Cara Cunningham, Community Dietitian
The Cardiff Common Cold centre advises that the only way to avoid catching a cold is to become a hermit. But as most of us don’t want to lock ourselves away is there anything in our diets that could boost our immunity, making it harder for the cold virus to strike us!
Unfortunately the news isn’t too hopeful, Irish adults can expect to suffer from 2-4 colds each year, with children being affected by 3-8 colds yearly. A cold is an infection of the nose and upper airways that is caused by a virus; usually symptoms peak after 2-3 days and then ease over the next few days. It seems that colds are fairly unavoidable, but what you can plan and eat for is to make your body more able to fight off the virus and lessen your symptoms.
Start each day with a healthy breakfast; porridge is a great choice to make as it will keep you going for the whole morning. It also gives your body the fuel it needs to recover from the overnight fast and gives your immune system the energy it needs to fight infection.
There is a certain amount of evidence to say that while taking vitamin C may not prevent a cold it can shorten the duration and severity of the symptoms. However, the best approach may be to go for the vitamin C as ‘nature intended’ rather than popping a pill. One of the best sources of vitamin C is fresh fruit – it is a good rule of thumb that the more brightly coloured the fruit, the more vitamin C is in it.
The main problem with vitamin C is that as it is soluble in water and so therefore any type of cooking, or even chopping, may destroy it. By eating fresh fruit you can maximise the amount of vitamin C that you get. Eating 3-4 pieces of fruit a day will give you the best amount; ‘fuelling up’ your immune system.
Zinc rich foods also help boost your immune system. These include lean red meat, fish, chicken, wholegrain cereals, legumes, dairy products and nuts. Aim to include these regularly in your diet. If you are worried about your weight, choose the low fat varieties.
Chances are that we will all get a cold a few times each winter and if you are unlucky the best advice is to drink plenty of fluids, keep warm, have plenty of fruit and include some zinc rich foods. Hopefully you’ll feel better in a few days.
It is worth remembering that antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses like colds and the flu. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed might mean that they won’t work when you really need them for a serious infection. For more information and useful advice see www.undertheweather.ie or talk to your GP or pharmacist.