food

"I'm a nutritionist. Here's exactly what I eat when I feel a cold coming on."

You know the signs: tickly throat, runny nose and the overwhelming desire to head straight back to bed.

Sure, you’re unlikely to nix a cold through the power of food alone, but you can certainly help ease the symptoms and give your immune system a helping hand.

Side note – please ignore any well-meaning advice to “starve a fever”. A fever is part of the immune system’s attempt to beat the bug. While raising your body temperature to fight off the pathogen, metabolism increases and results in more calories being burned. For each rise in degree of temperature, the energy demand increases further.

Essentially, that means you need to eat. Here’s what I reach for at the first sign of a cold.

Mug of warm water, plus some extras

When I’m fighting off a cold, the first thing I do is get a big mug of warm water and squeeze the juice of a lemon into it, then mix in a little manuka honey.

This gives me a good hit of vitamin C from the get go. For years, vitamin C was praised for warding off the common cold, but new research suggests it’s actually more useful in helping you recover from colds faster.

honey-and-lemon
Warding off colds since the beginning of time. Image: Unsplash.
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Lots of veggies

If your body is fighting off a cold it needs energy – so get in lots of nutrient-dense foods. If I’m ill, I roast up a big tray of colourful vegetables to get in extra vitamin C and a variety of health-boosting antioxidants.

I’d recommend adding whole garlic cloves to the tray – it will give you the added benefit of allicin. This is the garlic plant’s natural protection against insects and microorganisms – essentially it helps the garlic ward off foreign pathogens. Studies show allicin has a similar protective effect in humans, too – it helps ward off the bugs that are making you feel so rotten.

Also toss in some onion or leek in your roasted veggie mix – they’re rich sources of prebiotics, which help feed the good bacteria in your gut. This helps create a healthy environment for immune cells, strengthening your natural defences.

Add some zinc

I also add a source of zinc to my vegetables.

Zinc is the ultimate winter mineral – it plays a vital role in multiple immune functions in the body. Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc, but probably the last thing you feel like eating when you’re run down. I totally get that.

Alternatively, cashews, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds will do the trick. Try toasting these and sprinkling over the top of your roast veg.

Side note - here's a quick tutorial to chucking a sickie convincingly. Post continues after video.

What if I don't feel like eating?

When you’re sick, the challenge may be that you don’t really feel like eating much at all.

If this is the case for you as well, focus on keeping your liquids up. Water is best; however, tea and fresh juice will also get nutrients into your system.

Try caffeine-free herbal teas or juices made from nutrient-dense vegetables and citrus fruit to sweeten. Dilute your juices with water so you are getting that extra hit of hydration.

Shannon's go-to sick day meal

If I don’t feel like eating, I’ll have a little bit of veggie soup made with functional spices like turmeric, cumin and ginger.

Eating warming foods such as these can help the body generate heat, which is a vital part in keeping a cold from worsening. It also delivers a good hit of vitamins and can be more palatable than a big meal.

I try to add carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato to the soup because they are rich in vitamin A. Our digestive tract acts as a physical barrier against infection and illness, and vitamin A plays a major role in keeping your digestive lining intact.

Of course, it’s unlikely to make a big difference in treating this particular cold, but it will certainly help ward off future illnesses.

My take-home message is to stay hydrated, eat plenty of veggies and rest up. That will get you back on the road to recovery.

Shannon Young is a nutritionist at THR1VE. They have a chain of healthy cafes and offer nutritious fresh ready-made meals delivered to your door.

What's your go-to sick day meal? How do you ward off coughs and sniffles?

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