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4 Tips to Bust a Cold


It’s that time of year when sniffling, sneezing, and coughing once again take center stage to the dismay of many of us. According to Joan Salge-Blake, a nutrition professor at Boston University and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, “Americans suffer from about a billion colds each year, and there are more than 200 varieties of viruses cause colds that can last up to 2 weeks.”

We all know the basics about prevention—we need to wash our hands and keep them away from our eyes, noses, and mouths, especially after we touch surfaces such as handrails, telephones, and computer keyboards. But sometimes, no matter what precautions we take, those tiny germ droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can land on us and start their dirty work towards infecting us.

Why does the end of Summer and back to work and school routines often mean more time in-between the sheets (and not for good reason, if you know what I mean)? “Spending more time indoors (which makes germ-sharing easier) and low humidity levels in the air can cause the inside of our noses to dry up and be more open to invasion by viruses,” says Salge-Blake.

But who has time to succumb to a cold? And if we get one, what should we do about it? Here are some top dietary and lifestyle tips to help you and your family not let a cold bust you up this Fall and Winter:

Get Hot. “As soon as a cold starts, I recommend grating fresh ginger root into hot tea and starting saline nasal washes” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, CSSD, also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. To ease aches and soothe the body, Gerbstadt also recommends hot steam showers with eucalyptus oil and epsom salt soaks in the tub.

Zero in on Zinc: Gerbstadt recommends including plenty of zinc-rich foods such as beans, ready-to-eat whole grain cereals, lean beef, and endive in your diet to fight a cold. She adds “These foods are also help build up your immune system so that you’re less vulnerable to cold-causing viruses.” Salge Blake says that although some turn to zinc supplements to blast a cold, results of studies on their effectiveness are mixed. She adds “Too much zinc (from supplements) can be toxic and can actually suppress your immune system.”

Get Your C’s: Gerbstadt suggests loading up on foods rich in vitamin C, including strawberries, tangerines, and pineapple. What about supplements? Salge-Blake says that despite what you may have heard, “Study after study has shown that megadoses of vitamin C don’t prevent colds.” She also cites research that looked at over 30 studies with more than 11,000 participants that showed no benefit of vitamin C supplements on either preventing a cold or reducing its duration. Her best advice? “Vitamin C-rich foods first.”

Call it a Night: Sometimes, you just need to surrender to a cold and give your body extra rest. Though it’s VERY hard for me to make time to relax (even when I have a cold, I usually go about my normal routine, and even exercise), I decided to spend an entire day in and around my bed just last week when I came down with a nasty cold. Allowing yourself time to rest and recover is important, especially when you feel your symptoms are worsening. I know for me, that one day of being home, taking steam showers, and drinking tons of water helped me feel much better. So the next time you’re sidelined by a cold, ask others to help with childcare or other things you need to get done and take a few hours, or a day or two to rest up to get yourself better faster.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends rest and plenty of fluids (chicken soup and 100% fruit juices count as fluid!), gargling with warm salt water or using throat lozenges for a sore throat, and dabbing petroleum jelly onto a raw nose to relieve irritation. Of course be sure to discuss other remedies for you and your family (including over-the-counter medicines) with a physician before you play doctor yourself!

What do you do to blast or prevent a cold?

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized and award-winning health and nutrition expert, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books. An avid walker, she loves motivating others to #moveitorloseit. A book lover, she recently earned a certificate in children’s literature from Stony Brook Southampton and is currently working on several young adult novels. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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