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Is it "starve a fever and feed a cold"... or "starve a cold and feed a fever"? Turns out, it's neither. Chances are you'll catch at least a sniffle this cold and flu season, but it's not how much you eat, but rather what you eat that can help soothe your stuffy head and aches and pains. "The right nutrients can help your body fight off an illness," says Pam Peeke, MD, Prevention editorial advisory board member and author of The Hunger Fix. So we came up with two simple eating plans—one for the cold, one for the flu—to help you shake the symptoms, fortify your immune system and speed up recovery.
Your Cold Eating Plan
"Certain cold symptoms, like mucous production, are the body's inflammatory response to the pathogen," says Sharon Palmer, RDN, a registered dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life. So as well as eating proven cold-busters, foods that dial down inflammation can make you feel better.
Breakfast: Mushroom omelet with salsa (2 eggs, ½ cup sliced mushrooms, side of salsa)
Eggs are rich in zinc, an immune system booster that can zap cold symptoms. Research shows that zinc taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms can shorten the duration of colds. Mushrooms, from button to shitake, are immune powerhouses. "Mushrooms increase the effectiveness of white blood cells, the front liners of our immune system," adds Peeke. A side of spicy salsa can help break up congestion and flush out the sinuses. (Check out these 10 egg recipes made with 5 ingredients or less.)
Snack: Yogurt (1 small container or ¾ cup)
Probiotics, which you'll find in yogurt, are a cold sufferer's best friend because they reduce the body's inflammatory response. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that the beneficial bacteria shortened the duration of a cold by two days and made symptoms 34% less severe. Look for flavored yogurt that contains 15 grams of carbs per serving or less, or opt for plain and add a teaspoon of raw honey, suggests Peeke.
Drink: Decaf green or black tea
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"You can't drink enough tea when you're sick," says Peeke. That's because both green and black tea are rich in antioxidants, including the immune-boosting antioxidant L-theanine. Cardiff University researchers also found that hot drinks can ease sneezing, sore throats, chills, and tiredness.
Lunch: Red pepper slices and broccoli with hummus
Vitamin C is not only important for immune health; studies show it can clear up your cold faster. "Strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers and citrus are especially rich in Vitamin C," says Palmer. Pairing the veggies with hummus gives you protein, a key immune-boosting nutrient needed to make disease-fighting antibodies. (Here are 14 more tasty ideas for hummus.)
Snack: Sweet potato (½ baked sweet potato topped with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt)
Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A, an immune-boosting nutrient that helps the body produce virus-fighting white blood cells and helps keep mucous membranes healthy.
Dinner: Chicken soup
Your mom was right: "Research shows chicken soup calms congestion and mucous," says Peeke. Thank cysteine, an amino acid in chicken that helps thin mucous in the lungs to calm your cough and stuffed up nose. Plus the hot broth prevents dehydration and can soothe a sore throat. Bonus: A study published in the journal Chest shows that the soup doesn't have to be homemade to be effective: supermarket brands work too.
Drink: Hot water with lemon and honey (wedge of lemon, 1 tablespoon honey)
Honey not only soothes a sore throat, research shows it can silence your cough. In one study it reduced nighttime coughing as effectively as cough medicine. Plus lemon adds a hit of cold-fighting vitamin C.
Your Flu Eating Plan
"The trick with the flu is to maintain hydration and energy intake, which can be especially tough if you're also feeling nauseated," says Palmer, who suggests small sips of clear liquids until queasiness subsides. Once your stomach can handle food, here's what to eat.
Breakfast: Oatmeal and banana (½ cup old fashioned oats or 1 packet instant oatmeal and a ½ sliced banana)
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Oats are packed with beta glucans, "a kind of fiber that can speed healing and fortify your immune system," says Peeke. Bananas add potassium, a mineral that is often depleted with fever and vomiting.
Snack: Fresh-pressed juice or V8 vegetable juice
If you don't feel up to eating your fruits and veggies, sip 'em. Fresh juices pack in plenty of nutrients and antioxidants to help boost your immune system—a study published in The FASEB Journal found that antioxidants help fend off flu-related pneumonia. If fresh-pressed isn't an option, V8 is rich in healing antioxidants and hydrating electrolytes.
Drink: Coconut water
Coconut water is hydrating and can replenish electrolytes depleted due to fever or sweating. Add in a squeeze of lime juice for extra immune-boosting vitamin C.
LUNCH: Steamed cauliflower or cauliflower soup (1-2 cups)
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Don't let the pale color fool you: Cauliflower is rich in a compound that boosts levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system battle the flu.
Snack: Kefir (1 cup)
Like yogurt, this fermented milk drink is loaded with probiotics. "Kefir is really easy on the stomach and at the same time helps replenish helpful bacteria in the gut," says Peeke.
Dinner: Almond milk strawberry smoothie (1 cup unsweetened almond milk + 1 cup frozen strawberries + ice)
"Vitamin C, zinc and vitamin E are really important for immune health, and a smoothie is a great way to get all three," says Palmer. Strawberries deliver vitamin C, while almonds are rich in zinc and vitamin E. Up the protein content by adding plain Greek yogurt or a scoop of protein powder. (For more ideas, check out these 20 super-healthy smoothie recipes.)
Drink: Chamomile or ginger tea
Both teas can help tame tummy troubles and reduce inflammation to ease flu symptoms.
Published January 2015, Prevention