10 Foods That Fight Cold and Flu

Millions of Americans get the cold or flu each year. But you can combat both with a knife and your spice grinder.

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Beat Back Cold and Flu Misery

Americans get a billion colds a year, by some estimates, and there are more than 200 viruses that can cause them. In a worst-case scenario, a cold can send you to the hospital with pneumonia, an ear infection, or an asthma attack.

Millions get the influenza virus each year, and about 200,000 people develop complications so severe they have to be hospitalized, while nearly 36,000 people die from it.

Those over-the-counter cold and flu medicines are iffy at best and don't always work.

Luckily, you can ward off fall and winter misery with immunity-boosting foods you already have right at your fingertips. Check out this list of 10 healing foods from The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A. Duke, PhD.

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Chicken Soup

There's a reason your mom always had a bowl of this at the first sign of sniffles. Not only does chicken soup provide the fluids you need to help fight off viruses, but it also reduces the inflammation that triggers symptoms and leads to more colds.

It's not clear which ingredient provides the most benefit, but researchers believe its the combination of all the healthy vegetables and chicken that soothes symptoms. (Here's how to make your own chicken noodle stock.) Commercial chicken soups seem to help, too. Just be sure to look for organic versions in Tetra pack boxes, not cans, to avoid BPA's nasty health effects.

Read More: 3 Natural Soothers for Sore, Scratchy Throats

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Citrus Fruits

Vitamin C, most commonly found in citrus fruits, is an antioxidant that can reduce cold symptoms by 23 percent, studies have found. A review of 21 studies found that just 1 to 8 grams (1,000 to 8,000 milligrams) of the vitamin will do the trick, which you can get from supplements or from citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, papaya, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

For some people, high amounts of vitamin C can cause digestive problems, so cut back on your dose if symptoms arise.

Read More: 5 Recipes Full of Healthy Vitamin C

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Garlic, Onions, and Leeks

Want to add more punch to your chicken soup? Add plenty of garlic and onions. Combined, they contain dozens of broad-spectrum antiseptic and immunity-boosting compounds. One study of 142 people had volunteers split into groups receiving either a placebo or a garlic supplement.

Those receiving placebos had 65 colds, while the garlic group only had 24 colds. Another plus with garlic is it helps open clogged sinuses (and it keeps the vampires away).

Read More: 12 Surprising Immune System Killers

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Ginger Another Dr. Mom staple, ginger ale will do more than just soothe a scratchy throat. Ginger contains chemicals called sesquiterpenes that specifically target rhinoviruses, the most common family of cold viruses, as well as substances that suppress coughing.

It's also a natural pain and fever reducer and a mild sedative, so it can help you rest when you're sick. Adding a couple of tablespoons of shredded gingerroot to your tea can do the trick, but you can also look for ginger chews or real ginger ale, although most of the canned stuff has very little real ginger.

Bonus? Ginger is also one of the 4 top foods to help you move.

Read More: 14 Foods You Should Never Eat

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Honey is often touted as a cure-all for everything from burns (put raw honey on a burn as soon as possible to speed healing) to cuts and scrapes (honey's natural antiseptic properties allow it to work a bit like hydrogen peroxide).

Because it coats your throat, it's a great cold- and flu-friendly sore throat reliever, and its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties help fight infections from viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Buckwheat honey has the highest antioxidant levels; the clover honey that's ubiquitous in supermarkets has the least.

Warning: Don't give honey to children under 1 year of age. Their immune systems aren't developed enough to ward off infantile botulism, which is carried in honey spores.

Read More: Are You Buying Fake Honey?

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Yogurt contains a bacterium called Lactobacillus reuteri that has been found to block the replication of viruses that invade your body when you get sick. Not all brands carry that particular strain of beneficial bacteria, so look for a brand that does.

Our recommendation is to go organic with yogurt from Stonyfield Farm, which does contain L. reuteri. (Or learn how to make your own yogurt.)

Read more: Helpful Bacteria Stop Cold Symptoms in Kids

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Selenium-Rich Foods

A single ounce of Brazil nuts contains well above the Daily Value for selenium, a mineral that helps boost your immunity.

In fact, the average Brazil nut contains about 70 micrograms of selenium, which is why we recommend this nut as a top choice. Having enough selenium in your body increases its production of cytokines, which help remove the flu virus.

You can get your selenium through other means, such as seafood. Lobster, oysters, clams, crabs, tuna, and cod all contain selenium. (Just avoid the worst types of seafood.)

Read More: 5 Super-Healthy, Selenium-Rich Recipes

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Red Wine

The resveratrol and polyphenols in red wine work the same way that beneficial bacteria in yogurt do: When cold and flu viruses enter you system, they start to multiply, and these compounds prevent that from happening.

To get the most bang for your buck, grab a bottle of California pinot noir. Tests have found it to have some of the highest levels of resveratrol. Don't drink? Eat some grape leaves or peanuts, the red inner husks of which are also high in resveratrol. 

Read More: Longevity Secret #3: Eat Like the Ikarians

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A staple crop in most herbal medicine chests, mushrooms increase the production of cytokines, cells that help fight off infections. They also contain polysaccharides, another class of compounds that support your immune system.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the most common cold- and flu-fighting 'shrooms are shiitake, maitake, and reishi varieties.

Read More: 8 Uplifting Foods That Will Heal Your Heart

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Black Pepper

Ironically, the spice best known for making you sneeze can ward off the sniffles. Mix black pepper with ground ginger and vinegar, and the concoction can help increase the absorption of both herbal and over-the-counter medications.

Black peppercorns are particularly high in piperine, a compound known for it's anti-fever and pain-relieving properties.

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