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Food best weapon in cold war

by Laura Schocker
Oct 15, 2008


Laura Schocker/Medill

Experts estimate that Americans suffer one billion colds each year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Eating well can help to fight off colds this fall. And while orange juice can help, it's not the only option, nutrition experts said Wednesday.

“The quality of your health is directly linked to the quality of your diet,” said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago. “You definitely can put a dent in how many colds and flus you get in the season, as well as their duration.”

And chances are a cold will affect most people this year.

Americans suffer one billion colds annually, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That comes out to two to four colds per adult each year, with most occurring in the fall and winter.

Here are some tips to fight off colds—and keep them away.

•    Hydration. “When people get sick, sometimes they lose their appetite and the first thing to go is hydration,” said Annie Neuendorf, a registered dietitian with the Northwestern Memorial Physician Group. “That will probably make the duration of the cold a little bit longer.  If you’re not hydrating yourself, it’s just an evil cycle.” Stick mostly to water, Neuendorf suggested, but hot liquids can also keep you hydrated while adding extra comfort.  Try black, green or white teas.

•    Vitamin C. Conventional wisdom suggests that oranges are the best source for this vitamin, which is thought to reduce the severity and duration of colds, Neuendorf said. But it can be found in many types of fruits or vegetables. “If it’s orange, red or sometimes green, it usually has some kind of Vitamin C in there,” Neuendorf said. Red peppers are a good place to look. “A red bell pepper has a lot more vitamin C than even an orange,” Blatner said. “I love this one.”

•    Vitamin A. “Vitamin A is sort of the unsung hero of immune function,” Neuendorf said. “It might actually be more important than Vitamin C.” Load up on the vitamin, which helps to fight off colds, with foods such as cantaloupe and squash. Blatner said sweet potatoes are a good choice, too, since they have beta-carotene, which turns into Vitamin A in the body.

•    Zinc. “Zinc is a mineral that can keep our immune system going,” Blatner said. Oysters and pumpkin seeds are both contain in the mineral.

•    Antioxidants. Like vitamins A and C, research shows that certain antioxidants may help in reducing the frequency and length of colds. Blatner said people should try green tea, which is thought to boost immunity, or almonds, which are high in vitamin E. “They boost your immune system so you’re stronger to fend off all of the germs that people are breathing on you,” she said of the nuts.

•    Chicken soup. The old-fashioned favorite may actually have healing powers. Blatner said a study found a can of this soup may prevent flus and colds. It also can help with throat irritation and swelling, she said, adding that the broth can keep patients hydrated as well.

Some other year-round staples may have healing effects as well. Blatner says eating garlic regularly can keep you healthy, while ginger can help to fight off a virus. Yogurt can also help to protect the body from invading germs.

While these tips can help boost your immune system and fight off a cold, don’t expect your sniffles to completely disappear.

"It’s not like magic,” Blatner said. “There’s still no cure to the common cold.  But this is definitely a start.”