Foods that Fight Colds

Bone broth, elderberries and fire tonics are some of the weapons you can use to fend off those winter maladies

Winter is coming and with it, cold and flu season.

The 2018 Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that Delaware will see a “mild, wet” winter that will be colder than last year (but not colder than usual). And as the temperature drops, our biological response is to crave comfort foods and drinks—those laden with carbohydrates, sugar and fat. Coupled with a decrease in activity, that does not bode well for our health.

These foods, according to Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market in Hockessin, create “an acidic environment,” which decreases our ability to fight off colds and viruses and causes unnecessary inflammation.

“Most of us have real, chronic cases of inflammation from high levels of cortisol and stress,” says Long. While inflammation is a normal, healthy response to injury or infection, chronic cases can make you more susceptible to getting and staying sick through the colder months.

Before you reach for over-the-counter remedies for winter maladies, consider a trip to the grocery store. You can bolster your immune system and perhaps avoid colds and other winter illnesses with items from the produce aisle. And even if you end up catching a cold, certain foods can help decrease the length of your sickness.

For guidance on the best foods and drinks that ward off colds, we got input from four local experts:

• Liz Freeman Abel, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and owner of free + abel, a “food + lifestyle” company based in Delaware.
• Sasha Aber, owner of Home Grown Café, Newark.
• Tricia Jefferson, licensed dietitian/nutritionist and director of healthy living and strategic partnerships, YMCA of Delaware.
• Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market, Hockessin.

Color Counts

In selecting cold-fighters for your diet, go for color, says Jefferson. “We should eat a variety of colorful foods on a regular basis. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E and zinc, among others—which protect cells from oxidation or damage.”

Adds Abel: “Pick foods that are red, orange or yellow, like beets, carrots and peppers.” These bright-colored vegetables are high in beta carotene (vitamin A) and immune boosters.

In addition, Abel says that “eating locally and with the seasons keeps your body in sync with the rhythms of nature. Our eating (in the fall and winter) tends to mirror how we’re feeling, so stick with ground-based foods that are native to this area, like leafy and root vegetables.”

Here’s a handy guide to fruits and vegetables arranged by the color spectrum:

Red  apples, red peppers
Orange – oranges, sweet potatoes
Yellow – pineapple, sweet corn
Green – kiwi, spinach
Blue/Purple – blueberries, eggplant
Brown – ginger, parsnips

Not only are these fruits and vegetables appealing to the eye, they keep our immune system healthy and productive. For example, zinc is a water-soluble vitamin that we need on a regular basis; it can be found in “pumpkin seeds, spinach, animal proteins, oysters and mussels,” says Abel.

This fall Home Grown Café, known for its made-from-scratch food, will serve two dishes that will supply important micronutrients. The first is a traditional Belgian mussel dish made with Belgian beer (which will rotate depending on what’s on tap), garlic, shallots, fresh thyme, smoked ham, whole grain mustard, black pepper and fresh lemon. The second is a perennial favorite, a vegetarian southwestern chili made with pinto and black beans, peppers, onions, tomato, Chipotle peppers, spices, tortilla croutons and jalapeño.

For those looking for an all-natural preventative, try making your own elderberry syrup. All you need are dried or fresh elderberries, water and sweetener. Clinical studies suggest that it boosts our immune status, which helps combat viruses that cause the common cold and flu. Elderberry is also known to “reduce mucus by decreasing swollen membranes,” says Jefferson.

If you can’t find dried or fresh elderberries, Harvest Market carries a bluish-black elixir made from elderberries by Areté, a wellness company based in Chester County, Pa. Have a bottle ready before the chills and aches begin, so you don’t have to consume the terrible-tasting cough syrup we’re all accustomed to.

And, if you’re feeling super adventurous, consider preparing a fire tonic. As its name suggests, this tonic is a fermented concoction taken to warm the body and act as a homemade preventative to stave off infection and colds. The standard fire tonic includes a base made of apple cider vinegar and a mix of ingredients, usually horseradish, garlic, onion and ginger. These ingredients are placed in a jar and allowed to steep for a couple of weeks. After this fermentation period the concoction is strained and stored in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Take one tablespoon daily to boost your immune system (pro tip: add a drop of sweetener to cut the spiciness). If you feel it’s not working, increase your intake up to one tablespoon three times a day.

Warming Foods

As far as foods go, everyone agreed that hot liquids are the best remedy for cold-related illnesses. Not only do they raise our core body temperature, they also stave off dehydration.

“When we consume hot liquids, we breathe in the warm air, which helps moisturize nasal passages and soothe dry, scratchy throats,” says Abel.

And there is some merit in chicken (noodle) soup as the go-to remedy for when we get sick. Plan ahead and make a chicken bone broth before the fever and aches begin.

For those new to making broth, Long recommends using a prepared chicken in order to have it on hand once you’re sick.

Set aside one-third of the chicken meat for the broth (if consuming right away) and use the remaining two-thirds for other meals. Place bones and carcass in a large stock pot and pour water over the bones to cover. Add diced onions, carrots and celery in addition to salt, pepper and spices—parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary, to name a few. Let the broth come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. For the first couple of hours skim the surface of the broth. Then allow the broth to simmer overnight. Then strain, store in the ubiquitous Chinese soup plastic takeout containers and freeze for an entire season’s worth of bone broth.

Why is bone broth recommended? Says Long: “Homemade bone broth has many healthful properties. The salt soothes the throat; the herbs contain important phytonutrients, and the broth is rich in protein.”

In addition to chicken soup, tea and tisanes (herbal teas) were the favorites among our experts. They are readily available and an easy way to get warmth into the body. Though they all have different properties, they help us to stay hydrated during the cold-weather months.

Says Aber: “I drink tea year-round. It could be because Home Grown Café carries eight different teas and five herbal teas. We also carry Baba’s Brew Kombucha (a fermented tea that’s high in probiotics) on tap.”

The following are recommended teas and tisanes from our experts:

Echinacea is an anti-inflammatory herb that strengthens the immune system and may reduce the

length of sickness.

Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that also calms nausea. Add slices to boiling water with some honey for a simple tea made in under two minutes.

Green tea contains high levels of antioxidants. It’s readily available in loose leaf and pre-packaged varieties.

Licorice: Says Long: “Licorice tea is great for upper respiratory conditions because it acts as an expectorant that opens up the bronchial tubes.” Licorice is known to elevate blood pressure, so check with your primary care physician before consuming.

Turmeric is a fat-soluble herb in the ginger family. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory that can be mixed with honey and milk for a soothing “tea.”

Other Alternatives

Taking care of the whole body while sick is just as important as eating healthy to stave off illness. Here are our experts’ personal recommendations for what they do when sick:

Jefferson: “When I start feeling off, I head to the sauna. It’s a way to relax and clear things out of our system by raising our core body temperature and killing bacteria.” Saunas are available at the Brandywine, Central, Dover and Western Family YMCA locations and are inclusive of the monthly membership.

Abel recommends counteracting stagnant indoor air by adding essential oils like cinnamon, orange and clove, or eucalyptus to “change the air quality and ease symptoms of a cold or flu.” Go one step further and add a couple of drops to a steam bath to open up nasal passages.

Long, who just recovered from a brief cold, recommended rest. “It means taking a break and for one day out of my life, a day to watch cartoons and nap with my son (who was also home sick).”

Aber advocates for “eating less processed foods in order to reap the full nutritional benefits.” This idea is reflected in the menu at Home Grown Café, which uses whole, nutrient-dense foods versus unrecognizable ingredients like potassium sorbate, a food preservative.

We all know intrinsically when our body feels out-of-whack before we come down with the cold or flu. Instead of fearing the worst, try adding these cold and flu fighting foods and drinks to your shopping list.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.