Can You Prevent the Flu Naturally with Diet?

Can diet help you from catching a cold and the flu? Learn which immune-boosting nutrients are science-backed for a healthy season.

Can You Prevent the Flu Naturally with Diet?

Wondering what’s the best diet for cold and flu? When these diseases run rampant, it’s natural to wonder how to prevent the flu naturally. Turns out, certain nutrients and healthy habits can boost your immune system. 

Keep reading to find out about the best foods to prevent cold and flu and the best vitamins to prevent flu, including information about vitamin D and flu prevention. 

What Is the Best Diet for Cold and Flu?

From a cold or flu to acute respiratory infections, seasonal sickness can put a lot of stress on the body. Boosting your immunity is a result of many factors, including what food you eat. 

During a cold or flu, the body experiences an overwhelming amount of inflammation. This is evidenced by symptoms like fever, aches, and pain. Anti-inflammatory diets have been long thought to benefit overall health, including improving immunity. 

You don’t necessarily have to be on a particular diet to prevent the cold or flu. Instead, focus on reducing added sugars and salt in your diet while increasing the amount of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables that you eat. Additionally, replace saturated fats and refined grains with whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats like olive oil. 

Best Foods to Prevent the Cold and Flu

Fruits and vegetables tend to be nutrient-rich, and are a great option for the immunity-minded. They also tend to be high in hydration, and adequate amounts of water can help with recovery. 

Additionally, honey is considered anti-inflammatory food and may help soothe a sore throat. For children over 1 year old and adults, honey can be a safe and effective way to ease symptoms. Add it to your tea, or find honey-based cough drops to add to your course of treatment. 

Speaking of teas, green tea and ginger tea are a popular pick for those fighting the flu or a common cold. While these teas haven’t been proven to help with the flu, they have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Though clinical trials haven’t proven success, many people have reported that teas help relieve their symptoms.

Best Vitamins to Prevent Flu

Even though vitamin and mineral supplementation may take months to take effect, nutrient therapy is considered one of the most effective and sustainable ways to increase immunity. If you aren’t getting enough nutrients from your diet, a doctor or dietitian may recommend supplementing with certain vitamins and minerals. 

Vitamin D and Flu Prevention

There are many studies showing that vitamin D can not only reduce the risk of catching a flu virus, but it may also play an important role in treatment. Those with vitamin D deficiences (low vitamin D levels) can benefit the most from taking vitamin D supplements for immunity. Dietary sources of vitamin D are rare, so supplements are routinely recommended. 

Vitamin C and Colds

While vitamin C won’t cure a cold you’re currently dealing with, regular supplementation can reduce the duration and severity of a cold if you catch one. In other words, vitamin C mostly sourced from citrus fruits and other produce has a protective effect on your immune system and may prevent the onset of a cold. Vitamin C has also been linked to keeping the flu virus from spreading further into the respiratory tract.

Zinc is often combined with vitamin C supplementation. This mighty mineral may be linked to shortening the length and severity of the common cold, too. However, oral zinc can cause unpleasant side effects (i.e. nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort) and interact with medicines, antibiotics, or other minerals like copper. 

Probiotics: Proven to Help or Hinder? 

Although probiotics aren’t directly linked to preventing colds, it has been established that about 70% of the immune system exists in the gut. Probiotics, the “good” kind of bacteria, can strengthen intestinal integrity, subsequently improving your chances of fighting the common cold. One study even found probiotics effective in reducing the number and rate of acute upper respiratory tract infection episodes, which can also reduce the need for antibiotics.

Yogurts and other fermented foods are a good source of probiotics. However, a dietitian or doctor may recommend taking a probiotic pill daily to supplement what you don’t get in your diet.

How to Prevent the Flu Naturally

While annual vaccinations are still considered the best protection against the flu, there are other ways to protect yourself against seasonal illnesses and infections. Whether you are trying to treat flu symptoms or avoid the common cold, here are some natural remedies that may enhance your immunity. 

Wash Your Hands

Hand washing remains one of the best ways to prevent sickness. Scrubbing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20-30 seconds can decrease the amount of germs (bacteria and viruses) you carry. It’s a simple measure, but one of the most effective in preventing sickness from spreading. 

Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough fluids when you’re sick acts as a sort of detox for the body. There are many options for obtaining fluids, including: 

• Clear broth
• Warm lemon water with honey 
• Water
• 100% fruit juice

Liquids to limit during recovery include alcohol, coffee, and sodas with caffeine. Keep in mind that some teas may have caffeine, too. Be sure to check the label of each drink you consume to make sure it is conducive to your healing. 

Rinse Your Sinuses 

You may be able to find some relief from a cold by using a nasal rinsing device (i.e. a neti pot). Remember to clean your device properly, since improper washing can introduce additional infections (something you don’t want in your already compromised state). For best results, use water that has been filtered, treated, or processed for safety. 

Topical Ointments

Some topical ointments can help to relieve symptoms, such as those with the following ingredients: 

• Camphor
• Eucalyptus
• Menthol

Most salves and ointments are considered generally safe for adults to use. Always be on the lookout for an allergic reaction with your initial use. 

Rest And Relax

Surprisingly, methods like meditation have also shown promise. Practices like deep breathing, meditation, and sleep hygiene can help your body slow down. Reducing stress contributes to improving overall health and boosting immunity. Plus, rest is crucial for all stages of illness, from prevention and protection to recovery and treatment. 

The Bottom Line On Beating Cold And Flu Season

If you’re avoiding a persistent cold or flu, eating well and hydrating adequately can be a great start to boosting immunity. While natural remedies aren’t entirely backed by science, many people report a relief in symptoms with these methods. Start simple with washing your hands and work up to other natural remedies with the help of your health care team.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why Wash Your Hands? Cdc.gov. Published September 2020. 

Ciccolini K. If Your Gut Could Talk: 10 Things You Should Know. Healthline.com. Published September 2018. 

DeGeorge KC, Ring DJ, Dalrymple SN. Treatment of the Common Cold. Am Fam Physician. 2019;100(5):281-289.

Ellis E. How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy. Eatright.org. Published January 2022.

Furushima D, Ide K, Yamada H. Effect of Tea Catechins on Influenza Infection and the Common Cold with a Focus on Epidemiological/Clinical Studies. Molecules. 2018;23(7):1795. 

Grant WB, Lahore H, McDonnell SL, Baggerly CA, French CB, et al. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):988. 

Lee WJ. Common Cold and Flu. Vitamin C in Human Health and Disease. 2019;89-100. 

Mayo Clinic Staff. Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt. Mayoclinic.org. Published June 2022. 

Moore M. How Vitamin C Supports a Healthy Immune System. Eatright.org. Published March 2021. 

Mousa HA. Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(1):166-174.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Flu and Colds: In Depth. Nccih.nih.gov. Published November 2016. 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Green Tea. Nccih.nih.gov. Published October 2020. 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The Common Cold and Complementary Health Approaches. Nccih.nih.gov. Published December 2020. 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say? Nccih.nih.gov. Published October 2022. 


Rondanelli M, Miccono A, Lamburghini S, Avanzato I, Riva A, et al. Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea in Three Main Immune Interactive Clusters (Physical Barriers, Innate and Adaptive Immunity) Involved during an Episode of Common Colds-Practical Advice on Dosages and on the Time to Take These Nutrients/Botanicals in order to Prevent or Treat Common Colds. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;5813095.

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