Best and Worst Foods For the Cold and Flu

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Best and Worst Foods For the Cold and Flu

Feel a cold or flu coming on, or just want to fortify your immune system in advance? Learn which foods to add to your grocery list—and which to ax.

The best

Chicken soup

Used for centuries to soothe symptoms associated with the cold and flu, chicken soup’s healthy reputation may stem from the many nutrient-dense ingredients it contains. These ingredients often include onions, carrots, garlic and, of course, chicken.

Chicken is an excellent source of the compound carnosine. Studies have found that carnosine may help to fight off viral infections like the flu by stopping it from replicating and spreading inside cells. The comforting warm broth of this soup may also help loosen mucus to ease congestion and relieve a sore throat.


Thought to ward off everything from vampires to the plague, garlic has a long history of protecting us against all that ails us. Garlic’s disease-fighting abilities appear to come from the sulfur compounds responsible for its pungent smell. It may help us battle the common cold.


Cranberries are abundant in phytochemicals, substances that may give the immune system a big boost. In one preliminary study, US researchers found that when people drank cranberry juice daily, the number of cells that defend the body against viral invaders increased significantly. During the study, the cranberry juice drinkers reported fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who didn’t drink the juice. Like citrus fruits (which are also good for the immune system), cranberries are a good source of vitamin C.

Chamomile tea

Traditionally used to calm nerves and relieve digestive upsets, preliminary research suggests a cup of chamomile tea may help combat the common cold. British researchers have found that chamomile tea may increase levels of substances that promote antibacterial activity in the body. This may help the immune system ward off infections associated with the common cold.

Dark chocolate

If a cold has left you with a nagging cough, a dose of dark chocolate may help. Dark chocolate is especially rich in a substance called theobromine. UK researchers have found theobromine may be more effective than codeine in relieving a persistent cough. Theobromine is thought to block the action of the nerves that trigger the cough reflex.

The worst

Fast food

While never recommended, indulging in a fatty burger and fries when sick may be especially ill advised, as it may interfere with the immune system’s ability to do its job.

Refined sugar

When consumed in excess, refined sugar may reduce disease-fighting white blood cells and slow the immune system’s response to invading bacteria and viruses.


A hot toddy or two before bed may provide momentary relief, but alcohol’s diuretic properties can cause dehydration in the body, making cold symptoms like congestion worse.


Too much caffeine may promote the release of stress hormones. These can increase inflammation, making cold and flu symptoms seem more severe.