While many believe there are only four seasons, there is a very real fifth season that runs from mid-Fall to Spring. No, I’m not talking about Football, which is arguably the best season. I’m talking about the cold and flu season.

You can bathe yourself in hand sanitizer, Clorox all surfaces, and live inside a bubble, but eventually you’ll hear the chorus of coughing spread throughout the office. With flu sufferers spending anywhere from $250 to $1,000 annually on medication and other remedies, being health conscious could save you hundreds each year. Luckily, I have the tips and tricks to help you beat that cold fast, save some cash and leave that hard earned PTO for vacation time.

Salt + Water = Relief. Anyone who’s ever had a sore throat has probably heard of gargling salt water. It’s a classic tip and it’s a classic for a reason. Warm salt water helps relieve an irritated and inflamed throat on several levels. The warm water helps soothe while the salt helps extract excessive moisture, which kills bacteria. The relief is felt almost immediately and can last up to several hours depending on the severity of the sore throat. Gogargle.com suggests gargling salt water anywhere from 1-5 times daily depending on respiratory congestion conditions. Don’t like the taste of salt water? Try adding a bit of honey or mint to mask the flavor and provide additional soothing properties.

Practice Your ABCs, Vitamins That Is. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have never called in sick to work in twelve years. Is my immune system super human? Maybe. Realistically though, my secret is using A, B, & C vitamins to give my immune system the edge it needs when I feel the first hints of a cold.

A-Friendly Veggies. Vegetables are your best friend when it comes to keeping your vitamin A levels adequate to fight bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin A from vegetable sources – often referred to as “provitamin A” – is water-soluble, meaning that your body will easily flush any excess from the body. Vitamin A from animal sources, on the other hand, can prolong or worsen colds due to fat storage. Excess levels of fat can cause cell toxicity. But bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and various squashes are excellent sources of vitamin A that will help you fight that pesky cold or flu. Some raw carrots and bell peppers with organic hummus can go a long way to making you feel better faster, and most importantly, it tastes amazing.

B-Rich Sources. B vitamins are an interesting group. Eight total vitamins make up the group, and while all serve a benefit within the body, only a handful will give your immune system an edge. The three most important B vitamins for fighting a cold are vitamin B5, vitamin B6, and vitamin B9 (aka Folic Acid). The reasoning? Vitamin B5 is responsible for protein metabolism, lipid development, and cell and organ regrowth. In simple terms, vitamin B5 cleans up and repairs areas affected by viral and bacterial infections. Vitamin B6 is the General on the battlefield, responsible for producing neurotransmitters, which facilitate communication between the brain and nerve cells. Finally, vitamin B9 is providing the white blood cells that ultimately are in the trenches fighting the disease at a cellular level. All three of the these B vitamins can be found in whole grain cereals, leafy vegetables, and the legume, bean, and nut families.

C-Laden Juices. Orange juice and carrot juice are usually my go to source for vitamin C. Both juices usually exceed 100% daily value within a single serving. Furthermore, vitamin C is water-soluble, so vitamin toxicity risk within the body is low. The Beta-carotene from carrot juice will be converted by the body to provitamin A, so you can kill two birds (and that cold) with one stone. Not a big juice person? Try a vitamin C heavy alternative like Emergen-C. Always follow recommended doses on supplement labels; as they often include other vitamins and minerals that may be fat-soluble, which can be dangerous in excess.

Fluids, Fluids, Fluids. The body needs to be thoroughly hydrated to fight off infection. While water is always recommended, there are several other fluids you can consume to take your hydration game to the next level. My personal favorite is miso soup. Not only is miso soup easy to eat when you may have a stomach bug, but its probiotic properties will help balance the natural bacteria within your digestive tract. Miso is referred to as a super food for its supply of amino acids for protein production, vitamins for body regulation, sodium for hydration, and linoleic acid (Omega-6 Fatty Acids) to regulate inflammation and strengthen cell membranes.

Another powerful hydration tool you can use is as simple as making a pot of tea. The variety and varied effects of teas allows you to switch it up and use specific teas to target specific symptoms. Sore throat? Use peppermint tea and honey to create a soothing feeling as the menthol cools the irritated throat area and clears up congestion. Upset stomach? Use ginger teas, with chemical compounds of gingerols and shogaols, to relax the intestinal tract and limit nausea and vertigo. Sick of being sick? Use green tea to strengthen healthy cells and thus limit the cold and flu like symptoms your body creates in the fight to burn off infected cells. The warmth of green tea is also recommend for those experiencing fever chills.

Eat Garlic: No I don’t think colds are like vampires, but yes, I do believe garlic is a strong immune booster. Crushed or minced garlic causes a chemical reaction that releases allicin, which is a powerful antibacterial. It is important to note that allicin is only released from raw garlic so, unfortunately, baked garlic bread won’t aid recovery. Furthermore, garlic contains vitamins, minerals, and naturally breaks up mucus and clears congestion. Minced raw garlic mixed into ginger or green tea is a nice way to get your dosage of allicin. The bold types, however, gnaw on a whole clove to get the same effect. I wouldn’t recommend kissing anyone afterwards, but I hope you wouldn’t be doing that with a cold anyways.

Quick & Dirty Guide to a Cold & Flu Diet. Perhaps, after reading the tips above you thought that was a lot of information to take in and process. Maybe you’re already bedridden and don’t care to backtrack through the tips to build the most immune boosting meal. Worry not, I’ve constructed a simple guide that will make sure you are hydrated and packed with vitamins to get you back on your feet in no time.

  • Breakfast: Whole grain oats with sliced bananas and soy milk. Serve with clementines and carrot juice. Why: Whole grain cereals are rich in B vitamins, while bananas provide potassium and fiber, and soy milk provides protein, B vitamins, and calcium without mucus inducing lactose like regular dairy. Clementines and carrot juice provide an excellent source of vitamin C and the beta-carotene in carrot juice will be converted into provitamin A.
  • Lunch: Miso soup and a spread of bell peppers and carrot with organic hummus. Serve with green or ginger tea with minced garlic mixed in. Why: Miso soup provides vitamins, probiotics, sodium, and Omega-6 Fatty Acids. Bright vegetables like bell peppers and carrots provide provitamin A, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Hummus contains B5, B6, and B9 vitamins, protein, and fiber. Green and ginger tea are both great stomach soothers and help hydrate while the garlic will help fight bacteria and congestion.
  • Snack: Avocado on whole grain toast with drizzle of honey and salt. Serve with green tea. Why: Avocado is loaded with vitamins and minerals including C, B5, B6, B9, Omega-6 Fatty Acids, potassium, and zinc. Whole grain toast is rich in B vitamins and honey possesses antibacterial and probiotic properties.
  • Dinner: Kale salad with roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrot, cucumber, Kalamata olives, light feta cheese, sunflower seeds and olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice for dressing. Serve with ginger tea with minced garlic stirred in. Why: This salad is loaded with beta-carotene, provitamin A, vitamin C, vitamins B5, B6, and B9.
  • Before bed: Peppermint tea with a splash of almond, coconut or oat milk. Why: Peppermint tea’s menthol helps sore throats and provides some relief for fevers.

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