Carina Norris, author of You Are What You Eat: the mealplanner that will change your life (Virgin Books).