What are the best foods to fight colds and flu, exactly? We challenged two of our experts to find out.
But we didn’t make it easy for them. Firstly, we asked them to review the research; looking for the most effective nutrients in the cold-fighting war. Specifically, they had to identify the nutrients that:
help boost your immunity;
help you recover faster, if you do get sick; and
help you get a good night’s sleep (as this is vital to maintaining immunity).
Then, we asked them to identify which foods were richest in those nutrients – the foods most likely to help keep you in goodhealth this winter.
But there was a catch. These foods had to not only be scientifically proven to help fight colds and 'flu – they also had to be yummy, convenient and comforting. Foods you’d actually want to eat in winter, in other words. Because when you’re feeling unwell, spending an hour in the kitchen cooking a wholesome meal is the last thing you feel like doing!
The best foods to to ‘cold-proof ’ your body
Don't roll your eyes – scientists have conclusive proof that what you eat can impact your immunity levels. Eat foods rich in the following components to boost your immunity and help stave off colds and flu:
Taking probiotics can significantly lower your risk of fever and influenza, according to two recent Japanese studies.
What to eat: Try a probiotic-rich yoghurt, such as Vaalia’s French Vanilla Probiotic. Serve it with warm, stewed fruit for a vitamin boost.
Vitamin A is known to help keep certain parts of the body, like the lining of the digestive tract, healthy. This helps prevent infection because the digestive tract is a physical barrier to infection and illness.
What to eat: Carrots, pumpkin and sweet potato – great in soups, roasts or just simply steamed. One egg provides almost half your RDI for vitamin A, so enjoy a warm brekky of eggs on toast.
All spices have health benefits, but research has shown ground cumin is particularly good for immunity.
What to eat: Add ground cumin seeds to a wholesome curry, soup, sauce or stew. For extra health benefits, add lots of vegies.
Zinc just may be the ultimate winter mineral. Scientists have found it can help with everything from the common cold and diarrhoea to pneumonia and acute respiratory tract infections.
What to eat: Oysters are one of the best sourcesof zinc, but if they don’t tempt you, try a steaming pot of mussels with tomato and garlic. Cashews are another convenient option – try Naturals by Melrose 100% Cashew Spread (find it in the health food aisle).
Prebiotics, a type of indigestible fibre, feed the good bacteria in your gut. This helps to create a healthy environment for immune cells, bolstering your natural defences.
What to eat: There are many great prebiotic sources: in particular, cereal and bread. Both Kellogg’s All-Bran Dual and Bürgen Rye Bread contain prebiotic fibre. Onion, leek and garlic are also good sources of prebiotics, so cook up a delicious batch of leek and onion soup
The best foods for recovering from colds
Already succumbed to the dreaded lurgy? Cold and 'flu tablets are usually the first thing we reach for, but Mother Nature has a few fast recovery tricks up her sleeve, too. Add these foods to your trolley, for benefits scientifically proven to help your body recover faster.
It’s commonly suggested for preventing the common cold; however, research shows it’s more useful in helping you recover from colds faster.
What to eat: Fruit and veg are the best sources of vitamin C, but when you’re sick you need might need encouragement. Try squeezing the juice from a lemon into a mug of hot water, mixed with a little honey; or, if you’re craving comfort food, heat up a Nanna’s Lite Snack Apple Pie – it has over 30% apple.
Probiotics + vitamins and minerals
A German study found that consuming probiotic, multivitamin and mineral supplements for three months reduces cold symptoms by 25 per cent.
What to eat: Try Jalna’s Vitalize Vitamins+, it’s available as either a yoghurt or a drink. It has added probiotics and contains 10 vitamins.
Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is the garlic plant’s natural protection against insects and microorganisms. Studies show it has a similarly protective effect in humans, too.
What to eat: Add garlic to soups, stir fries and sauces. Roast unpeeled cloves along with your roast vegies. For a quick and convenient way to add garlic to meals, try Gourmet Garden’s Garlic in a tube. Rub it over winter veg before roasting, or some mash with avocado then spread on toast.
Keeping your fluid levels up when sick is a must. Water is best, however tea and juice will also get liquids into your system.
What to eat: Try diluting juice and cordial with water, or brew up one of Lipton’s Herbal Infusion Teas – they smell divine and have a comforting warmth. We love the Cranberry, Raspberry & Strawberry flavour.
Packed with a complex mix of healthboosting antioxidants, you really can’t afford to skip the vegies when you’re sick. Unfortunately, no one feels like spending hours in the kitchen when fighting the 'flu.
What to eat: For a quick and easy vegie hit, try Campbell’s Velish Provincial Vegetable soup. It’s warming, convenient and packs two serves of vegetables into every bowl.
The best foods for a good nights' sleep
Research has shown that getting sufficient rest is one of the best ways to avoid catching a cold. In one study, 153 healthy men and women were subjected to a cold virus. Those who got the most sleep (at least eight hours a night) were less likely to catch the cold. You can help optimise your chances of a good night’s rest with these remedies.
This essential amino acid is known to be a key player in promoting healthy sleep.
What to eat: Tryptophan is most famously found in turkey, but the humble sesame seed is another rich source. Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds through your rice or mashed potato, or munch on Golden Vale Sesame Snaps for a snack or dessert. Despite the deceptively small packs, they are full of flavour and have a satisfying crunch.
L-theanine, an amino acid naturally found in tea, has a relaxing effect on the brain, which emerging research suggests can promote better sleep.
What to drink: A cup of Dilmah green tea with Moroccan mint – it’s the perfect way to relax on a cold winter’s night. The warmth of a hot cup of tea, the calming effect of L-theanine and the natural soothing properties of peppermint will send you right to sleep.
Australian researchers have found that people who eat carb-rich foods a few hours before bed may have an easier time falling asleep.
What to eat: Pretzels are high in carbs, yet low in fat,making them a light pre-dinner snack that won’t keep you up at night. Beigel & Beigel Mega Sesame Sticks are coated with sesame seeds, so are a tastier option than conventional pretzels, plus you get an extra boost of tryptophan & calcium from the sesame seeds.
Calcium helps our bodies convert tryptophan into serotonin, another important sleep-inducing brain chemical.
What to eat: If a cup of warm milk doesn’t appeal, Horlicks Original malt drink provides a good source of sleep promoting calcium, is caffeine-free and is a tasty alternative to tea or hot chocolate.
Melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, is largely formed in our bodies from other amino acids, but some foods contain it in small amounts.
What to eat: Rice and oats are among the best dietary sources of melatonin. Try a dessert like Yoplait’s Le Rice – a short spin in the microwave makes these puddings a tasty winter treat (and they come in a microwaveable bowl!). They’re also a source of calcium, another sleep promoting nutrient, and come in 10 delicious flavours.
The best foods for boosting energy
Trying to juggle work, family, friends, diet and exercise can take its toll. Add in short, grey days and chilly weather, and it's easy to lose your get-up-and-go! These foods might not get you more motivated to go out into the rain – but they will help your body maintain better energy levels.
Tyrosine is an amino acid which, among other things, the body uses to make adrenaline. So it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough.
What to eat: Meat and chicken, or, if you’re looking for a convenient snack on-the-go, peanuts. Try Sanitarium Natural Peanut Butter, it’s made from 100% roasted peanuts and has no added oil or salt.
Potassium is required for the body to store and utilize energy, particularly in the muscles.
What to eat: Bananas are good sources of this particular mineral, but tomatoes are also naturally high in potassium. A concentrated source, such as Leggo’s no-added-salt tomato paste, will provide you with more of a potassium energy kick per gram.
This ‘super-grain’ is one of the few complete-protein plant sources, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also higher in energy-boosting minerals, such as iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, than most other grains. Add to that list an excellent source of carbohydrates and you’ve got an ideal energy-boosting combination. Cook it up like a porridge for breakfast, or add it to dishes where you’d normally use rice or couscous.
Research has found honey to be comparable to the sports gels used by professional athletes to boost their energy levels. Honey also contains a variety of B vitamins and minerals, providing a powerful burst of energy in only a small serving. Macro’s Organic Honey and Honeycomb has a great texture and is perfect for adding to porridge or toast.
The natural build-up of free radicals in our bodies can sometimes lead to fatigue and a lack of energy. Antioxidants help clear away the excess free radicals, leaving you feeling more energetic.
What to eat: Fresh fruit and veg are major sources of antioxidants, but a warmer, winter alternative might be a carrot and pumpkin mash, or apricots and pears poached in a red wine sauce. For a burst of nutrition, make a healthy winter crumble: arrange stewed apples, rhubarb, pears or stone fruit in a baking tray, toss in some fresh (or frozen) berries, then sprinkle with oats or muesli. Bake until fruit has softened, then serve hot with a scoop of custard or yoghurt if desired.
The best foods for general good health in winter
The best winter snacks
Poppin Microwave Popcorn Lite Butter Flavour mini: This tasty treat now comes in individual portion packs – and they’ve got 50% less fat than regular microwave popcorn.
Heinz Baked Beans with sweet chilli sauce: Baked beans are packed with protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins and minerals (including iron) – and this new flavour is a yummy, quick, filling and healthy way to keep hunger at bay.
Paul’s low-fat vanilla custard: Too cold for yoghurt? Heat up Paul’s low-fat vanilla custard instead. It has 160mg calcium per 100g – that’s 20% of your RDI – and is beautiful with baked apple.
Golden Crumpets: Naturally low in fat, yeast-free and just the right size, a toasted crumpet is sure to hit the spot! Just watch the toppings – spreads tend to ‘disappear’ down those holes. Try adding a little peanut butter and honey for something different.
Continental Vegifull Cup-a-Soup: Everyone loves a quick cup-a-soup. These thick, wholesome soups contain 90% vegetables, are 99% fat-free and come with the Heart Foundation Tick. They’re healthy AND delish!
Heavenly Organic Hummus: Some brands have up to 25g fat/100g and contain as little as 46% chickpeas, but this hummus is 80% chickpeas and has only 3.2g fat/100g. Serve with carrot sticks or warm pita bread for a healthy winter snack.
The best winter comfort foods
Jarrah Chocolatte Milk Belgian Desire: The name says it all. While this seemingly indulgent treat is made with real Belgian milk chocolate, it is actually 98% fat-free, and has less than 100 calories per serve.
Aunt Betty’s Healthy De-Lites, Sticky Toffee Pudding: Unlike traditional winter desserts, this has less than 5% fat, reduced sugar and added fibre. The perfectly proportioned tubs make it easy to indulge, without any of the guilt.
La Gina Pronto Risotto: Made with all natural ingredients, and ready in 10 minutes. Just add rice and water for a warm, creamy (glutenfree!) meal on a winter’s night.
Tip Top English multigrain muffins: Nothing says comfort like a cheese and tomato toasty! Top a toasted, wholegrain English muffin with tomato slices, low-fat cheese and some cracked black pepper and you’ve got a simple and satisfying treat.
Uncle Tobys Quick Oats, Brown sugar and cinnamon: We all know oats are healthy, but when they’re cooked into a creamy porridge with cinnamon and brown sugar, they become a deliciously indulgent treat. Individually portioned and ready in just two minutes, these are a great winter warmer.
Sara Lee mini baked cheesecakes: These delicious little treats come in four flavours – original, strawberry, chocolate and caramel. Top them with warmed, frozen berries to make them taste extra indulgent.
The best take-to-work lunches
Campbell’s Country Ladle Minestrone Soup: One of the easiest, most nutritious winter lunches around? Soup. This one has three serves of vegetables per tub, the Heart Foundation Tick and comes in a microwavable tub – all you have to do is heat and eat! For a complete lunch, add a multigrain roll.
Tasty Bite Jaipur Vegetables: You’ll find these ready-to-go, Indian-style vegies in the international food aisle. Combine it with a SunRice brown rice microwave pouch, and in two minutes you’ll have a warm, healthy, vegetarian, glutenfree dish to share with one lucky colleague.
John West tuna & beans – Roasted capsicum and three beans: Heat up a tub of John West’s tuna and beans, grab a Bakers’ Delight Cape Seed roll and you’re all set.
Compleats – Beef stew with potato & carrots: This meal-for-one is one of the only ready-to-go meals that contains vegetables. Ready in 90 seconds, it’s perfect for a cold winter’s day.
McCain Healthy Choice Beef Lasagne: Mmm… lasagne! This easy lunch is perfectly portioned, carries the Heart Foundation Tick, and has over 9g fibre per serve. Serve with a pre-bagged green salad for an easy, balanced meal.
Foods to steer clear of this winter
You’re more vulnerable to colds and flu when your immune system is down, so it’s really important to help your body maintain good health in every way you can, especially by avoiding foods with little nutritional value, such as lollies, chocolate, biscuits and pastries.
Also, make alcohol off-limits when you’re sick – your body is already working hard to get you back in good health and, like the foods we’ve mentioned above, alcohol ‘distracts’ your body’s defences from getting you fighting fit.
Did you know? Three in four Australian adults indulge in less nutritious foods during the winter months – more takeaway pizza, burgers, battered foods, pastries and biscuits, according to a recent survey.