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Take It In: Feed a cold, feed a fever

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Is it “feed a cold; starve a fever” or “starve a cold; feed a fever”? The roots of this saying date back to the days of Hippocrates, when the ancient Greek physician reportedly used starvation to treat fevers. Fast forward, and the additional recommendation to feed a cold traces back to a 16th century dictionary written by Englishman John Withals. Today, according to a 2015 scientific article published in the Australian Family Physician, the correct saying for best benefit is “feed a cold; feed a fever.”

What should you eat? Nothing beats a healthful diet. That means filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and the other half with whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Beyond this, there are some foods that may offer added flu-fighting powers. Here are a few:

Chicken Soup: A steaming bowl of hot chicken noodle soup as a curative for the common cold is a recommended remedy that dates to 12th-century Egypt. However, U.S. researchers publishing in the journal Chest in 2000, found scientific evidence that this food really does have healing powers. Specifically, there are several substances in chicken soup that collectively provide a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can improve symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. In this study, the chicken soup tested contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt and pepper.

Garlic: This bold-flavored veggie is good for more than just warding off vampires. According to an article published in 2014 in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, garlic’s antimicrobial and antiviral properties were linked to relief of common cold symptoms. In this research, participants who took a daily garlic supplement with 180 mg of allicin, a phytonutrient found naturally in garlic, were ill fewer days than those who didn’t take the garlic. The only downside is that the fresh equivalent to this amount of allicin is 50 cloves of garlic.

Citrus. Oranges, tangerines and grapefruit are potent sources of vitamin C. Two studies reported in the journal Nutrients in 2017 found that taking 6 to 8 grams of vitamin C daily can reduce the duration of cold symptoms. Since one large orange (a little over 3-inches in diameter) provides nearly 100 mg of vitamin C, it would take 60 to 80 oranges to add up to the whopping dose reported in this article. Therefore, supplements are needed. However, it’s always a good idea to eat food sources of vitamin C too. This includes fruits and vegetables. There are actually several that have more vitamin C per serving than an orange, including chili and bell peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, papaya, pineapple and kiwi.

Honey: This sweet stirred into a cup of hot tea has long been promoted to soothe a sore throat. To quiet a persistent post-cold cough, try honey and coffee instead. This recommendation comes from a study published in a 2013 issue of the Iranian Primary Care Respiratory Journal that found the combination was more effective than prescription steroid drugs in curbing this lingering type of cough. Researchers created this curative mixture by stirring together one  tablespoon of honey and one tablespoon of instant coffee powder to create a paste. They asked participants to dissolve a third of this mixture into water and drink it three times daily, or every 8 hours. The only negative is that the caffeine in the coffee might keep you up at night – but hopefully not coughing.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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