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It can be easy to forget that what we eat does more than fill our bellies and give us energy.  The food we eat can help fight illnesses, boost our immune system or give us the vitamins and minerals we need to make essentials elements.  One example is how to fight cold and flu with what you eat – how the very food can help deal with these common winter illnesses.

Cold versus flu

Despite the fact that we group the two together, cold and flu are actually different illness.  A cold is a milder condition than a flu and tends to be a respiratory illness that affects us for a few days.  Flu, on the other hand, is quite a nasty bugger and can cause serious problems for anyone with existing medical conditions.  There are regularly large numbers of people who end up in hospital each winter due to the flu combined with other conditions that they suffer from.

There are around 200 viruses that can cause a cold while there are only three that cause a flu – this is why we can have a cold one month and again the next yet the symptoms can seem different.

Cold symptoms:

  • Runny nose, often with clear mucus that turns green during the illness
  • Blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Cough

Other secondary symptoms can include a mild fever, tiredness, headache and earache.  Symptoms come on over a couple of days and can last as long as two weeks in some condition.  Colds are most contagious in the first stages when you have a runny nose and sore throat.

Flu symptoms:

  • Sudden fever over 100 degrees F (38-40 degrees C)
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sweating
  • Exhaustion, feeling the need to lie down
  • Dry, chesty cough

You can get a runny nose with fly and some sneezing but these are more common symptoms of a cold.  Flu symptoms start one to three days after infection and last for around a week but can leave you feel drained for longer.

How the body fight cold and flu

We all hear that our immune system is the thing that fight cold and flu but not many of us understand how it works.  It isn’t a single shield against all things bug-related but a serious defences that work in different parts of the body.  However, a weakened immune system can lead to the defences easily being breached.

The immune reaction starts in the mouth where we have anti-microbials.  Then there is the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs – that stuff can strip rust from metal!  There are also proteins in our digestive system to kill of bugs and that good bacteria we hear about also pitches in to fight the invader.

The foods we eat can help to boost the immune system, fine tuning it and getting it work at its peak capacity, reducing the chance that we become ill.  It isn’t a full proof system and there are no guarantees that eating the right foods will stop you getting a cold but it never hurts to help where you can.

Best foods to fight cold and flu

So, what kind of foods can help to fight cold and flu by boosting the immune system?  Or at least giving it a helping hand with a dose of good stuff that might make the difference in the battle.


Garlic contains something called allicin which has both antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.  Not only does it help these work in your system, garlic also boost that good bacteria in the stomach.  You can use supplements and such but the best bet is simple to eat foods that contain real garlic – even something as simple as pesto can help.

Oily fish

Oily fish includes tuna, salmon and mackerel have that omega-3 fatty acids in them and this can help reduce inflammation in the body.  While this might not sound like it prevents a cold, when the immune system is coping with an inflammation, it takes resources away from fighting bugs.


Beef is good for two reasons – it contains zinc and is a source of protein.  Zinc helps the white blood cells to fight off infection and people who have a zinc deficiency have a reduce immune response.  beef also supplies protein that builds up the body and makes it strong enough to do battle with the bug.

Anise seed

Pop these into rolls or cookies and enjoy their antibacterial properties that studies have shown can help to ease coughing and clear all that congestion from the upper airways.  You can even use it to make a simple drink by crushing the seeds and adding to hot water with some sugar or cinnamon, even some honey.


I recently did a report on the benefits of turmeric and it seems there isn’t much that this spice can’t do!  It is high in antioxidants and is also an anti-inflammatory so like oily fish, it can help concentrate the body’s efforts on the infection.  In fact, people who regularly eat turmeric in their food have been shown to have a lower rate of colds than those who don’t – a good reason to add an extra home-made curry into the weekly menu planner.

Citrus fruit

Vitamin C used to be the thing that was thought to help combat colds but modern research has shown this might not be the case.  However, it is useful to eat citrus fruits when you first think you have a cold as the vitamin can help limit the symptoms.


While that good bacteria are hard at work, it can be a good idea to help its numbers by eating yoghurt and other similar foods such as kefir that restore the levels in your stomach.


Black, white and even green tea contain something called catechins, antioxidants that have flu-fighting potential.  A study in Japan showed that people who took a catechin capsule for five months had a 75% lower rate of contracting flu than those who didn’t.  the stuff also boosts the immune system so a mug of tea when you fighting cold and flu doesn’t hurt.

Chicken soup

Don’t forget that the story about eating chicken soup when you have a cold or the flu really is true – it helps rehydrate you and provides a lot of protein and minerals to help your body battle the condition.  Chicken even contains something called cysteine which is the same stuff used in a drug that is prescribed to deal with bronchitis.


Helping your immune system and your overall body health is never a bad thing and helps to achieve that sense of balance.  But never try to substitute foods for medical advice – if you think you might need to speak to someone, get in touch with your doctor, nurse or even a pharmacist.  Your health is too important to risk on studies and recommendations!

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Colds and flu can affect us at any time of the year but are often worst in winter.  But are there certain foods that can help combat them better than others?  Here are some ideas