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What not to eat during cold?

12 Foods and Drinks That Boost Your Immune System

They may not cure an existing bout of sneezing, coughing, and fatigue, but these foods and drinks can reduce the symptoms of your next cold.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor and counsels clients one-on-one through her virtual private practice. Cynthia is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics and has consulted for five professional sports teams, including five seasons with the New York Yankees. She is currently the nutrition consultant for UCLA’s Executive Health program. Sass is also a three-time New York Times best-selling author and Certified Plant Based Professional Cook. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook, or visit

Updated on October 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Renee Nilan, MD, is an emergency medicine physician based in southeast Michigan.

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When you’re sick with a common cold, the idea of eating or drinking anything may be the opposite of appetizing. However, there are foods and drinks that can offer some relief from the dreadful symptoms of a cold—including a runny nose, incessant cough, and fatigue, among others. They can even help strengthen your immune system, helping you feel better sooner rather than later.

Although, per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, most foods and drinks that have immune-boosting qualities will not cure an existing cold. So, how can some ingredients help reduce the severity and length of your next cold?

Here are simple ways to incorporate 12 cold-fighting foods and drinks into your diet to prevent severe symptoms during your next bout of the common cold.

Woman blowing her nose while having a cold.

Chamomile Tea

Primarily, a hot cup of chamomile tea may have some positive impacts on sleeplessness, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which can help you feel better quickly.

Also, according to a study published in 2020 in the journal Antioxidants, researchers found that chamomile is a useful antioxidant. That is due to chemicals found in the herb called flavonoids. Flavonoids—also found in apples, kale, and onion—have anti-inflammatory properties that help you feel better when you’re sick.

Sip the drink hot or iced, or use steeped chamomile tea as a liquid base for smoothies or oatmeal.


Curcumin, the natural turmeric compound responsible for its vibrant color, is a potent anti-inflammatory compound. Per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, curcumin has several health benefits, like reducing inflammation.

However, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Foods, on its own, turmeric is a weak antioxidant. The researchers suggest that, combined with black pepper, the potency of curcumin and the effects of turmeric amplify.

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Sprinkle a combination of turmeric and black paper into a smoothie, soup, broth, or a plate of cooked vegetables.


The high-antioxidant properties in tart and sweet cherries are due to their high content of vitamin C, per a study published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients. And according to the National Library of Medicine, although foods containing vitamin C do not prevent you from catching a cold, they can help ease your symptoms if you become sick.

Additionally, cherries support healthy sleep due to their natural melatonin content. Restful sleep is key to fighting off viruses and bacteria that make us sick. Earning less than seven hours of sleep per night can weaken your immune system—per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Try dried tart cherries—or stir some into nut butter—to enjoy as a snack.


In addition to being one of the most common anti-inflammatory foods, walnuts contain several nutrients that play a key role in supporting the immune system. Those include vitamins E and B6, copper, and folate.

In 2018, researchers published an article in the journal Nutrients, which stated that walnuts also help reduce symptoms of depression. It turns out that some of the components of walnuts can increase your ability to concentrate and improve your energy. And that’s particularly important because unchecked stress can weaken your immune system.

Pair walnuts with dried tart cherries as a snack, or chop and use them as a garnish for fresh fruit or cooked vegetables.

Soup and Broth

For decades, caretakers have been doling out soups and broths to people under the weather. What’s more, there is some evidence supporting their benefits. According to the National Library of Medicine, while a steaming hot bowl of chicken noodle soup is not necessarily a cure for a common cold, it can provide you some relief from the agonizing symptoms.

First, the steam from soups and broths speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, relieving congestion. Second, a healthy soup also alleviates inflammation. Catching a cold triggers an inflammatory response in your upper respiratory tract. That is what causes those hallmark symptoms of a common cold—like a stuffy nose. And third, the salt from soup or broth will cause your body to retain more water. Staying hydrated gets rid of headaches and dry mouthes.

If you don’t eat chicken, opt for vegetable broth flavored with add-ins like garlic, ginger, cayenne powder, turmeric, and black pepper.


Peppers, including cayenne powder, help thin mucus to relieve nasal congestion. In one study published in 2016 in the journal Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, researchers found that capsaicin—the compound that gives spicy peppers their heat—may also help suppress coughing fits.

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Add a pinch of ground cayenne powder to your tea, soup, or broth.


Historically, people have used garlic to ward off illnesses, fight infections, and treat wounds. And some research lends credibility to garlic’s immune-supporting capabilities.

In a study published in 2014 in the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers recruited 146 volunteers who received either a placebo or a garlic supplement daily for 12 weeks. The researchers determined that the volunteers who received garlic supplements experienced significantly fewer colds—and less severe symptoms if they became ill—than those who received a placebo.

Include a clove of garlic in your next meal, or add a garlic supplement to your daily vitamins.

Raw Honey

In addition to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, some research shows that raw honey eases coughs among children. Researchers reported, in a study published in 2018 in the journal AIMS Microbiology, that manuka honey specifically helps bolster immunity, protecting people from a plethora of viruses and bacteria.

Take it off a spoon before bedtime to soothe your throat and potentially relieve a cough, or stir it into your chamomile tea.


Per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, ginger mostly helps ease nausea and vomiting. However, it also possesses numerous anti-inflammatory nutrients that may get rid of infections in your upper respiratory tract. Although, there are limited studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of ginger’s anti-inflammatory impacts.

To reap its benefits, opt for fresh ginger root. Slice or grate and add it to tea, broth, smoothies, and juice. Or sprinkle some over fresh fruit.


Bananas are one of the easiest foods on the digestive system and remain one of the few appealing foods when your appetite diminishes due to illness.

Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, bananas raise blood sugar and provide energy while delivering key nutrients that help support the immune system. Those nutrients include vitamins C and B6, copper, and folate. Bananas are also full of potassium, an electrolyte you lose when sweating.

You can eat bananas as they are or mix them into other tasty treats. Mash and drizzle them with raw honey and freshly grated ginger, blend them into a smoothie, or freeze and eat them as a popsicle.

Pomegranate Juice

Pure pomegranate juice is another drink that supports immunity via its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in pomegranate juice that combat viruses and minimize symptoms, per a study published in 2017 in the journal Nutrients.

Sip on pomegranate juice, add splashes of it to water or chamomile tea, blend it into smoothies, or freeze it in BPA-free molds—along with pureed banana and ginger root—to make popsicles.

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Green Vegetables

Green vegetables—including kale, spinach, and chard—provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as key nutrients that aid in the function of your immune system. They also provide compounds that optimize immunity in your gut, which is the location of a large number of your immune cells, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Sauté green vegetables in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, turmeric, and black pepper, or add them to soups and broths. You can also blend leafy greens into a smoothie.

What To Do if You Catch a Cold

In addition to foods and drinks that improve your immune system before you become sick, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids when you catch a cold. Water replenishes the fluid you’re losing through your lungs every time you cough, as well as from losses due to sweating.

As far as what to avoid when you’re sick, steer clear of foods that may fuel inflammation or stress your immune system. Those foods include refined sugar, processed foods (especially those with artificial ingredients), conventional dairy and meat, caffeine, and alcohol.

Of course, get plenty of sleep and rest, and don’t feel guilty about taking the time you need to recover. Trying to maintain the status quo while you have a cold can infect others and prolong your own illness.

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Down with cough and cold? Here are 4 foods you must completely avoid

Recovering from the flu and cold can be pretty cumbersome. Avoiding these foods can ensure you feel healthy in no time.

poor immunity

Grace Bains Updated: 4 May 2021, 15:40 pm IST

When you’re down with a flu and cold, the last thing on your mind is eating. Since we already know you won’t be eating much, it becomes imperative to eat proportional quantities of food to provide you with energy and nutrients, while you recover.

Many foods such as tomatoes, yoghurt and green vegetables will give you much-needed vitamins, minerals and proteins essential for building immunity for speedy recovery. However, knowing what to avoid eating when recovering from flu and cold is perhaps equally important..

Hence, we would like to highlight certain foods that must be avoided when you’re down with a flu and cold:

1. Caffeinated beverages, alcohol and sugary drinks

Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, black tea and alcoholic drinks can make you dehydrated. Flu can cause increased temperatures and sweating, leading to dehydration, and caffeine and alcohol can worsen your symptoms. Another food to avoid is sugar-loaded fruit juice or aerated drinks, as they are not nutritionally-dense and can compromise your immune system.

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flu symptoms

2. Foods that are hard to chew and digest

Crunchy wafers and foods with similar textures can further aggravate your cough and sore throat. Moreover, flu could cause you to have an upset stomach, so it is important not to consume foods like bread toast and even oats, as foods that are high in fibre are much harder to digest. Additionally, consider refraining from eating foods that are difficult to break down and hard on your gastrointestinal system, such as oily curries or meat that are high in saturated fats.

3. Candies and chocolates

Foods that are rich in sugar such as candies and chocolates cause inflammation, and this may decrease your immunity by weakening white blood cells. Moreover, as these cells are responsible for fighting infection, eating candies and chocolates will hamper the capacity of the disease-fighting cell to fight the flu and cold effectively.

4. Mucus-creating foods

Mucus is your sworn enemy when recovering from a flu and cold. If you think this superfood is a safe bet, when you are sick, think again. Strawberries are one such example, as they are histamine releasers that can contribute to congestion. Histamine-powered mucus can create a sense of discomfort in your nose, and cause sinusitis. Milk is another food to avoid, as it can temporarily thicken mucus, which will cause harmful allergens to stay in your system longer. Additionally, avoid spices, such as chilli peppers as the capsaicin in chilli peppers that is an irritant for the nasal passage, causing greater production of mucus.

When you’re sick, taking care of what you’re eating is as important as taking your medicines!

About the Author
Grace Bains

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book. . Read More

What to Eat — and Avoid — When You Have a Cold

Chicken Soup

You should have some, and not just because Mom says so. Studies shows it clears nasal passages and congestion better than other hot liquids. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect that may help your cold symptoms.




You’ve heard it before: To avoid colds, get plenty of vitamin C. Truth is, it won’t keep most of us from catching one. (It may help if you’re around people who get sick often, like at a day care.) But if you get a lot of it right before you notice symptoms, it may make you feel better and help you get rid of a cold faster. Oranges, lemons, limes — they’re all sources of vitamin C and can be tasty, too.

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Germ Fighters

Germ Fighters


Kale, broccoli, cranberries, green tea, red onions, blueberries: What do these have in common? All have an antioxidant called quercetin that may help you fight the common cold. The research here is pretty new, but they may be on to something.

Bring the Heat

Bring the Heat


They won’t help you kick your cold, but chili peppers can clear out your nasal passages, and that can make you feel better. They have something called capsaicin, which studies show may help with your stuffy head.




A cup of fresh, hot ginger tea may seem to be just the thing you need when you’re nursing a cold. It helps lclear congestion and soothe your throat. And some studies show this spicy root may help prevent the common cold by blocking the virus.




Milk, ice cream, cheese: Dairy gets a bad rap. Common wisdom says to avoid it when you’re stuffy or runny because you’ll make more mucus. But there’s little evidence to support this. So if you crave ice cream to soothe that sore throat, go ahead and indulge.




Scientists think garlic has some things in it that may fight the common cold. There is also some evidence that garlic may prevent colds, but more studies are still needed. Nevertheless, it’s a good excuse to toss in a few extra cloves.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and Alcohol


You’re better off avoiding these. You need lots of liquids when you have a cold, but caffeine and alcohol are no-nos because they can dry you out. Of course, if you get a raging withdrawal headache without your morning coffee, by all means, have a small cup of joe. Or try a little caffeinated tea instead.

Show Sources


1) ko636 / Thinkstock

2) SvetaVo / Thinkstock

3) naludon / Getty Images, Irene1601 / Thinkstock, JianGang Wang / Thinkstock

4) Lane Oatey / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

5) Allyso / Getty Images

6) viafilms /Thinkstock

7) Kroeger/Gross / Getty Images

8) Vladmax / Thinkstock, LeszekCzerwonka / Thinkstock

Journal of Infectious Diseases & Preventive Medicine: “Quercetin: A Promising Treatment for the Common Cold.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt,” “Common cold.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Capsaicin for non-allergic rhinitis.”

National Institutes of Health: “Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2.”

UCLA Explore Integrative Medicine: “An Inside Scoop on the Science Behind Chicken Soup and the Common Cold.”

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