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foods that can help you feel better when you have a cold|chicken noodle soup in bowl|woman holding cup of tea|Citrus fruits|dairy products|coffee mug and beans

Health & Wellness

What Foods Can Help You Feel Better When You Have a Cold?

When you’re sick with the common cold, all you want to do is snuggle up in bed with a warm bowl of soup. That bowl of soup isn’t only good for your emotional state - chicken soup has actually been proven to help ease the symptoms of a cold ! 1

While there are certain comfort foods we tend to turn to when we are ill (ahem, put down that ice cream and chocolate), there are a handful that you should be turning to if you are experiencing symptoms of a cold. From bowls of chicken soup to mugs of herbal tea, your kitchen is likely already stocked with many of the ingredients that you need to help you feel better in no time.

What foods are good for a cold?

chicken noodle soup in bowl

Chicken soup

A 2000 study showed that eating chicken soup actually inhibited the movement of neutrophils, which are white blood cells that fight infections. By inhibiting the movement of these cells, upper respiratory symptoms decrease. It turns out your mom knew what she was talking about all these years!


If you don’t prefer chicken soup, a nice warm mug of broth can also help ease your symptoms. The broth itself can be a great source of nutrients if you can’t handle solid food, as well as a way to stay hydrated. Store-bought soups can be extremely high in sodium, so if you have the time you should make your own healing broth.

woman holding cup of tea

Herbal tea

A 2008 study tested the effects of a hot drink on symptoms of the common cold and flu. Participants who drank a hot drink (versus cold) reported immediate relief from the symptoms of congestion, cough, runny nose, sneezing and chills. 2 There are a wide variety of herbs to help ease your symptoms. You can try chamomile, lavender and lemon balm to help you sleep, ginger and turmeric for general health or peppermint and eucalyptus to ease congestion. Add a spoonful of honey to your mug for an extra health boost.


You may not want to take a bite out of a head of garlic, but you should actively add it to your foods when you’re ill. Garlic is known to have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal activities, and can help boost the immune system. 3

Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits

Although it keeps being proven that vitamin C doesn’t cure the common cold or prevent you from contracting the virus, it is thought that it may help to shorten the length of one. 4 Reach for an orange, tangerine or grapefruit for breakfast or add a squeeze of lemon to your tea.

Spicy food

A big burrito may not be the first thing you think of when you have a cold, but eating any spicy food can do wonders for the sinuses. A 2011 study has even shown that hot chili peppers can help to ease sinus inflammation! 5

What foods should you avoid?

dairy products


Actually, it is a common misconception that you should avoid dairy products when you’re ill. A 1990 study disproved this myth, showing that milk intake did not have any significant effect on mucus production. 6 While a big glass of milk may not help any of your symptoms, a nice yogurt covered in berries can give you much-needed nutrients.


It goes without saying that a cold won’t get any better if you’re out chugging beers. Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to fight against infection and can leave you dehydrated. 7 Set down the bottle and pick up a mug of tea instead.

coffee mug and beans


I know, I know. It can be hard to skip your morning cup of joe, but the diuretic properties of coffee can also leave you dehydrated in a time when your body needs hydration. If you can’t skip the coffee, have a small cup and then switch to herbal tea.

Excessive sugar

Ice cream, chocolate, soft drinks. While all of this may be considered ‘comfort food’, it won’t leave you feeling any more comfortable. Put down the chocolate bar and reach for a sweet handful of berries instead.

Fast food

Aside from not being very high in nutrients, greasy, fried fast food can exacerbate any inflammation in the body. 8 A diet too high in sugar and fat can permanently alter your immune system, so think twice before you reach for another burger.

Maintaining a healthy diet is important for a properly functioning immune system, and many of the foods recommended to eat while you’re ill should be part of your everyday diet. If you start exchanging fast food for healthy, fresh vegetables, you can help fight off illnesses before they even begin to exhibit symptoms.

Photo credits: TiramisuStudio/, FeyyazAlacam/, MariaUspenskaya/, nevodka/, SittipongSirichamnan/, NewAfrica/

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