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13 Foods Doctors Eat When They Have a Cold

When illness strikes, this get-better menu is what the pros on the front lines of cold and flu season serve themselves.

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Eating to beat a virus

When the aching, sniffling, sneezing, hacking, and sore throat set in, all you really want to do is make it stop now. That kind of immediate response cold cure may not be realistic, but you can definitely ease your misery and speed recovery with these expert tips.

health, traditional medicine and ethnoscience concept - ill woman drinking tea with lemon, honey and ginger and paper wipes box on wooden tableSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Feed a cold

That age-old advice is dead-on: When you’re sick, your body needs extra fuel in the form of calories to defend against germs and mount an immune response. “What you eat can be one of the best weapons in your arsenal,” says Gustavo Ferrer, MD, a pulmonologist in Aventura, Florida and author of Cough Cures: The Best Natural Remedies and Over-the-Counter Drugs for Acute and Chronic Cough. The right nutrients can give your immune system a much-needed boost, help clear up some of those irritating symptoms, and get you back on your feet faster. Doctors shared their favorite home remedies when they feel a cold coming on—and some of their recommendations may surprise you. You may also want to check out 8 things doctors and nurses do to stop a cold in its tracks.

Bowl of Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup. Rustic StyleElena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Chicken soup

It’s not just for your soul—chicken soup may actually help fight upper respiratory tract infections, according to an older, but classic study published in the journal  Chest that looked at how immune cells responded in the laboratory. “When we get attacked by a virus, our natural defenses can cause an inflammatory response,” says Dr. Ferrer. Some combination of ingredients in the soup may inhibit the white blood cell activity that can cause inflammation.

background from freshly harvested strawberries, directly aboveGCapture/Shutterstock


These berries are brimming with antioxidant power—they’re among the top 20 richest fruits when it comes to free radical slaying compounds—particularly vitamin C. And last year, a study in the journal Nutrients found that getting up to eight grams of vitamin C a day can help shorten the length of a cold. Adding a cup of sliced strawberries to your smoothie will net you about 100 milligrams of vitamin C. Check out these 21 natural cold remedies that work.

garlicChayapak Jansavang/Shutterstock


This potent bulb contains a compound known as allicin, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help fight off the common cold. Chopping or crushing garlic activates this compound, so for maximum results, prep it and let it sit for several minutes before eating it. In research published in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, people who took a garlic supplement daily reported fewer colds over a three-month span than those who popped a placebo. Also consider eating these 10 winter foods that help ward off colds and the flu.

Composition with honey and cinnamon on wooden tableAfrica Studio/Shutterstock


Sore throat? The sticky, sweet nectar was found to be superior to many over-the-counter cough suppressants, Dr. Ferrer says. For a soothing elixir that’s the bee’s knees, combine honey with lemon juice for a little vitamin C antioxidant action, he adds. Beware of these 13 household items that raise your risk of catching a cold or the flu.

carrotsTim UR/Shutterstock


These may be one of the ingredients that give chicken soup its curative properties. Carrots and other orange-hued produce contain beta-carotene. Your body converts this compound to vitamin A, a building block of your immune system, says Eudene Harry, MD, medical director for Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida. That boost can help your body fight off winter colds and flu. Learn about 50 more ways to avoid catching a cold this season.

Fresh onions. Onions background. Ripe onions. Onions in marketMartin Gaal/Shutterstock


These aromatics contain quercetin, an antioxidant with antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. “A lot of the symptoms you get when you’re sick is your body hyper-responding to things that are not necessarily a threat,” says Dr. Harry. “Antioxidants help quell some of that response so it doesn’t get out of control. They remove waste products and reduce inflammation,” she says. Take note of these 10 reasons to take the flu more seriously.

Green and red peppersThanakornbb/Shutterstock

Bell peppers

Research shows that being cold may suppress your immune system a bit, but vitamin C has natural immune-boosting properties. Loading up on C-rich foods can be a good way to compensate for a suppressed immune function this time of year, Dr. Harry says. A cup of chopped bell peppers has two times as much vitamin C as a medium orange.

herbs and herbal tea in potbrusni4ka/Shutterstock

Green tea

Fluids are important when you’re sick because, Dr. Harry says, “Everything works better when you’re hydrated.” Green tea is a good choice because it contains the potent antioxidants catechins, along with theanine, an amino acid. Both have been linked to immunity, research shows. Check out 20 things the flu virus doesn’t want you to know.

Ginger root and ginger powdertriocean/Shutterstock


If the dreaded stomach flu is going around, stock up on this relieving root. It’s known for its anti-nausea properties. It also contains compounds known as gingerols that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which makes it an ideal addition to a cup of tea for soothing a sore throat. Dr. Harry likes to take hers with ginger, pomegranate, and lemon.

Top view of fresh mushroom (shiitake) on rustic backgroundDokmaihaeng/Shutterstock


These fungi are one of the few edible sources of vitamin D, which we normally get from the sun. Shorter daylight hours during the fall and winter months can mean we’re not getting enough of that nutrient, which can open the door to lowered immunity. Mushrooms don’t naturally contain that much vitamin D, but if they are grown in the presence of ultraviolet light they will produce more. (Check the package for actual content of vitamin D.)

Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, may help in this regard, says Gerard Mullin, MD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of The Gut Balance Revolution. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that people who ate 5 or 10 grams of shiitake mushrooms a day had improved markers of immunity, including better-functioning gamma delta T cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins in their blood. Try out these mushroom jerky recipes for feel-good snacking.

Sriracha chilli saucesuccesso images/Shutterstock

Hot sauce

A big hit of wasabi or sriracha can feel like it’s clearing your sinuses even when you’re not sick—and it turns out, that could very well be the case. A Cochrane review of research on nasal sprays containing capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers and other spicy foods, improves symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis (aka sneezing, congestion) better than placebo, possibly because of its anti-inflammatory effect. Plus, spicy peppers are another good source of vitamin C. Read about the best cold and flu medication to have on hand.

Traditional Indian cuisine. Turmeric milk with cinnamon, saffron, cardamom and turmeric on black slate background. Copyspace, top view, flatlayYuliia Kononenko/Shutterstock


Spiking your java with this spice, aka a golden latte, won’t hurt. Curcumin, the active compound in the vibrant yellow powder, has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. “Oxidative stress goes up xwhen your body is under attack,” says Dr. Mullin. That can cause residual damage beyond what the invading germs cause. Turmeric, he says, can help with that. Learn about 14 surprising things you should not do if you have the flu.


Fermented dairy products may not be your go-to when you’re feeling under the weather, but they should be, says Dr. Mullin. “Most of your immune system is in your gut,” he explains, and probiotic-containing foods like yogurt help keep your gastrointestinal tract teeming with healthy bacteria. Indeed, research has found that the benefits go beyond digestive health: A 2017 study in the journal Nutrients found that eating yogurt daily increased the activity of killer T cells, whose job it is to destroy infected cells in the body. And there’s no evidence that dairy creates phlegm or contributes to congestion, so spoon away! Next, check out these 23 daily habits of people who are immune to colds and the flu.

  • Gustavo Ferrer, MD, a pulmonologist in Aventura, Florida and author of Cough Cures: The Best Natural Remedies and Over-the-Counter Drugs for Acute and Chronic Cough
  • Chest: “Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro”
  • Nutrients: “Vitamin C and Infections”
  • USDA: “Strawberries, raw”
  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Garlic for the common cold”
  • Nutrients: “Allicin Bioavailability and Bioequivalence from Garlic Supplements and Garlic Foods”
  • Eudene Harry, MD, medical director for Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida
  • National Onion Association. “Onion Health Research”
  • Archives of Virology: “Exposure to cold impairs interferon-induced antiviral defense”
  • USDA: “Pepper, raw, NFS”
  • USDA: “Orange, raw”
  • Molecules: “Effect of Tea Catechins on Influenza Infection and the Common Cold with a Focus on Epidemiological/Clinical Studies”
  • International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology. “Active ingredients of ginger as potential candidates in the prevention and treatment of diseases via modulation of biological activities”
  • Gerard Mullin, MD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of The Gut Balance Revolution
  • The Mushroom Council: “Vitamin D”
  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Capsaicin for non-allergic rhinitis”
  • USDA: “Pepper, hot chili, raw”
  • BioMed Research International. “A Review on Antibacterial, Antiviral, and Antifungal Activity of Curcumin”
  • Nutrients: “Consumption of Dairy Yogurt Containing Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracaseiBifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis and Heat-Treated Lactobacillus plantarum Improves Immune Function Including Natural Killer Cell Activity”
  • Archives of Disease in Childhood: “Milk, mucus and myths”