Feed your immune system

Colds and flu viruses are all around us. Public spaces and workplaces are notorious for germs, but it is possible to stay well. Certain foods, supplements and lifestyle tips can help you avoid common illnesses, or help you fight them off more quickly.

Food fighters

While eating well is important all year round, a diet full of nutrient-rich whole foods helps the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria.

Chicken soup

Chicken is an excellent source of the compound carnosine. Preliminary studies have found carnosine to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may stave off viral infections like the flu by stopping it from replicating and spreading inside cells. The comforting warm broth of this soup may also help loosen mucus to ease congestion and alleviate a sore throat.


In addition to demonstrating powerful antioxidant abilities, garlic is thought to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that preliminary research suggests may be useful in battling the common cold.

Citrus fruit

Vitamin C is thought to be a potent antioxidant that plays an essential role in maintaining the immune system. Another powerful antioxidant found in citrus fruits is the flavonoid quercetin. Like carnosine in chicken soup, preliminary studies suggest quercetin may stop the rhinovirus—the most common cause of the common cold—by preventing it from replicating and spreading.


In one study, researchers found cranberry juice to significantly increase the cells responsible for defending the body against viral invaders in participants who drank it daily. During the study, the cranberry juice drinkers reported fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who did not drink the juice. Like citrus fruit, cranberries are also a good source of vitamin C and quercetin.

Dark chocolate

Researchers have found theobromine, found in dark chocolate, may be more effective than codeine in relieving a persistent cough. Theobromine is thought to work by blocking the action of the nerves that trigger the cough reflex.

Super supplements

Common supplements used to help ward off cold and flu bugs are:

  • elderberry
  • echinacea
  • North American ginseng
  • probiotics
  • vitamin D
  • zinc

As always, check with your health care practitioner to make sure a supplement is right for you.

Stay healthy

These simple strategies may help you avoid getting sick.

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the day to help protect against virus particles you may pick up.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Regularly clean frequently touched items at home and work, like phones, keyboards and door handles.
  • Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke exposure not only weakens the immune system, but also dries out nasal passages and may paralyze cilia, the tiny hairs in the nose that sweep germs away.
  • Exercise and meditate. One small study found that meditation combined with moderate exercise like yoga reduced cold and flu symptoms in participants by 40 to 50 percent.