Chicken soup and orange juice are popular home remedies when a cold or flu strikes. But can certain foods really make us feel better, or is it just folklore?
“There is no clear consensus about whether or not certain foods can help us ward off or relieve illness,” explains Richard Lindquist, M.D., Medical Program Director at Swedish Weight Loss Services. “However, certain foods do contribute to overall health, and that can help us withstand exposure to illnesses.”
The body needs energy to fight off illness, and good foods like healthy proteins, and antioxidant-rich, bright colored fruits and vegetables, provide that energy. And what about Grandma’s chicken soup?
“Although a Nebraska Medical Center study did conclude that chicken soup appeared to help participants fight off colds, I wonder whether or not other factors like a healthy diet or regular hand washing contributed to these outcomes,” says Dr. Lindquist. “However, chicken soup combined with plenty of rest and fluids can’t hurt when you’re feeling under the weather.”
One thing we can be sure of is that eating the wrong foods can certainly contribute to us become ill. “If we are deficient in protein, vitamins and nutrients, our bodies are less able to fight off illness,” explains Dr. Lindquist. “Additionally, foods that cause us to put on extra weight are detrimental to our immune system. Excess fat tissue causes inflammation in the body, which compromises our immune system and makes us vulnerable to viruses.”
Even if we’re eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones, cold and flu viruses are highly contagious and can attack even the healthiest individuals. For this reason, it’s a good idea to take other steps to protect yourself. “The best thing you can do to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to infectious sources,” advises Dr. Lindquist. “The next best thing is making sure your immune system is up to par, and that includes good nutrition.” Some tips for avoiding, or at least decreasing, your exposure to illness include:
- Avoid sharing common utensils and drinks.
- Wash your hands regularly to kill viruses and avoid spreading them to others.
- Avoid putting your hands in your eyes, nose or mouth, especially after contact with another person.
- Cough or sneeze into the corner of your arm, not in your hand.
- Avoid confined spaces if possible, especially during cold and flu season.
The bottom line is that the cold and flu viruses that plague us from September through May can be caused by a combination of factors including poor nutrition and exposure to infectious germs. “It’s not any one thing we do that keeps us well,” says Dr. Lindquist. “It’s our total approach to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, not just during cold and flu season, but all year round.”