Seven foods to eat to help you avoid (or recover from) colds and flu

Soups made with a bone broth base have been shown to help slow the migration of infected cells around the body.
Soups made with a bone broth base have been shown to help slow the migration of infected cells around the body. Photo: Marcel Aucar

The mercury has dropped and with the cooler weather comes an influx of colds and flu, forcing many of us to seek refuge indoors with a box of tissues and a warm doona.

Plenty has been written over the past couple of years about the best foods to support immune function but there's been far less written on the foods to focus on when you are feeling far from your best.

With rapidly rising fruit and vegetable prices, we also need to be aware of spending our cash wisely, so if you have found yourself with a dreaded cold, here are the key foods to reach for, and they won't break the budget.

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*Photo rotated and reuploaded* Adam Liaw recipe: Creamy yogurt mousse with frozen kiwifruit
Photograph by William Meppem

Adam Liaw's creamy yoghurt mousse with kiwifruit. Photo: William Meppem

Kiwifruit

Move over oranges, we have a new player in the vitamin C stakes. Kiwifruit are one of the richest natural sources of the nutrient, which plays a key role in immune function.

Just one of the hairy-skinned fruits supplies the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and then some. 

It's cost-effective, too – at less than $1 apiece, a serve of kiwifruit is a smart addition to your daily diet through winter. Enjoy the skin as well, where you can, for an extra fibre boost.

Green Detox Juice Vegetable juice
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Sneak extra veg into your diet with a healthy green juice. Photo: iStock

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Vegetable juice

Not only does nutrient-rich liquid such as juice help to prevent dehydration – one of the common reasons our head pounds when we are battling the flu – but a vegie-rich juice is a smart way to consume a concentrated volume of key nutrients, including beta carotene, vitamin C and folate, all of which play important roles in new cell formation and immune function.

A glass of juice can also be a cost-effective way to incorporate a range of nutrient-rich superfoods such as beetroot, kale, sweet potato and spinach into your diet.

While expensive to purchase each vegetable individually, a bottle of vegie juice retails for as little as $4 or $5, making it a budget-friendly way to load up on vegies when you are not feeling well.

Arabella Forge's cold-busting chicken soup.

Arabella Forge's cold-busting chicken soup. Photo: Eddie Jim

Broth-based soup

Chicken soup is a predictable addition to a list of foods to seek out when you are unwell. But it is specifically soups made using a bone broth base, which contains the molecule carnosine, that has been shown to help slow the migration of infected cells around the body when you are sick.

For this reason, making your own vegie-rich soup using homemade bone broth or seeking out bone broth is important when self-soothing with a nourishing bowl of soup.

Danielle Alvarez's buttery scrambled eggs. Recipes from Good Food Kitchen episode 1 October 2021. Good Food use only.

Wholegrain toast topped with eggs is a simple way to boost your zinc intake. Photo: William Meppem

Wholegrain toast

Zinc is one of the most important nutrients we can focus on when feeling unwell. And while seafood and meat are two of the richest natural sources, chomping into a big steak is often the last thing we feel like eating when we are unwell.

Wholegrain bread is another reasonable source of zinc, and teaming it with a nut-rich spread or even an egg is an easy, light way to tick the box.

Breakfast crumble with cherries and yoghurt.

Adam Liaw's breakfast crumble with cherries and yoghurt. Photo: William Meppem

Yoghurt with live cultures

It is not the yoghurt that helps you to recover from colds and flu. Rather, it's the live cultures found in yoghurt or other fermented foods such as kefir that play important roles in the health of the digestive tract.

In recent years we have become more aware of the many ways in which gut health affects immune function, which means including a daily dose of probiotics is a smart addition to any cold recovery plan.

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Adam Liaw recipe : Garlic oil chicken
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions) 

Garlic oil chicken. Photo: William Meppem

Garlic

Used for centuries for its medicinal properties, garlic contains both antiviral and antibacterial properties, making it a must when your immune system needs a boost.

A number of small studies have shown that the risk of developing a cold is reduced when garlic supplements are used, so it makes sense nutritionally to add more garlic to your diet or take a supplement at this time of year.

Pomegranate juice

Pomegranate juice, which is becoming more readily available in Australia, is especially high in antioxidants. The flu virus is associated with oxidative stress affecting the cells. 

Studies have investigated the relationship between foods rich in antioxidant molecules and the flu infection, finding that concentrated amounts of polyphenol antioxidants, like those found in pomegranate juice, can reduce the duration of a cold by as much as 40 per cent.

Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist and holds a master in coaching psychology.