Here’s What You Should Eat to Fight Off Colds and the Flu

It’s never fun when a cold or the flu slows you down. From sore throats and stuffy noses to body aches and chills, both infections leave you feeling wiped out.

Fortunately, there are certain foods you can eat to help you get better when you have a cold or the flu. However, the key is to eat these healthy foods year-round. Doing so can both help ward off getting sick in the first place and enable you to recover more quickly if you do get sick.

“It’s important to always feed your body and immune system with the right foods to prevent illness and improve how you fight it off,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristen Gradney, owner of Pure Nutrition in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

[SEE: Flu vs. the Common Cold: Symptoms and Treatment.]

Immunity Boosting Vitamins

Foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals work best to help the body fight off colds and the flu. Those vitamins and minerals include:

Vitamin A. The skin is our body’s first line of defense, says registered dietitian nutritionist Caroline West Passerrello of Pittsburgh, who is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The powerhouse vitamin is good for your immune system, eyes, heart, lungs and kidneys, as well as skin.

Vitamin C, which helps the body to make antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that fight off illness.

Vitamin D, which helps to keep your immune system healthy.

Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that supports immune function. An antioxidant is a substance that can help slow or delay some types of cell damage in the body.

Zinc, which helps support wound healing and proper functioning of the immune system.

In addition to these vitamins and minerals, protein helps your body heal and recover more quickly when you’re sick, Passerrello says.

[READ: Common Cold Supplements: Do They Work?]

Best Cold- and Flu-Fighting Foods

These nine foods can help your body fight off a cold or flu:

— Beans.

— Chicken soup.

— Citrus fruits.

— Eggs.

— Mango.

— Nuts.

— Red pepper.

— Tomatoes.

— Yogurt or kefir.


Beans are full of protein and zinc. A cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein and 1.9 mg of zinc. To put that in perspective, an average adult man should have 56 grams of protein and 11 mg of zinc each day. For women, it’s 46 grams of protein and 8 mg of zinc.

In addition to eating beans on their own, here are a few ideas to incorporate them into other dishes:

— Try different types of beans in salads.

— Add beans to soups.

— Throw some beans into burritos or tacos.

Chicken Soup

Your mom was right. This sick-day staple is terrific in fighting illness for a few reasons. First, the chicken offers protein, and the vegetables provide an array of vitamins — like carrots, which have vitamin A. Chicken soup is especially effective if you add more garlic to it. Garlic has a trace mineral called selenium that helps your body to prevent cell damage. Additionally, the broth in chicken soup hydrates you. That’s important when you feel run down from being sick and may not want to eat much.

[SEE: Are Summer Colds Worse Than Winter Ones?]

Citrus Fruits

To boost your intake of vitamin C, eat citrus fruits. One medium orange has 70 mg of vitamin C, which almost meets the recommended daily allowance of 75 mg for adult women; 90 mg is recommended for men.

Although you can enjoy citrus fruits plain as a snack, they’re also easy to add to salads and smoothies, says Nicole Avena, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and author of “Why Diets Fail” and “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.”


Eggs are high in vitamin D, E and protein. One egg also has 0.65 mg of zinc. Eggs are super versatile, so you can make them many different ways or use them during any of your meals. Try these egg prep tips:

— Add scrambled eggs on top of smoked salmon.

— Include eggs in a breakfast burrito.

— Make a frittata.


This tropical fruit is full of vitamins A and C. In fact, one cup of mango has 60 mg of vitamin C and 25% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Here are some of the different ways you can add mango to what you eat:

— Add mango to a smoothie.

— Cut it up in oatmeal.

— Make a mango salsa that’s used on chicken or fish.

— Prepare a juice that includes mango. Although some of the fiber is lost when you turn whole fruits into juices, you still get benefits from the fruit’s vitamins, Avena says. Plus, juice may be easier to consume if you’re sick and not very hungry.

— Add sliced mango on top of a salad.


Nuts are full of protein, vitamin E and zinc. A cup of roasted almonds offers 6.8 mg of vitamin E. If you think you don’t like nuts, maybe you just need to find the right kind for your taste buds. Nuts also can be used in many different ways throughout the day, including in:

— Salads.

— Smoothies — almonds are particularly good for smoothies.

— Trail mix.

Red Pepper

When’s the last time you had red pepper? Nutrition experts praise this versatile veggie, as one cup has more than 300% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. That can help you get better more quickly if you get sick. A few prep ideas for red peppers:

— Add red peppers to soups.

Add red peppers to salads.

— Roast them as a side dish.

— Slice up peppers and snack on them with hummus.


One medium tomato contains 18.9 mg of vitamin C. It also has vitamin A and an antioxidant called lycopene that helps protect heart health. In addition to all the common uses of tomato, a tomato soup may be just what you need when you’re ill, Gradney says. Tomato soup can help you boost your fluid intake, which is important when you have a cold or flu.

Yogurt or Kefir

Yogurt and kefir (a cultured milk product) are both rich in protein and vitamin D. They also provide your gut with healthy bacteria. Having a healthy gut can help you ward off viruses. Choose yogurt or kefir as part of your breakfast or as a snack. Buy yogurt with less sugar to help lower your sugar intake.

Other Tips to Fight Off a Cold or Flu

— Make sure you get enough sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night, and you may need more if you’re sick.

— Move your body daily, Passerrello advises. The current recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, which breaks down to 30 minutes daily, five days a week.

— Do your best to manage stress.

— Wash your hands frequently to help prevent getting sick or to lower the spread of illness to others if you’re sick.

More from U.S. News

Signs of a Cold You Shouldn’t Ignore

Top Pharmacist-Recommended Cough, Cold and Allergy Medicines

Common Childhood Respiratory Diseases

Here’s What You Should Eat to Fight Off Colds and the Flu originally appeared on

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