We all know that dreaded feeling of waking up with a scratchy, dry throat, just knowing a cold is coming, and there is no way to stop it. On average, you are likely to get about 2.5 colds this year and miss about nine hours of work per cold.
The good news is, you may be able to help ward off a cold by including certain foods in your diet. As the cold and flu season ramps up, staying healthy is top of mind for most, especially for parents with young children who bring home all those germs from school! So, what should you do to avoid catching a winter bug?
First off, refrain from buying shopping carts full of pills, supplements and herbal remedies which claim an ability to boost your resistance to viruses. There are better options that can help you ward them off that are much easier on your wallet: eating well, controlling stress, sleeping seven to nine hours per night, washing your hands and moving your body. Make these things a priority and don't use limited time as an excuse not to do so — your productivity will drastically decrease if you get sick!
As eating well is my specialty, let's dive a little further into that key priority. While the evidence is somewhat limited, there is some research showing that getting enough of a few micronutrients may help protect you from illness this cold and flu season. Opting to get these micronutrients from food is far superior to supplements as the foods listed below will provide much more benefit and nourishment than a supplement alone.
Here are some key foods to include in your diet this cold and flu season:
Probiotic kefir and yogurt
There is evidence that probiotics can improve one's ability to ward off the common cold. When shopping, look for the word "probiotic" specifically, as many foods contain live bacteria or are fermented, but that doesn’t mean they have a probiotic effect. Probiotics are specific strains of bacteria and yeast that are shown to have a health benefit in adequate amounts.
Always buy the plain versions of yogurt and kefir to avoid the excess sugar found in sweetened varieties (save your sugar allowance for dark chocolate!). Enjoy kefir or yogurt with your morning oatmeal, blend them into a smoothie, mix them into dips or just enjoy them on their own. But ensure you don't heat them by using them in soups or other hot dishes as the heat will kill the bacteria.
Oranges and bell peppers
Both these foods are packed with vitamin C (along with tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes). While vitamin C will likely not prevent you from catching a cold, there is some evidence (for example here and here) that it can reduce the duration of a cold. Although their effect isn't dramatic, vitamin C-rich foods are great for your health either way. So skip the supplement and add more citrus fruits and crunchy peppers to your shopping cart instead.
I always get two pumpkins at Halloween: one to carve and one to eat! You should do the same next year since cold season is in full swing by Halloween and pumpkin is packed with vitamin A, which can help support your immune system.
This pumpkin brûlée, a healthy dessert or breakfast, is a delicious way to get some vitamin A, too. Other yellow squashes and leafy greens are also a good source of vitamin A.
To prepare your pumpkin, chop it up into large squares, drizzle it with olive oil and roast it until tender. Let the pieces cool and then purée and freeze the pumpkin for easy additions to soups, muffins and pies all year. Make sure you save those pumpkin seeds to roast too, as they are full of nutrients. Plus, they even make popping noises when you roast them, which is fun for kids!
Oats and barley
Multiple studies (here, here and here, for example) have shown that a special little polysaccharide called beta glucan can help prevent and/or reduce the duration of the common cold. The whole grains, oats and barley are especially high in beta-glucan. However, it is important to note that most studies used a concentrated preparation of beta glucan and/or used fungi and yeast as the source. Beta glucans from different sources may have different effects. But oats and barley have many other known benefits, such as helping to lower blood cholesterol, so it is still worth consuming them.
Overall, aim to eat the rainbow every day, and ensure half your plate is fruit and vegetables at each meal. Eating a well-balanced plant-based diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy and productive this cold and flu season!
Melissa Baker is a registered dietitian with a masters degree in nutrition communication. She loves being a part of the exciting nutrition world, and helping to improve the health and quality of life of Canadians. Every month, Melissa examines nutrition trends in her HuffPost Canada Living franchise, "What's The Deal?" For more from Melissa, check out her blog Upbeet.ca.