Nutrition Column – Tips for Fighting Colds and the Flu

This flu season threatens to be one of the biggest seasons ever. Each year, more than 20 million Americans suffer from the flu and some 20,000 die from it or various complications. Another 34 million visit the doctor for help with common colds.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones suffering from a cold or the flu, what can you do? Staying hydrated is very important. Here are some other suggestions to help get you back on the road to good health.

If you have a cold or an upper respiratory infection:

– Drink plenty of fluids, because liquids help thin out mucous secretions. Try water, decaffeinated tea, fruit juice or broth-based soups. Orange juice and other juices high in vitamin C are a good choice. Slowly enjoying a steaming, hot bowl of homemade chicken soup is an old remedy that may provide some relief.

– Avoid dairy products such as milk, ice cream and pudding because they tend to increase phlegm.

– Other foods are OK to eat as long as you can tolerate them.

– Keep in mind that your sense of taste may be distorted as a result of your nasal passages being plugged. Your favorite foods may not taste the same.

– Make sure to get plenty of rest. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try drinking decaffeinated tea, herbal tea or decaffeinated carbonated beverages.

If you are experiencing vomiting, a fever or diarrhea:

– If you are vomiting, don’t eat or drink for approximately one hour after an episode. Then, drink two ounces of water or a flat lemon-lime or cola-carbonated beverage. If you tolerate that, repeat every 15 to 30 minutes.

– When vomiting has subsided for a few hours, try drinking more liquids to replace the loss of fluid from your body. Water, decaffeinated tea, fruit juice or broth-based soups are generally good choices.

– Gradually add other relatively bland foods such as plain or lightly buttered toast.

– If you are running a fever but not vomiting, drink plenty of liquids.

– If you are experiencing diarrhea, try a banana, apple juice, applesauce, rice or rice cereal without milk. These foods help regulate your system and may help relieve your symptoms.

– As your symptoms subside, slowly increase your food intake. Your appetite should return to normal as you get better.

When you or those around you are sick:

– Wash your hands regularly with warm, soapy water and dry with a disposable towel to prevent picking up or spreading the bacteria and viruses that cause illness.

– Wash all eating and drinking utensils either in hot, soapy water and air dry, or wash in the dishwasher. Wash glasses, silverware, cutting boards and countertops after every use to limit spread of contamination. If you’re too sick to wash dishes, consider using paper plates and cups, and disposable utensils.

– Get a new toothbrush. Your old one could be a source of contamination.

– If your symptoms worsen or persist for longer than a few days, contact your doctor.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension