Why it’s a cold/flu fighter: When you have a cold or the flu, a major symptom includes congestion in the nose, chest, and throat. Chicken soup has specifically been shown in studies to thin mucus secretions. Broth and noodles provide carbohydrates for maintaining your energy levels, potentially helping you feel less lethargic. If you add vegetables, you’ll boost the level of nutrients in the soup, which will help support immune function. Slurp away on low-sodium soups that contain 30% less salt. You want the soup to contain some salt, though, because sodium helps regulate the amount of fluid in the body. Basically, the saltiness in soup may help encourage hydration, says Lawrence D. Rosen, MD, chair of the Integrative Pediatrics Council, and author of The Whole Child blog. This is important because fevers can contribute to dehydration.
Why it’s a cold/flu fighter: Garlic contains compounds, such as allicin—an oily substance, which gives it the characteristic odor and provide its antioxidant properties. Former research published in the journal Advances In Therapy found that taking a garlic allicin-containing supplement could help prevent colds as well as shorten their duration. The research shows that both consuming garlic in cooking and taking appropriate dosages of garlic supplements, as a dehydrated garlic powder, garlic oil, or aged garlic extract, may be effective and safe in adults. Because the safety of garlic supplements haven’t been tested on children, it’s safest to stick to incorporating just the whole food—one to two cloves or more, if you prefer the taste—into your kids diet.
Why it’s a cold/flu fighter: Green tea leaves contain antioxidants that can help to boost immune function. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that subjects taking a special preparation of green tea as a capsule experienced 23% less bouts of colds and flu overall and 36% fewer sick days. Their immune systems also produced more cells that fought off illness-causing bacteria and viruses.
What does this mean for you? Sip on green tea any chance you get. However, keep in mind that green tea does contain caffeine—20 to 50 mg per 8 oz.-cup, depending on how long you steep the tea. (In comparison, a cup of coffee contains 100 to 120 mg per 8 oz.-cup.) For adults, a moderate amount of caffeine is 200 to 300 mg per day; more can be associated with side effects, which include restlessness and difficulty sleeping. For this reason, you should closely monitor how much green tea kids have. One cup per day for a gradeschooler or preschooler is fine (just don’t steep the green tea too long for young kids). Or just give them the decaf variety, especially if they’re drinking it when they have the cold or flu.
Strawberries, Oranges, Sweet Red Peppers, Broccoli
Why they’re cold/flu fighters: Some studies in adults have shown that taking high doses of vitamin C daily may significantly reduce cold and flu symptoms. Other studies have seen a modest benefit in reducing the duration of a cold or flu symptoms, and a few studies in adults and children have shown that taking vitamin C might help prevent colds or flu, although the research is inconsistent.
It ultimately doesn’t matter whether vitamin C can or can’t prevent or ease cold and flu symptoms, because it offers numerous health benefits when consumed through eating enough fruits and vegetables (3 or more cups per day). Plus, vitamin C acts as a cell-protecting antioxidant and an immune booster, which means it’ll help keep you healthy anyway—even if it isn’t a magic elixir for colds and flu specifically. Just remember to sidestep the supplements and stick to whole foods—especially vitamin C-rich foods such as strawberries, oranges, sweet red peppers, and broccoli—when you want to make sure your child gets enough of this powerful nutrient.
Why they’re cold/flu fighters: Maintaining good iron levels is necessary for maintaining a healthy immune system, and eating lean red meat and poultry, as well as fish and shellfish, provides a type of iron that is easily absorbed by the body. Zinc is another important mineral that these food sources provide—it serves many functions, one of which includes activating a white blood cell that helps fight off infections.
In some studies, zinc nasal sprays and lozenges have been shown to reduce the duration of a cold and the severity of symptoms, but overall, the research is inconsistent. Some people have also reported that they lost their sense of smell after using zinc nasal sprays. In addition, ingesting too much zinc could be harmful.
Bottom line: It’s best to stick to foods for meeting your family’s daily needs for essential nutrients such as zinc and iron. Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid eating plan for guidelines on how much your family should eat from the meat and beans food group.
Why it’s a cold/flu fighter: Grandmothers may not be surprised by this, but a study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that buckwheat honey may reduce cough by coating and soothing an irritated throat. Researchers compared the effects of giving children this dark-colored honey (1/2 teaspoon, ages 2 to 5; 1 teaspoon, ages 6 to 11; 2 teaspoons, ages 12 to 18), honey-flavored dextromethorphan (cough medicine), or nothing at bedtime. Honey worked the best at reducing cough and helping their child sleep. How did the cough medicine fair? It didn’t work any better than using no treatment. (Note: Don’t give honey to children younger than age 1—it could lead to infant botulism, a rare but potentially fatal illness.)
Why they’re cold/flu fighters: You don’t have to sip tea or broth to turn up the heat when you eat. If your nose starts to run whenever it catches a whiff of spicy fare, add some chili peppers to your dishes when you’re stuffed up. Capsaicin, the natural compound found in hot peppers that provides the heat and spiciness of the food, can thin mucus, giving you a runny nose to help you breathe better and allow your nasal passages to get rid of germs.
When cooking, add small amounts of less than a half teaspoon of fresh or 1/8 teaspoon of dried hot pepper if you’re not used to hot foods. Use as much as you or your child can handle.