Nikki Haynes MSN Food contributor
15/09/2011 14:53 | By Nikki Haynes, contributor, MSN Food

Top 10 foods to beat colds and flu

MSN Food show you how to beat colds and flu with food and drink

Unless you have the immune system of an ox you're probably going to catch a cold or a flu virus during the winter months. Or should I say that the cold will catch you? Because, when your immune system isn't working as its best, viruses and bacteria can take hold and the next thing you know you're reaching for the nearest packet of tissues.

The best way to avoid a cold or flu is to look after your immune system by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, not being stressed and doing exercise - basically retaining a healthy lifestyle. However, sometimes no matter how 'good' you are, those pesky viruses find a way in.

Whether you've just got the sniffles or you're bedridden, the old adage 'feed a cold' is very true, we've put together 10 of the best foodie remedies; head to the kitchen for some delicious self-medication. Join MSN Food as we show you how to beat colds and flu with food and drink.


What could be more comforting when you're ill and when it's cold outside, than a steaming hot bowl of soup?

Chicken soup is the obvious foodie remedy to kick a cold, and it's been described as penicillin in a bowl. Research doctors in Israel have even asked the World Health Organisation to add it to the List of Essential Drugs for infections.

Health journalist and nutritionist Michael van Straten describes chicken soup as "nourishing, healing, restorative and much more than an old wives tales and folk lore. Modern science proves its worth. The soup contains a sulphur compound called cystine, which protects you against infections of the throat, sinuses and chest. Cystine helps by thinning mucous in the nose and lungs, making it much easier for the body to get rid of."

However, if you're buying chicken soup make sure it's low in sodium as this will be dehydrating, and make sure it has lots of vegetables in it for extra health benefits.


Yogurt, particularly ones containing probiotics or 'friendly bacteria' can help prevent colds and flu and will also help shorten them when you are ill. The 'friendly bacteria' settle in your intestine and enhance overall immune function, it also boosts the defensive T cells and fights against harmful bacteria.

Scientists have suggested that these probiotic drinks can shorten a cold by nearly a quarter, and reduce headaches, coughing and sneezing.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (© Chris Young, PA Photos)

The benefits of vitamin C on colds and flu is controversial as there is no actual evidence that proves taking the vitamin will help. A recent Australian and Finnish study found that people exposed to periods of high stress, like marathon runners, could reduce their risk of catching colds by half if they took the vitamin daily. But for most people the benefits were very slight. Although, they also discovered that it could reduce the duration of colds by up to 8% in adults and 13.6% in children.

What we do know is that vitamin C does help boost our immune system, it's also a natural antihistamine which helps with decongestion. And so, eating foods rich with vitamin C will be beneficial - reach for the orange juice but don't forget the other fantastic vitamin C sources: broccoli, peppers, strawberries, avocados, cabbage, cauliflower, kiwi fruit, lemon juice, mangoes, onions and radishes.


Honey can help relieve summer hayfever and winter sniffles. According to a study from Jahrom University of Medical Science in Iran, two ounces (about four tablespoons) of honey a day reduces the length of the common cold by up two days. If four tablespoons a day seems a bit excessive then a teaspoon will have its benefits also.

Honey is an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and helps to tackle sore throats and coughs. See, there's a reason why your Gran made you that hot toddy (hot water, honey, lemon and a dash of whisky) before you went to bed with a cold; the lemon provides vitamin C, honey (for the reasons above), and the warmth and whisky will be comforting and ease you into (hopefully) a restful sleep.


For centuries Asian health specialists have prescribed mushrooms for colds, flu and sinus problems. It's only been in the last few years that western medicine has cottoned on.

Mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which is particularly high in the Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake varieties, and is known to strengthen the immune system. Mushrooms also increase the activity of white blood cells which helps to fight off infection. If you can't find the Asian types the common button variety will do the job too.


Ginger is another ingredient that has been used by Chinese herbalists for centuries to ease cold and flu symptoms. It's a natural antiviral, eases the inflammation of mucas membranes, helps to relieve pain and fever, is an antiseptic, antioxidant, and has mild sedative effects so it'll encourage rest. This pungent root can also act as an antihistamine and decongestant.

It's a great ingredient to have in the fridge during the winter months as you don't need much to give a stir-fry a punchy taste, and because it stimulates your circulation it's also very warming. Try chopping a couple of slices off the root and adding it to hot water for a nose clearing hug in a mug.

Garlic (© Mitch Hrdlicka, Photodisc, Getty Images)


Garlic is very effective in beating colds because it contains antibacterial and antiviral agents, this helps boost the immune system to fight infection. The reason for its super healing benefits is because when garlic is crushed or chopped a compound called allicin is produced. Allicin is what makes garlic smell, but it does much more than that, it acts as a decongestant and is a natural antibiotic.

Garlic is also a surprisingly good source of vitamins C, B6 and the minerals selenium and manganese, which are all immune boosters. If you're worried about the garlic whiff then you can get odourless supplements and still benefit from the amazing garlic health benefits.


A sure-fire way to clear the sinuses when you've got a cold is to eat hot and spicy food. The chilli vegetable contains capsaicin, which is what makes them hot, but it also acts as a decongestant, expectorant and a pain reliever (once you've stopped crying from the burning in your mouth that is). Chillis are also rich in vitamin C and so they're immune boosters.


Drink lots of fluids because when the mucus membranes become dehydrated, they are more hospitable to viruses. Keeping yourself hydrated will help repel the virus and will flush out your system.

The best things to drink are water and tea. Tea contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories so is especially good

Tea (© Alastair Grant, PA Photos)

if you have a cold. A hot drink will also help to open up your airway, ease breathing and it's also comforting so promotes rest. Avoid sugary drinks and too much alcohol (a splash in a hot toddy is fine), as this will dehydrate you.


Seafood has masses of health benefits especially if you want to ward off or beat a cold or flu. Shellfish contain selenium which helps make white blood cells that defend our body against viruses.

Oysters are particularly good because they're rich in zinc which helps boost your immune system and prevents infection. Shrimps are another good cold-busting shellfish as it contains zinc, iron, protein and vitamin B, which are all important for a healthy immune system.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and mackerel protects the respiratory system from viruses and bacteria, but if you do get a cold or flu, omega-3 also helps to flush the virus out of your body and reduces inflammation.


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