Health Curiosities

Eat to Beat Colds and Flu

The holiday season is fast approaching, and unfortunately this time of year aligns perfectly with the cold and flu season. It is estimated that 10 to 25 per cent of Americans will cough and sneeze their way through this holiday season. What's the connection between celebrating and sneezing? The busy-ness at this time of year can leave you feeling run down and stressed - the perfect conditions for a cold virus or flu bug to attack. When preventive measures don't work, there are foods that can help you feel better faster.

Here are the 10 foods you can eat to beat colds and the flu this winter:

  1. Bananas
    Bananas can help soothe an upset stomach, a nasty side-effect of influenza. This fruit helps stimulate the production of mucus in the stomach, protecting it from the acid that makes you queasy. Part of the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet, bananas are often recommended to curb queasiness. Rich in potassium and vitamin C, bananas also help balance electrolytes during bouts of diarrhea or vomiting.

  2. Chocolate
    Guilt-ridden over those holiday chocolates? Don't be so hard on yourself. The health benefits of cocoa creations have been widely reported. Recently, researchers in the U.K. found that theobromine, an active ingredient in dark chocolate, suppressed nerve sensitivity in the throat, which reduced the urge to cough. Two ounces of dark chocolate pack the same punch as a dose of strong cough medication. Pick a chocolate that's at least 70 per cent cocoa, and lists cocoa or chocolate liquor as one of the first ingredients.

  3. Chicken noodle soup
    Often touted as "nature's penicillin," chicken soup is a great way to get over the sniffles. Its steam unblocks sinus congestion, the high protein chicken boosts energy, and the antioxidant-rich vegetables in the soup base act as an anti-inflammatory. The sodium that's added for flavour replenishes lost electrolytes. Although sickness decreases appetite, it's important to eat healthfully to help your body beat cold germs.

  4. Orange juice
    Just one cup (250 millilitres) of OJ gives you about half of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. That's a good thing, considering the immune-boosting effects of this vitamin. It's not a cure for a cold, but vitamin C may help fight off germs and shorten cold symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. If possible, opt for freshly squeezed juice, as much of the pulp and healthy membranes are strained out of commercial OJ.

  5. Garlic
    Crushed garlic contains allicin, a natural decongestant and antibiotic that stimulates immune function. Garlic loses much of these cold-busting properties at high heat, so use raw garlic in soups and salads, or adding it at the end of the cooking process.

  6. Seafood
    Fish and seafood, such as salmon, shrimp and lobster, are rich in zinc and selenium - antioxidants that help boost the body's immune system. The omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood help to flush the flu virus out of the body and reduce inflammation. Nutrients found in seafood also optimize and accelerate the body's ability to fight off infections, making it easier to beat a cold quickly.

  7. Peppers
    Cayenne and other chili peppers can knock the cold right out of you. Hot peppers contain a high concentration of capsaicin (the compound that makes peppers spicy), which opens and drains congested nasal passages. Capsaicin also clears airways and acts as an expectorant.

  8. Green, black and white teas
    They're all cold busters! Full of polyphenols (antioxidant plant chemicals that act as anti-inflammatories), tea keeps mucus membranes moist, helping you to breathe easier. Steep your tea for at least 90 seconds to maximize this health benefit. Hot tea also impedes the spread of viruses (cold viruses thrive at below normal body temperature) and the steam from a hot mug also works as a decongestant.

  9. Elderberries
    Another great source of antioxidants, berries from the elderberry bush may help ease winter colds, flus and sinus infections. The dried berries, found in tea or extract form (under the name Sambucol) in health food stores, reduce viral infections and stimulate the immune system. The roots, leaves, stem and bark are toxic and should not be eaten.

  10. Yogurt
    About 70 per cent of the body's immune function occurs in the digestive tract. By promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines, yogurt boosts the immune system and also fights against harmful, bellyache-causing bacteria. The creamy dairy product also helps ease flu-induced diarrhea or upset stomach. But don't eat yogurt if you're vomiting; vomiting impairs the digestive tract which makes it hard to digest foods such as dairy products.

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