How to Apply Food Therapy to Support Individuals with a Common Cold

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Sick dog covered in blanket

Cold treatment

Implementation of certain foods into the diet can help the body recover faster from an illness. Such nutrients typically contain bioactive nutrients that affect our body, support the immune system, speed up healing, reduce inflammation or have antiviral or antimicrobial effects. Examples of such foods are(1):

  • Leafy green vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, Swiss chard etc.) that contain nutrients, which decrease inflammation. Inflammation is one of the symptoms of the common cold and may include the whole body or certain body parts (e.g. nostrils or throat). On top of that such vegetables enhance immune function and improve wound healing.
  • Salmon contains vitamins from the B group that support energy metabolism (can increase energy levels) and many other functions, selenium, iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can support immune function. Another example of oily fish containing a lot of omega-3 fatty acids would be mackerel.
  • Berries contain vitamin C which directly improves immunity, antioxidants that protect cells from damage and anthocyanins, which provide anti-inflammatory, antiviral and immune supporting effects
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g. pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds) contain vitamin E, which is an anti-oxidant and supports immune health and can improve the function of natural killer cells that aids the body in fighting off the infections and diseases, zinc, manganese, healthy fats (such as omega-3s) and magnesium
  • Poultry is rich in protein and amino acids such as glutamine provide cellular protection against stress and arginine that is usually rapidly depleted during illness and consuming poultry as a source of mentioned amino acids could help recover the body’s supplies of it
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or kale are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They also contain glucosinolates, which are further converted into isothiocyanates that promote immune health through inflammation suppression and activate immune defence along with inducing apoptosis in infected cells.

There are many important nutrients (including trace minerals) that support immune health. Some of them are zinc, copper and selenium. Selenium for instance also contains antioxidant enzymes and antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress(2). These trace minerals can also be found in certain foods. For example, zinc can be found in crabs, oysters, lobsters, and mussels(3).

Nutritional therapy

To support individuals with the common cold a nutritionist could simply recommend such foods during times of illness. Examples of immune supportive meals could include:

  • Smoothies containing papayas, kiwis and berries for vitamin C, antioxidants and anthocyanins
  • Seafood such as oysters, crabs, lobsters and mussels that provide zinc
  • Tea with fresh ginger, can help reduce sore throat, inflammatory illnesses and nausea(3)
  • Curry meals that contain turmeric, which contains curcumin as curcumin has anti-inflammatory potential(3)
  • Green tea containing EGCG is shown to enhance immune function(3)

Such examples are not the only options as according to Katona(4) other micronutrients (e.g. iodine, iron, vitamin A or D) also play a role as they are important in antibody formation. To summarise applying nutritional therapy to help one fight off the common cold would require the therapist to recommend foods that contain immune-boosting nutrients, trace minerals, adequate energy and protein(consumption of which is also an important factor that influences immunity). These interventions could be also supported with the inclusion of herbs. According to Kalra et. al.(5), thyme leaf, honeysuckle flowers or Andrographis may also be useful.


  1. Jillian Kubala, 10 of the Best Foods to Help You Heal, accessed on 11/05/21, available at:
  2. Jillian Kubala(2019), 7 Science-Based Health Benefits of Selenium, accessed on 11/05/21, available at:
  3. James Schend(2020), 15 Foods That Boost the Immune System, accessed n 11/05/21, available at:
  4. Peter Katona, Judit-Katona-Apte(2008), The Interaction between Nutrition and Infection, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 46, Issue 10, available at:
  5. M. Kalra, M. Khatak, S. Khatak(2011), Cold And Flu: Conventional vs Botanical & Nutritional Therapy, International Journal of Drug Development and Research, available at:–nutritional-therapy.php

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