Almost everyone’s familiar with the usual suspects for quelling a cold: chicken soup, tea with raw honey, citrus fruits and spices like garlic and ginger. But what else can you reach for when you’ve had all the juice, soup, and tea you can take? These foods’ cold-fighting potential might surprise you and, I hope, inspire you to reach for nourishing snacks and meals rather than just that bag of sugary cough drops.
1. Brazil nuts
A small serving of Brazil nuts (just one ounce!) contains your daily recommended dose of the mineral selenium — and that’s bad news for cold viruses. Selenium is known to boost your body’s production of cytokines, small proteins that are helpful in clearing viruses from your system. Studies suggest that those deficient in selenium experience more lung inflammation when combating a virus than those who get enough of the mineral. Go for raw or lightly roasted Brazil nuts without unhealthful oils or salts.
The traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia recommends mushrooms — particularly shiitake, maitake and reishi varieties — for fighting respiratory ailments, and modern studies show that these versatile fungi can indeed stimulate the immune system and ward off viruses. Even regular old white button mushrooms can fortify immunity. Choose organically grown mushrooms since they can absorb toxins from the soil.
3. Red bell peppers
Although scientific studies have failed to show that vitamin C is a magic bullet for curing colds, beefing up your vitamin C intake at the onset of a cold can reduce its duration. If you want a vitamin C boost from something other than OJ, consider slicing up a red bell pepper, which has nearly double the daily recommended dose. Choose ripe, organic peppers and avoid high-heat preparations to preserve the most vitamins.
4. Sweet potatoes
Rich in beta carotene, sweet potatoes are an ideal comfort food when you have a cold. Beta carotene gets converted to vitamin A by our bodies, which offers a one-two punch of supporting both the immune system and the integrity of our mucous membranes. In lab studies, the starchy glycosides in sweet potatoes have shown antimicrobial properties. Plus, you’ll get a dose of vitamins C and D to keep your virus-fighting system at the top of its game.
Typically I avoid dairy during a cold because dairy can increase mucous production, but live-culture yogurt is a worthwhile exception. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt helps seed the gut with organisms that serve as an early line of defense against cold viruses, and certain strains of Lactobacilli have been shown to block the replication of viruses once they enter your system. It’s best to choose yogurt that is organic and free of added sugar (which can suppress the immune system).
Really? Yes really. Unsweetened dark chocolate, that is. Cocoa contains a chemical called theobromine, which has been shown to relieve cough symptoms. It does so by blocking the action of the sensory nerves, thereby halting the cough reflex. Dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants and zinc, which can be an effective cold fighter at the onset of symptoms. Choose a fair trade, unsweetened or naturally sweetened dark chocolate.