What to eat or drink or do during cold and flu season

Have you been hit by the cold bug that seems to be making the rounds?  Or caught a nasty flu bug?

If you haven’t been afflicted yet, count your blessings, and pray your turn won’t come! Then read on so you’ll know what to eat or drink to prevent getting your turn, or what to do if your temperature begins to soar or you find yourself reaching for the box of tissues.

If you have caught one or both bugs, you should read on too. Some of the suggestions below may help lessen the severity of your illness, and prevent additional bouts of cold or flu this winter.

When it comes to curing what ails them, some people turn to herbal remedies, others to pills. There are those who have their tried-and-true, often home-spun remedies handed down through the generations. Some of these “cures” may seem a little bizarre, although their proponents will swear by them.

I suffered from a nasty cold over Christmas while visiting my family in Winnipeg. My mom suggested I try something from my childhood – a mustard plaster, minus the mustard! I was a bit apprehensive, but felt miserable enough to give it a try.

First I placed a warm wet towel on my chest. That was followed by a piece of plastic, then a dry towel that had been warmed in the microwave. (Tossing it in the dryer briefly would work too.) I put on my pajama top over the layers, and then pinned everything together with safety pins so the layers would stay in place. Logically, you should be lying in your bed at this point so you can just pull the covers up around you, stay toasty warm, rest and get better. But I decided to wander around the house for a few minutes, then crawl into bed. By this point the warm towels had cooled off considerably.

I believe the theory here is that the heat of the layered towels will sweat out the virus/germs or whatever is causing the chest congestion/aches/pains/cough and you will feel much better the next day.

So, did it help?

Let’s just say it didn’t make things worse! To be fair, the towels had probably cooled off too quickly to be really effective.

I recall mustard being involved somehow in this treatment of my youth. I think a paste was made with dry mustard, flour and water and that concoction was applied directly to the chest. The towels and plastic were then layered over top. You had to be careful you didn’t leave the mustard plaster on too long or you could burn or blister your skin. Guess the layers generated a fair amount of heat that warmed the chest and and cleared out the congestion. Probably if you’d chowed down on a hot dog at the same time, you’d have been healed in minutes! LOL!

Here are a few other supposed “cures” for the common cold and influenza.  (Please Note: I haven’t tried any of them. I’m not endorsing any of them. I’m just reporting what I’ve read or heard because I find some of these suggestions rather entertaining. If you’re intrigued or brave enough to give the more interesting ideas a whirl, please proceed with caution! Following this list is a link to the Mayo Clinic’s remedies for colds and flu. Let me know if you have any remedies you swear by.)

For the flu:

  • Drink hot tea with lemon. (Sage advice!)
  • Drink ginger tea. Boil a large piece of ginger root in water, then sweeten to taste with sugar or honey.
  • Hollow out a large turnip.  Fill the hole with water and sugar and place in a hot oven until the water is very hot.  Let stand until mixture cools slightly, then drink. (Hmmm!!)

For colds and coughs:

  • Chew a clove of garlic when you feel a cold coming on. (And avoid all social contact for a few days!)
  • Boil water with 5 cloves of garlic. Cool, then sweeten with honey and add lemon juice. Drink twice a day for three days.
  • Sip garlic and rice wine or a mixture of black pepper and molasses.
  • Boil oregano in water; add honey and lemon. Drink several times a day for a week. (My neighbour swears that oregano oil helps his family ward off colds.)
  • Steep catnip leaves in boiling water. Strain and pour solution into a mug. Add one teaspoon honey.
  • Boil water, cinnamon stick, a handful of raisins and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried oregano leaves. Cool, then sweeten with honey and add lemon. Drink three times a day for two or three days.
  • In a mug, combine the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) whiskey. Fill mug with boiling water; stir to mix. Drink warm or cool.
  • Place 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey and 2 teaspoons (10 mL) lemon juice in a mug and warm in the microwave. Fill the mug with orange juice.
  • Combine 1 cup (250 mL) rum, 1 cup (250 mL) honey, 1 cup (250 mL) lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) glycerine. Take 1 teaspoon (5 mL) as needed.

Although there is no magic cure for either a cold or flu, there are some remedies touted as better options than others. The Mayo Clinic has a list of recommended remedies for colds and remedies for the flu.

A healthy diet may help prevent both these ailments, reduce their duration and lessen the symptoms. According to Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal, the Reader’s Digest’s encyclopedia of safe and healthy eating advice, cold and flu sufferers should do the following.

Eat fruits and vegetables for the vitamin C content; wheat germ, tofu, dried peas and beans, seafood, meat and poultry for the zinc, and garlic; turmeric and hot chile peppers for the capsaicin.

The importance of vitamin C in preventing or curing colds is continues to be scrutinized, however it has been show to help reduce nasal symptoms and congestion.

Zinc helps to boost the immune system, while capsaicin, found in garlic and hot spices, helps reduce sinus and nasal congestion.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids (8 to 10 glasses daily) to keep mucous membranes moist and loosen phlegm. Alcohol consumption isn’t such a good idea as it dilates blood vessels which contributes to a stuffed up feeling. Alcohol may also react with drugs being taken, impeding the body’s ability to fight off infection.

When fever strikes, it’s important to drink lots of fluids (water, juice or juice diluted with water) and to try to eat small but nourishing meals. The body’s metabolic rate increases when its temperature rises, so it is essential to consume some food to help fight infection and bolster energy levels. (Avoid solid foods if diarrhea is an issue.) Bland foods are best. Try bananas, applesauce, soups, cereals, or hard-cooked or poached eggs, or crackers, toast, or toast dipped in beef, chicken or vegetable broth. Sometimes comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or rice pudding are appealing.

When it comes to soups, chicken soup has long been touted as a cure for colds and flu. It’s comforting, nourishing, and said to fight chest congestion. Open a can, or try this simple recipe.

Chicken Soup
(Makes about 3 quarts/3 L)

1 whole chicken, cut up
1 onion, cut up
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste

Wash chicken; trim any excess fat.  Cut into pieces; place pieces in a large stock pot. Cover chicken with cold water (about 3 quarts or liters). Bring water to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1-1/2 hours. Add onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer for another hour. Add additional salt if necessary.

Remove chicken and vegetables. Reserve chicken; discard vegetables. (If desired, chill broth in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. The fat will harden into a layer on top of the broth, making it easier to remove.) With a slotted spoon, remove fat.

Heat broth and serve as a clear broth. Or, add cooked or raw noodles or rice, sliced carrots and celery, and chopped chicken (removed from the bones) and heat or cook as necessary.

2 thoughts on “What to eat or drink or do during cold and flu season

  1. I can vouch for the hot towel remedy. I didn’t try the mustard, but the hot towel over my chest for the night cured me of a really nasty cough! My cold was mostly gone before I tried this, just the cough was left, but within two nights of doing the hot towel thing, the irritating cough that kept me up for nights was completely gone. Great to see that it made the home remedy list! Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Foods to Eat When You’re Sick | SmarterFitter

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