The days are shorter and colder, and you know what that means— cold and flu season is here. If you haven’t been sick yourself, no doubt you’ve already seen some red, runny noses at the grocery store, at preschool pickup, on the subway, or anywhere else you encounter people.
This time of year, it’s a good idea to wash your hands religiously, get plenty of sleep, and eat well in order to stay healthy. When it comes to food, fruits and vegetables are among the best immune boosters you can find. But how they can help you stay well or get well depends partially on when you eat them.
You’re Not Sick: What to Eat to Keep It That Way
Whether someone you know has a hacking cough, or you’re just remembering the bad cold you had this time last year, now is the time to take some preventive measures. Make vitamin C your friend. Many people start to guzzle orange juice when they’re already sick because vitamin C is known for its immune-boosting powers. And it’s true that this vitamin is effective at reducing the severity and duration of upper respiratory illnesses. But it works best if you have adequate stores of vitamin C before you get sick.
Here’s a handy list of fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C. A one-cup serving of any of these foods provides at least 100 percent, and in many cases quite a bit more, of the daily value of the vitamin. Keep in mind: vitamin C is destroyed by cooking, so you’ll want to eat all of these foods raw.
- Bell peppers (green, yellow and red)
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit)
Both tea and garlic have also been clinically shown to help people avoid colds and flu. That may be because black and green tea contain antioxidants called catechins, while garlic contains allicin, which produces antioxidants when digested.
You’re Under the Weather: What to Eat to Get Well
Despite your best efforts, you will get sick sometimes. It’s a fact of life, especially if you have small kids at home. What should you eat now?
- Keep eating foods rich in vitamin C.
- Try adding some foods high in vitamin A, like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. Vitamin A aids in cellular communication, which is important when your immune system is organizing an attack to clear an upper respiratory infection.
- If you’re not feeling hungry it can be easier to sip soup, vegetable juice, or a fruit smoothie than to face a full plate of food, so get your fruits and veggies in liquid form.
- Tea is a good choice during an illness as well as before because it’s soothing on sore throats. If your stomach is upset, try ginger or chamomile tea to settle it.
- And here’s one you may not have heard of: hot fruit juice! According to a study done in 2008, the simple act of drinking a hot liquid provides relief from runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness, and tiredness compared to drinking the same beverage at room temperature.
What are your tricks for staying and getting well during cold and flu season? Let us know in the comments below!
 Douglas RM, et al. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Oct 18(4); CD000980. Updated 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD000980.
 MacMillan. Superfoods that fight colds: Trying to avoid colds and flu. From oysters to sweet potatoes, these foods can help. Health. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20631007,00.html
 Chitale R. Ten foods to kick and cold and boost your immunity. ABC News. 2008 Oct 30. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/ColdandFluNews/story?id=6141948&page=1
 Sanu A, Eccles R. The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu. Rhinology. 2008 Dec;46(4):271-5.