The Best Foods to Help Fight a Cold

Ever wonder what foods to eat during flu season to prevent illness? Ward off the flu with these foods rich in vitamins and minerals!

Cold and fluPhoto: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

Turns out mom was right: a delicious bowl of classic homemade soup, like chicken noodle, can help ease cold and flu symptoms by offering powerful amino acids and keeping you hydrated. With this year’s flu, the most widespread in more than a decade, it’s no wonder people are doing everything they can to avoid getting sick, including finding the best foods to eat during flu season. In addition to hand washing, flu vaccines and drinking enough water, eating a diet rich in these six vitamins and minerals can help you prevent infections.

Vitamin C

You probably know that vitamin C helps fight colds, but did you know there’s a better source than citrus? Red peppers have twice the amount of vitamin C than oranges (you’ll love this red pepper soup recipe). However you consume it, vitamin C is powerful against illness. Eating foods rich in this vitamin at the onset of a cold can reduce the duration by a whole day.

Other sources of this vitamin include dark, leafy greens – the darker the greens, the more nutritious. Try a healthy main dish salad for dinner tonight and you’ll be on your way to getting your daily dose of vitamin C.

Can’t tell the leafy greens apart at the store? Our guide can help.

Zinc

Zinc helps boost the immune system by increasing the development of white blood cells to defend the body against infections. It also helps prevent inflammation in the immune system and can shorten the duration of colds. Try our best recipes that are high in zinc.

Beef is an excellent source of zinc and B12, which also helps bolster immunity. Classic beef stew offers zinc and the added benefit of a warm broth to help loosen mucus. Oysters are also rich in zinc, but skip eating them raw if you’re worried about illness. (Try oysters Rockefeller instead.) Other foods with zinc include turkey, beans and even dark chocolate – just be sure to eat a small portion to gain the benefits without overdoing the fats and sugars!

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is another great immune booster. Having a sufficient amount of this vitamin bolsters the health of your mucus membranes, which are found in your nose, throat and even your skin. Vitamin A helps keep these barriers to the outside world functioning properly, and even helps fight respiratory infections.

To ensure you have enough of this vitamin, consume plenty of foods rich in beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Find beta-carotene in orange foods, like sweet potatoes and carrots (combine the two in this comforting soup chock-full of vitamin A). Kale is also an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C – a two-for-one superfood. This kale and lentil stew will help keep you warm on a cold winter night.

Selenium

Selenium is an important mineral for your immune system that can help protect against infection. It also helps white blood cells produce cytokines to fight illness. You don’t need much selenium to protect against the flu, and having too much could actually increase your risk for certain diseases.

Brazil nuts are rich in this mineral – just be sure to enjoy them as a treat to keep your selenium levels in check. Mushroom-packed recipes are also an excellent source of selenium. Plus, they contain beta-glucan, an antimicrobial sugar that fights sickness.

Vitamin D

While you generally get enough vitamin D from the sun, that’s not always the case in the dead of winter – and flu season. In addition to enhancing the immune system and helping fight off the flu, having sufficient levels of vitamin D can help protect you from respiratory tract infections.

Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon (an excellent source of immunity-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil), sardines, and fortified milk, tuna, orange juice and breakfast cereal.

Want more recipes full of vitamin D? Check out this collection.

Vitamin E

Disease-fighting vitamin E helps protect cells from damage. It enhances the immune system by producing a protein that kills bacteria and viruses, and helps prevent respiratory tract infections.

Find vitamin E in almonds, raw seeds (such as sunflower, pumpkin and sesame), Swiss chard, spinach and plant oils.

This flu season, protect yourself from getting sick. Wash your hands often, get the flu shot and make sure you’re getting enough of these key nutrients. Check out more superfoods to help keep you healthy all year round.

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Alexa Hackfort
Alexa is a writer who believes there’s always room for ice cream. Based in Milwaukee, she enjoys exploring the city, tackling new recipes and planning her next trip.