What’s the Best Food to Eat With a Cold? Doctors Explain

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Having a cold is never fun, but you’re likely to catch at least one a year. So knowing what foods can help prevent you from catching one, and speed up the process if you do catch one, is especially helpful. Read on to learn how to change up your diet to support your immune system and minimize cold symptoms!

Can foods really help with a cold?

While you may first turn to medicine when you feel a cold coming on, food can help just as much. Food provides the body with nutrients that support the immune system and reduce inflammation. When you have a strong immune system and your gut bacteria are healthy, your body can better fight off colds. Foods that are anti-inflammatory can help soothe sore throats and return inflamed nasal passages back to normal.

Regardless of the nutrients that food provides, hot tea, soups, and broths can bring you much mental comfort because of the warmth they give the body when eaten.

10 Amazing foods to eat with a cold

1. Soups and broths

When you picture a food that calms a cold, chicken noodle soup may be the first thing that comes to mind. Warm soups and broths actually can help ease a few of your symptoms, by opening up your nasal passages and keeping you hydrated. Depending on the ingredients, soup can be a source of electrolytes and protein that assists the body when fighting a cold. Just keep in mind to not go overboard, as many soups and broths are high in sodium.

2. Hot tea

Drinking more fluids is always a great idea when you’re sick. While water should be a priority, hot tea can also provide many benefits when it comes to fighting a cold. But which type of tea should you choose?

While all teas serve a purpose, a few of the best options for fighting a cold are peppermint, chamomile, echinacea, ginger, and green tea.

They contain plenty of antioxidants and nutrients that will boost your immune system, fight inflammation, and soothe your symptoms. Take your tea game to the next level by adding honey and fresh lemon juice. The honey will provide immediate relief for your sore throat and coughing, and the lemon juice will give you a boost of vitamin C!

3. Bananas

Bananas are a filling and nutrient-dense fruit that provide you with fiber, carbohydrates, and vitamin C. These components can help you feel more energized while giving your immune system a boost. There have even been recent studies done on the potential of a protein found in bananas called banana lectin that can fight colds and cases of flu: when a virus is covered in this lectin, it becomes harmless. More research still needs to be done to confirm exactly how reliant you should be on bananas when you’re sick, but this is still a helpful addition to the other benefits the fruit provides the body!

4. Spicy foods

Whether you can handle spicy foods or not, they may make you feel a bit better while you have a cold. In most spicy foods, there is a bioactive ingredient called capsaicin that can break up mucus. While it can help clear up a stuffy nose, keep in mind that it will cause a runny nose. Clearing out your sinuses this way may also relieve any coughing or a sore throat — just make sure that you don't eat too much spicy food, as you may experience digestive issues.

ginger and lemons as some of the foods to help a cold cold

5. Ginger

Fresh ginger tea is a quick and tasty way to reduce inflammation in your nasal passages and get rid of a sore throat. Components of ginger also kill the rhinoviruses that start colds initially, so there’s nothing wrong with being proactive and drinking ginger tea on a regular basis, especially when it’s cold outside. While you’ve got a cold, try drinking three to four cups daily until your symptoms are gone. You can buy ginger tea packets or make it yourself: purchase the ginger root, finely grate it, and pour boiling water over the shavings, then let it steep for a few minutes.

6. Honey

It was mentioned before that adding honey to tea is beneficial, but what can it do entirely on its own? Dextromethorphan, the ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medicines, is meant to help suppress cough, but studies have shown that honey is nearly as effective. It also has the potential to minimize congestion and a sore throat while reducing the number of days you have the cold itself. Give this remedy a try the next time you aren’t feeling too well, as it is cheaper and more natural than many over-the-counter medicines.

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7. Garlic

Garlic capsules contain many antibacterial and antiviral properties that will help relieve your cold symptoms, as well as increase the likelihood of the cold sticking around for a shorter period of time. You can even take garlic capsules daily and experience fewer colds every year in general! In addition to fighting colds, it can improve your cognitive health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer, making it a useful daily supplement.

8. Yogurt

While yogurt may not be a food you think of for helping you when you are sick, it made this list for a reason! Yogurt is packed with live cultures and probiotics that help support your gut health. When your gut is not thriving, you can experience many unpleasant symptoms, including a weak immune system. Consistently providing your gut with healthy bacteria is just like building your immune system’s army to fight against the viruses that give you congestion and a sore throat. So whether you already have a cold or you feel one coming on, indulge in a serving of a low-sugar, high-protein yogurt. There are even yogurts that contain extra probiotics!

grafefruit and lime slices as some of the best foods to eat with a cold

9. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits can be a sweet and refreshing treat, but they also help you fight a cold! Just one serving of many citrus fruits can provide you with your entire daily recommended dose of vitamin C. Indulge in an orange, grapefruit, lemon, or lime to boost your immune system to fight the longevity of your symptoms.

10. Salmon

Salmon is a food rich in many nutrients, and it is a great source of lean protein. This protein can provide the body with the energy it needs to reduce your symptoms and end the unpleasant cold altogether. A serving of the fish also contains an ample amount of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients support your immune system and reduce inflammation in the body.

Foods to avoid when you have a cold

While there are ten primary foods that will help you when you have a cold, there are certainly more that will hinder your recovery. Foods such as candy, soda, ice cream, pastries, and fruit juices contain a large number of sugars that will lead to inflammation in the body. Note that many foods that were mentioned before made the list because they were anti-inflammatory.

Inflammation can lessen your immune strength by weakening white blood cells that would otherwise be at the front lines against your cold.

Another type of food to avoid are those that are histamine releasers. This component can contribute to mucus and cause that stuffy nose and even headaches and ear issues with greater congestion. A few of these foods to note are strawberries, papayas, tomatoes, tuna, peanuts, wine, shrimp, and walnuts. All of these foods provide many benefits to the body through their nutrition profiles, but it is best to take a step back from them while you are not feeling too well.

Final thoughts

Taking medicine is not the only way to fight off a cold — food is a tool you can use as well! So when the colder months roll around, stock your kitchen with these ten foods to help treat a cold quickly, or to prevent it from ever coming on in the first place. While no food may be a complete cure, many of them can ease your symptoms and help your cold-free days come along faster! To further assist this process, avoid foods that are high in sugars and histamine releasers because they will slow down your healing process and make your body work harder than it has to. Go ahead and make yourself a delicious meal or beverage and enjoy it while it takes care of you!

July 15, 2022