Facts and Myths About Foods for Colds and Flu

Are the most popular cold and flu remedies backed by science or nothing but old wives tales?


Vitamin C to fight a cold

Photo by: Zoonar RF

Zoonar RF

It's been a brutal cold and flu season so far this year! At this point folks would do just about anything to ward off germs. Are the most popular remedies backed by science or nothing but old wives tales?

Myth: Vitamin C prevents illness

You may turn to large doses of vitamin C during the winter months to avoid getting sick, but unfortunately this doesn’t work. Where vitamin C may have some merit is in its ability to shorten the duration of a cold once you’re already under the weather. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant—those anti-inflammatory properties may assist with swollen sinuses.

Myth: Zinc boosts your immune system

Much like vitamin C, there’s not enough evidence to support that taking in extra zinc will keep sickness at bay. Meeting daily needs for zinc is important for a healthy immune system, however exceeding these daily requirements can be toxic. Back in 2009, the FDA warned consumers to stay away from zinc nasal sprays after studies found they could damage the sense of smell.

Fact: Feed a cold

Even though you might not be able to taste your food very well, it's important to stay fueled and hydrated when you’re under the weather. It seems like a silly saying but you actually need those calories to heal. Extra doses of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

Myth: Starve a Fever

There’s no science to back up that depriving calories can help treat fever. While hunger pangs may be diminished, simply eat if you’re hungry! Small, light meals are fine if you can keep them down. Staying hydrated is also a must for fighting an infection.

Fact: Chicken soup is a cure-all

According to the National Institute of Health, the healing benefits of chicken soup are numerous. Not only is grandma’s home remedy heart warming – it has properties that help fight inflammation. It also helps keeps you hydrated and mobilizes mucus.

Read more about the nutrients found in chicken soup

Myth: Dairy Increases Mucus

Some swear that milk and other dairy products make a phlegmy illness go from bad to worse, but there’s no science behind it. In fact, most studies have found no relationship between eating dairy and increased production of mucus.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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