Thanks to the never-ending pandemic, you’ve probably been bathing yourself in hand sanitizer over the past two years to protect yourself against COVID-19. And that’s great — but as the cooler months creep up, it’s important to remember COVID isn’t the only virus out there. Colds and the flu — the OGs of sick days — ramp up in late October and peak between December and February.
The good news? Most of the precautions you’re taking now (things like social distancing and frequent handwashing) are also effective barriers from colds and flu. But there’s another strategy to help you stay sniffle-free: your diet. Here are four foods found to shorten the lifespan of a cold and boost your immune system so you can save your time off for a better reason than recovering on the couch.
Specifically, egg yolks are great for fighting cold and flu because they contain vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D can prevent acute respiratory tract infections. Many immune cells in the body have vitamin D receptors, and when vitamin D attaches to these receptors, cell function is improved.
Vitamin D metabolites (what’s left when the body breaks down food or supplements) also help regulate antimicrobial proteins, which can kill harmful bacteria or viruses before they infect the lungs or other areas of the body.
It’s not often a burger is considered a healthy food, but in moderation, red meat is a solid source of zinc, an essential micronutrient when it comes to having a strong immune system. When it comes to the common cold, zinc helps to restrict viruses from replicating in the body, which can worsen symptoms.
Research found that zinc intake within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduces the duration of the common cold, so make sure to rotate red meat into your weekly meal plan in moderation to keep your immune system strong.
There’s a good reason oranges are the poster child for combating cold symptoms. They are packed with vitamin C, which has been found to decrease both the duration of a cold and risk of catching one in the first place.
Eating a few slices of oranges in the morning will go a long way for your cold protection because vitamin C boosts immune cell functions. This includes improving the response of leukocytes, the white blood cells that help your body fight off germs, bacteria, and viruses.
Sprinkle chia seeds or flaxseeds on top of your morning oatmeal and you may find yourself cold-free this winter. These little seeds have a big impact on your immune response because of the omega-3s in them.
Cold viruses cause inflammation in the body (typically in the nose, throat, and/or lungs). Omega-3s, which are also found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, work to reduce inflammation by helping white blood cells get to the affected area to kill harmful viruses and germs. Once the white blood cells are on deck, inflammation subsides as symptoms improve and your body kicks that cold or flu to the curb.
While none of these foods are a magic cure for cold or flu this season, adding them into your diet — on top of a healthy exercise routine and diligent handwashing — will help keep you healthy.
About the author
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more.