Food to prevent colds

Research published recently claims that scientists may be on track to find a cure for the common cold. Until now, studies have primarily focussed on fighting the viruses that cause the cold. This new research suggests that making the host (our bodies) inhospitable to the virus (the cold) may have better success but we may have to wait years before this research has an impact on how resilient we are to the cold virus.

In the meantime, there is plenty all of us can do to help support our immunity to help make ourselves more resilient and resistant to coughs, cold, snots and sneezes. We all know that vitamin C is good for immunity, but there are other things that might help too. 

  1. Keep hydrated. The main points of entry for a cold virus to get into our bodies in through our nose and mouth. If we are dehydrated, these mucus membranes become drier, so we have less protection against bugs. Most of us drink a little less water when the weather is cooler, so it can take a bit more effort to drink enough. Get into the habit of starting your day with a big glass of water (hot or cold is fine), keep a water bottle on your desk to sip during the day and set a jug on the table at dinner time. Also consider replacing one or two of your regular cups of tea or coffee with herbal tea to help top up your water intake. 
  2. Pack as much colour in as you can. A diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables is a surefire way to up your nutrient levels. Orange coloured fruit and veg, and dark green leafy vegetables in particular, contain beta carotene, a vitamin A pre-cursor, and other antioxidants that help support white blood cell production – the cells that help us fight infection. Vitamin A is also important for the health and integrity of our mucus membranes. Carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, kale, cabbage, spinach are all great sources. 
  3. Vitamin C – vitamin C is, of course, the nutrient we all tend to associate with boosting our immune systems, but research shows that taking it in combination with zinc could be even more effective. Look out supplements containing 500mg to 1000mg vitamin C and about 10mg zinc. 
  4. Vitamin D – living so far north, our days are particularly dark and short in the autumn and winter, so we are at increased risk of low vitamin D levels. It is generally accepted that supplementing vitamin D in the winter months (October to May) is a good idea. Look out for supplements that contain the active D3 form. 
  5. Gut flora – the billions of beneficial bacteria found in our digestive tract have an important role to play in our immune function, so it is worth looking after them. Foods that help support the health of our microbiome include live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha. If you end up taking an antibiotic over the winter, then help protect your healthy gut flora by taking a good quality probiotic too. 
  6. Garlic and onions – these kitchen essentials may help protect us against the cold virus. These allium vegetables have antimicrobial effects, so pack them into your winter soups, hearty stews and spicy curries. 
  7. Get outside – getting out in the fresh air, whatever the weather is as essential to good health as the food we eat, or taking regular exercise. Regular exercise in the great outdoors has been shown to help white blood cell production to help keep our immune system healthy…and being outside simply it makes us feel good!

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 28th September 2019.