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What to Eat When You Have a Cold

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5 BIG Food Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

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by Wendy Goldman in Healthy Eating, Seasonal Eating

There’s a nasty cold going around where I live. I almost never get sick, and this time it got me. It started with a cough that turned bad fast, then added in the runny nose. It’s amazing how much mucus one nose can produce, isn’t it? I was close to panic, because I only had about a half a box of tissues, and I was coughing so hard, there was no way I could drive to the store to get more. I coughed so hard I puked. Really. Yuck. That was a new and unwelcome experience! Like I said, no way to drive to the store…

Let’s talk about how to eat when you have a cold. When there’s mucus, that’s what we call “dampness” in Chinese medicine. The cold and damp weather helps make more dampness. If you eat foods that are also damp, that makes more mucus, and will prolong the cold. My patients have been telling me their co-workers are sick and coughing for weeks. I don’t want that to happen to you, so let’s talk about how to avoid it.

Some foods are damp, and when you eat them, they make more dampness in the body. So if you already have mucus, eating damp foods will make more mucus. Make sense?

Damp foods are dairy products, like milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. (Eggs are often lumped in with dairy, but are not damp, and are fine to eat with a cold.) Other damp foods are sugar, alcohol, and greasy, fried foods. Eating any of these when you have mucus will make even more mucus. And sugar also depresses the immune system, so it may take longer to get over the cold.

The best thing you can eat when you have a cold is soup. Chicken soup really is good medicine! Make sure to eat soups with clear broth, not creamy soups. Cream is dairy and will make more mucus. If it’s a vegetable soup that’s been pureed to make it creamy, that’s totally fine.

Soup is warm and easy to digest. Digestion takes a lot of energy, and when you’re sick, your system is fighting the cold, so you want to eat easy-to-digest foods like soups and stews, to let your body put energy into the battle against the invading cold.

Eat all, or almost all cooked, warm foods. Cook vegetables, or even better, put them in your soup. This is not the time for salads. Salad veggies tend to be cooling in nature, so if you eat salad, you may feel more cold.

Make sure to cut out all sugar and alcohol, which is more sugar. It will make more mucus. A good way to deal with mucus is not to add in any more through your diet.

Sometimes a mild cough is due to post-nasal drip, or mucus dripping down the back of throat. Sometimes people have post-nasal drip, and their nose is clear. This is still dampness, so you want to avoid all the damp foods I just mentioned, because it will make the post-nasal drip worse.

You can also drink hot tea, or hot water. The hot liquid will help soothe and warm your chest as it goes down. Definitely avoid ice water, since it will have the oppose effect, and can actually make more mucus.

Make sure to avoid sugar and damp foods until you’re completely over the cold. If you “cheat”, it could mean more mucus again, and/or a relapse. It’s just not worth it.

In case you were wondering, I did manage to get through my cold without running out of tissues, but it was close! As soon as I felt better, I bought more tissues. So the moral of the story is to avoid damp foods when you’re sick, and always have a spare box of tissues on hand!

FREE Food Mistakes Guide

5 BIG Food Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Get It Now!