Food fallacies: Separating fact from fiction on Colds/Flu

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Before you know it it’ll be the season of sickness with people falling victim to the annual cold and flu deluge.  There’s all kinds of advice out there with various cures and what to eat or not eat.  Which are true and which ones are more myth and should not be relied upon.  Let’s take a look.

 1.    Fallacy: Taking extra amounts of Vitamin C can cure a cold.

 Fact:  Studies have not been able to confirm taking large doses of vitamin C will cure a cold.  The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 mg/day for women and 90 mg/day for men.  Vitamin C is an antioxidant which means it does help boost the immune system helping it to fight infections but extra amounts from a supplement does not appear to be have any added benefits. It is important to eat daily food sources of vitamin C as it may help shorten the duration and symptoms of a cold.  Vitamin C rich foods include: oranges, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, papaya, mango, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, pineapple, red peppers, tomatoes, chili peppers, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale.

2.     Fallacy: Is it feed a cold and starve a fever or vice versa?

Fact:  Neither.  No matter how you say it has much merit, but when sick with a cold, it is important to be eating plenty of anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables to help fight the infection your body is trying to recover from.  Keep well-hydrated and even though you may not be able to taste food very well, keep eating all meals to fuel your body. 

If you have the flu, your appetite tends to be diminished.  Small, frequent meals and snacks may sound a little more appetizing and drinking plenty of fluids can help when running a fever.  The important thing is to keep eating a variety and balance of food along with extra rest.

3.    Fallacy: Zinc lozenges and nasal sprays are good for colds.

Fact: Not true.  Zinc is an essential mineral helping to keep our immune system healthy but the effectiveness of zinc lozenges is limited.  Nasal sprays containing zinc have been found to damage the sense of smell and the FDA in 2009 issued a warning to consumers not to use them.  It is best to get zinc from food sources such as red meat and seafood rather than from a supplement.  Zinc supplements if taken in excess, can be toxic and can lower the absorption of copper, and weaken the immune system.

4.     Fallacy:  Chicken soup is good for colds and flu.

 Fact:  Guess what?  This actually is true!  It won’t necessarily cure you in a day but the comforting hot liquid is wonderful for opening up nasal passages, helps with hydration and the warmth you feel from it just feels good.  It’s an easy to digest food nourishing the body and most people like it.

5.    Fallacy:  Drinking milk will increase mucus.

Fact:  False.  There is no scientific study to back this up even though some people insist it does make their mucus or phlegm get worse.  You may not feel much like drinking milk while sick and which may be part of the reason some people feel an increase in mucus.

6.    Fallacy:  A sip of brandy or whiskey can treat a cold.

Fact:  Not the case.  Having an alcoholic beverage when sick with a cold may feel like it’s helping as the symptoms may temporarily be relieved but it does not cure a cold or kill germs of a cold present in the bloodstream.  If you are taking any medication, alcohol can interfere with it.  Therefore, do not rely on alcohol to treat a cold or flu. 

7.     Fallacy: Herbal supplements are safe to use for treating a cold or flu.

Fact:  Doubtful.  There are numerous herbal supplements on the market claiming to treat everything under the sun.  One of the problems is in the United States, herbal supplements are not regulated like prescription medications are meaning the manufacturers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before going on the market.  Echinacea is an herbal supplement sometimes recommended for colds or flu.  There are mixed reviews of this herb on treating illnesses.  Some studies have shown a slight improvement in preventing colds while others did not find any help from it.  Echinacea may also have side effects of an upset stomach and an allergic reaction to it if you’re allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, and marigolds. 

The best advice when ill from a cold or flu is to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids, frequent handwashing, and get extra rest.  If you practice these tips year round, you’ll be less likely to get sick and even if you do, the duration and severity should be reduced.