Your mom always fed you chicken soup when you were sick. And while it’d be fun to make jokes about all those Chicken Soup for the Soul books, science says mom knew best.
A compound called carnosine, found in cooked chicken, helps redirect the movement of your infection-fighting white blood cells in ways that ease cold and flu symptoms, found a study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics.
Almost any hot liquid can help break up congestion and soothe a sore throat, so warm chicken soup is an ideal delivery method for carnosine, says Rob Danoff, D.O., director of family medicine at Philadelphia’s Aria Health System.
So if you feel a craving for chicken soup when you’re sick, knock yourself out. While you’re at it, reach for these proven cold and flu fighters.
While sucking on zinc supplements all the time could actually weaken your immune system, swallowing 50 to 75 milligrams of zinc each day as soon as your cold or flu symptoms start can cut the duration of your cold by 40 percent, according to a 2013 review study. More research shows getting that zinc from three to four slowly disintegrating lozenges (as opposed to a single pill) is the best way to wipe out your cold.
If you’ve ever eaten freshly prepared horseradish—or extra-pungent cocktail sauce—you know of the root’s uncanny ability to open your sinuses and get the mucous flowing. “Horseradish contains a compound called allyl isothiocyanate, which is similar to an ingredient found in nose sprays,” Danoff says. “If you sniff horseradish, it will loosen up congestion in your nose.” You could simply sniff fresh horseradish, or eat a little on toast or mixed into hot water.
AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
While you’re probably not reaching for Irish coffee when you have a cold, understand that both booze and coffee can dehydrate you, which can make some cold symptoms worse and prolong the time you feel under the weather, Danoff says. “It’s a little controversial, but caffeine also seems to increase sweating and heart rate, and so could dehydrate you that way as well,” he says.
GREEK YOGURT AND PICKLES
Your stores of healthy gut bacteria, or probiotics, can quickly become depleted when you’re sick—especially if you have diarrhea, Danoff says. For this reason, he says eating probiotic foods that replenish those gut microbes is important. He recommends probiotic capsule supplements containing a specific type of bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which supports intestinal health. Greek yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir are all probiotic-rich foods that may help your stomach fend off whatever’s bugging it. (Just be sure to speak with a doctor if your stomach bug lasts more than 48 hours, or if your issue is sending you to the bathroom more than four times a day. “In those cases, you may have a food-borne illness that requires a doctor’s attention,” Danoff says.)
Plain water is good for keeping your body hydrated and your immune system robust. But your body can only absorb so much water, unless that H20 is accompanied by electrolytes and other nutrients. While sports drinks are off limits—too much immune system-crippling sugar, Danoff says—many fruits combine water with healthful antioxidants and nutrients. He recommends grapes, apples, pears, peaches, watermelon, and oranges as potent hydrators and cold-fighters. “If you don’t have much of an appetite, drinking a smoothie containing all of these with a little Greek yogurt and some nuts is a great way to get lots of nutrients into your body,” he says.
Real ginger is proven to relieve stomach issues and discomfort, Danoff says. “But most ginger ales are made with artificial ingredients,” he adds. So skip the soda, and instead by real ginger. Add some of it to a cup of hot tea with honey. While the ginger calms your stomach, the honey will coat and soothe your sore throat, he says. Also, all tea contains a compound called theophylline, which naturally breaks up chest congestion, research shows.
THE BART DIET
“BART” stands for bananas, applesauce, white rice, and plain toast, and it should be your diet roadmap if you have a stomach bug. Each of these foods either provides nutrients you’re likely to run low on (bananas and potassium, apples and pectin), or helps aid digestion, he says. “Pasta and potatoes are also good, easily digestible foods,” Danoff says. Just avoid anything fried, which will contain acid that might upset your stomach.
OLIVE OIL OR SALMON
Omega-3 is a known immune-system booster, and both olive oil and salmon are loaded with the healthy fat, Danoff says. While he’d prefer you got your omega-3 from real foods, a supplement could also help up your intakes if you can’t stomach fatty fish or olive oil.