The Skinny

Foods, Fluids, and Fact-Based Tips to Help You Battle Cold and Flu Season

Foods, Fluids, and Fact-Based Tips to Help You Battle Cold and Flu Season

Dec 16, 2019 « Back to The Skinny

By: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Naturally Slim Instructor, Meridan Zerner

‘Tis the season… Cold and flu season, that is.

Before you feel that first sniffle coming on, we’re going to talk about the best strategies to stay healthy.

And just in case you do happen to catch whatever bug is being shared around the office, we’ve also got some cold-fighting foods that’ll help you get back on your feet faster! 

Focus on your hands

Of course, washing your hands frequently has to be on the top of your stay well “to-do” list.   

  • Aim to wash for about 20 seconds, the amount of time that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends to kill germs. When you’re washing, hum through “Happy Birthday” twice. That’ll help you meet your 20-second target!

Not-so-fun fact: The average person only spends 6 seconds washing their hands! 

  • Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be a reasonable “plan B” if soap and water aren't available.
  • Try to keep your fingers away from your eyes and nose (this can be tough because we tend to do that without thinking).

Get your zzzzz’s

Next, maintain your usual lifestyle pattern as best as you can, especially when it comes to managing your stress and getting enough sleep. Why? Chronic sleep deprivation can lower your immune response (AND lead to overeating)!

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, but nearly 35% of us get less than seven. That slow accumulation of sleep debt can affect your appearance, your body’s ability to fight off sickness, and even the way your brain functions.

Chicken soup, anyone?

If you do catch a cold, there are some foods that can provide energy AND be easy on the stomach. I often recommend the B.R.A.T. diet:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

These are foods that are bland, low fat, lower acid, and easy to digest. You may have your own “tried and true” favorites as well. Some people eat grits or oatmeal. Others may do mashed potatoes or gelatin or crackers.

There’s chicken soup! It’s an excellent source of fluids and electrolytes, as well as providing vitamins and minerals to get you feeling better faster. The hot steam from the soup may even help with nasal congestion. Other cold/flu fighters are:

  • Broth
  • Garlic
  • Coconut water
  • Hot tea (ginger, lemon or peppermint)
  • Yogurt
  • Avocados
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Baked potatoes
  • And our personal favorite: H2Orange™!

Drink up!

When our body is fighting a cold or flu, the goal is fluids, fluids, and more fluids. Staying hydrated can help you feel better faster. 

Speaking of fluids, that is what you may lose a lot of when you are sick for various reasons (no appetite, vomiting, etc.). Fluid loss can show up on the scale, but it’s not “real weight loss” – it’s fluid loss. It's unlikely that you will be able to maintain that specific loss, so don’t be concerned if your scale drops briefly and then returns to the weight you were before you got sick.

Reach for the zinc

Research suggests that the mineral zinc, preferably through food, can actually decrease the growth of viruses. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), adding more zinc may reduce the duration and severity of symptoms if you increase your zinc intake as symptoms crop up. You can get more zinc through meat, tofu, oysters, and lentils.

More serious symptoms

Sometimes, it’s more than a cold or the flu. So, call your doctor if your symptoms worsen or if you are experiencing:

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath (these are also signs of a heart attack!)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Illness or fever that lasts for a couple of days without getting better
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than six hours
  • Symptoms of dehydration or another serious condition, such as a fruity smell on your breath or dry/cracked lips or tongue


Taking care of yourself today with intentional food choices, adequate fluids, and a good night of sleep will go a long way. And again, just in case, stock up on sick-day supplies in advance!