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While the research conducted over the past 10 years has not found a specific food to be the end-all cure-all, there seem to be some foods that affect the way your body responds to infections. By integrating vitamin- and antioxidant-rich foods into your diet, you have a better chance of shortening the length of your sickness and giving your immune system a better fighting chance.
Almonds in particular were found to directly combat the cold and flu. A 2010 article in The Telegraph on scientists at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England, and the Policlinico Universitario in Messina, Italy, discovered that almond skins improve white blood cells’ ability to detect infections and increase defense against infections. The study didn't say how many almonds it takes to fight a cold, but it’s thought that regularly eating almonds can help completely ward off a cold, and eating them while sick shortens the duration.
Stay Well: Throat too sore to even think about those little immunity boosters? Try downing a glass of almond milk for the same effect. It’s a good source of protein, vitamin E, and zinc for a stronger immune system.
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Though there is an allure to exotic mushrooms (and a costly price), simple mushrooms, like white button mushrooms, can also provide health benefits. A 2008 study conducted by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that white button mushrooms enhance the immune system through antivirals and other proteins released by their cells. They also contain polysaccharides, which activate natural killer cells to destroy cold- and flu-causing viruses.
Stay Well: If the texture of mushrooms is less than desirable to you, foods high in starch, like corn, contain plenty of polysaccharides to activate those assassin-like cells.
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This old wives' tale may not be folkore after all. Dr. Stephen Rennard, a pulmonary expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, found in 2000 that soup's comforting properties may actually thwart the side effects of colds. Though some argue that chicken noodle soup's soothing effects are psychosomatic, others believe that the hot soup and antioxidants in its ingredients help flush viral bugs and decrease congestion. Rennard's research led him to theorize that some ingredients in soup restrict the amount of cells congregating in the lungs, which directly effects the development of cold symptoms.
However, there is no conclusive evidence in recent studies that proves chicken soup will prevent or alleviate cold symptoms, but it tastes delicious, has a healthy dose of vegetables and nutrients, and keeps you hydrated, so it can’t hurt to try it when you’re feeling down.
Stay Well: Start cold and flu season off right and begin by making a large batch of your own homemade chicken noodle soup. Freeze your extras and save for a day when you can't muster up the energy to cook from scratch.
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If you're feeling hot, hot, hot, the old adage "starve a cold, feed a fever" is a wise saying you can swear by with chile peppers. Anyone who bites into a hot pepper can attest to the fact that it will clear your sinuses and break up mucus in no time. You can sweat out a fever with the help of this spicy food, since after eating it, your body temperature actually rises and causes fever to break. The capsaicin in chile peppers also unclogs noses by breaking up mucus.
Stay Well: Sensitive to spicy foods? After bravely enduring the heat of a pepper, try immediately eating a piece of whole-grain bread. The bread will ease the burn on your tongue while the whole grain will boost the immune system.
While there’s no shortage of superstitions surrounding garlic, it can also be a powerful tool in fighting the common cold. In a 2001 double-blind, placebo-controlled study, British scientists led by Peter Josling tested 146 healthy adults over 12 weeks during flu and cold season. Only 24 of those randomly selected to take the garlic supplement fell ill, compared to 65 of the placebo participants.
Allicin, the compound responsible for garlic's intense odor, blocks enzymes that affect bacterial and viral infections. More research is needed to conclude whether garlic's antioxidant, preventative powers are useful at the start of a cold or only when eaten weeks in advance. Either way, adding a serving of this aromatic herb to your diet may help fight the sniffles.
Stay Well: Afraid of reeking like garlic? Garlic supplements can be found at your local vitamin retailer, but caution — some have complained of rashes and nausea after taking them.
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These small, completely poppable fruits weigh in big on the fight against colds. The skin and seeds of grapes contain resveratrol, which is believed to impair inflammation in the body. Grapes also contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, both of which are often linked to fighting the unpleasant side effects of colds.
Stay Well: Keep in mind that dark red grapes contain more antioxidants that fight colds then white. Other foods that contain resveratrol include blueberries and cranberries — mix a combination of all three for a tangy mini-fruit salad.
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Sticky, sweet, and good to eat — Winnie the Pooh probably never had a cold a day in his fictional life, thanks to the honey he gorged on. In a recent 2009 study, 60 participants who had contracted a cold within the last 24 hours were all given traditional therapies (ex: decongestants). Half of the participants were also instructed to take two ounce doses of honey every day. Researchers from the Jahrom University of Medical Science in Iran found a significant difference in the duration of cold symptoms between the two groups. The honey-eaters fared far better and showed fewer symptoms two days sooner. Compounds in honey, like flavonoids and phenolic acids, are thought to combat cold symptoms. It is best to use raw honey rather than processed liquid honey, since raw honey retains all of the rich vitamins and nutrients needed to shorten sickness.
An orange a day may keep the doctor away, too, since it boosts your immune system with the fighting power of vitamin C. Regularly taking the FDA-recommended amount of vitamin C daily (90 milligrams for the average male, 75 milligrams for the average female) can shorten the duration of a cold, though it may not prevent you from catching a cold in the first place.
Stay Well: If you don't favor the taste of oranges, then sink your teeth into a grapefruit, which is packed with just as much vitamin C.
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Was anything more soothing as a kid than when mom rubbed Vicks VapoRub on your congested little chest? Relief probably flooded over you in seconds, so imagine what safely guzzling a mentholated drink packed with powerful antioxidants could do. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that peppermint not only thins mucus, it also soothes sore throats and helps dry coughs as well. A 2009 CBS News article reported that a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that those who drank tea readied their immune systems to attack foreign bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Another study found that blood cells from tea drinkers' immune systems responded to germs five times faster than coffee drinkers'. With its powers combined, you have the Captain Planet of cold remedies!
Stay Well: If your throat is throbbing and there’s no peppermint tea in sight, boil some hot tea and put a shot of honey in it. Honey can do more than soothe your throat — it contains its own immune system-boosting properties to boot (read on to learn more).
It’s the battle of the bacteria! While nasty, cold-causing bacteria are trying to fight their way into your body, probiotics in yogurt help push them out. Probiotics are considered "good bacteria" and are also believed to help ease digestive pains and irritable bowels. A combination of probiotics fortified with vitamins and minerals seemed to stave off sickness in several studies according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Stay Well: If you have a sore throat, pop your whipped, probiotic-infused yogurt in the freezer for a few hours and enjoy a soothing, bacteria-butt-kicking treat.