Foods That Fight… Illness, That Is

That time of the year is upon us: the “holidays.” It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but the stores are already filled with Christmas decorations and gifts. Holiday music is playing on radio stations. Holidays are fun, but this season can come with side effects, including colds and flu, heartburn, upset stomach, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue. Medicine is often needed to treat these maladies, but if you’re looking for something a little more natural and gentle, think, instead, about food. Food is medicine, too, and what better way to remedy your maladies and nourish your body at the same time?

Colds and flu
No one wants to be bedridden with a fever, runny nose, sore throat, and/or headache. Hopefully you got your flu shot (recommended for everyone older than 6 months who has diabetes), but the reality is that there are different strains of flu, and when it comes to the common cold, the best defense is a good offense. Here are some foods that can help you feel better if any of those nasty viruses strike:


Chicken soup. There’s nothing better than a steaming bowl of chicken soup when you’re under the weather. Chicken soup works in two ways: it blocks the movement of neutrophils, a type of cells that cause inflammation, and it helps move mucus (as unpleasant as that sounds), clearing up stuffy noses and heads and also helping viruses move through you more quickly. Homemade chicken soup is best, but even the canned kind will do the trick.

Citrus fruits. Winter is a great time for oranges, clementines, tangerines, and grapefruit. These fruits are rich in vitamin C, which can help lower cold symptoms by up to 23%. Not a fan of citrus fruits? Fill up on peppers, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, instead.

Garlic. Garlic contains an antioxidant called allicin, and studies show that garlic can prevent colds and help you feel better faster if you already have one. You get more benefit from raw garlic, but it doesn’t hurt to throw some into your cooked dishes, too.

Yogurt. Yogurt and other fermented foods, like kefir, miso, and sauerkraut, contain probiotics (good bacteria) that bolster the immune system and protect against upper respiratory infections. Look for yogurt with active cultures or consider taking a probiotic supplement.

We all overdo it at some point — too many holiday treats, late-night meals, or overindulging in coffee or alcohol can lead to that painful, burning feeling in your chest and throat. These foods can help relieve the burn:

Ginger. Ginger has been used for a long time to soothe an upset stomach and other stomach maladies. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Grate some fresh ginger into a cup of tea. Add grated ginger to sweet potatoes or sautéed vegetables. Or, simply chew on a slice of fresh ginger. By the way, ginger may help with arthritis pain, too.

Chewing gum. Grab a stick of sugar-free gum after a meal. Doing so helps boost saliva production, which, in turn, can neutralize stomach acid (chewing gum, especially gum sweetened with xylitol, is also good for oral health). Go for fruit or cinnamon-flavored gum, not mint gum, as mint can worsen heartburn.

There are numerous causes of headaches, and some are best treated with painkillers. However, your kitchen may contain some headache helpers, too.

Potatoes. You may be thinking that potatoes are bad for your diabetes (not really true), but they’re surprisingly good for you, particularly since they contain potassium. If you’ve imbibed a bit too much in the holiday spirits and are nursing a hangover, high-potassium foods can help. Other good sources of potassium include bananas, tomatoes, winter squash, and milk.

Coffee. Sometimes, all you need is a little caffeine to squelch that headache. Caffeine works to constrict blood vessels, but don’t overdo it, as too much caffeine can act as a diuretic and actually cause a headache by dehydrating you.

Almonds. Almonds are one of the healthiest nuts around, and because they contain magnesium, they can make an aching head feel better. Magnesium is a mineral that helps to relax blood vessels.

Muscle aches
Sore muscles may result from too much mall-walking or hitting the gym to burn off calories. Sore muscles are painful and can keep you from being active. Try these foods to help ease the pain.

Blueberries. Blueberries contain antioxidants that mop up free radicals produced during physical activity.

Cherry or pomegranate juice. Fend off muscle pain by drinking one ounce of tart cherry or pomegranate juice twice a day. Research shows that people who did this for 10 days recovered more quickly from workouts. The juices act like nature’s ibuprofen, helping to prevent or lessen muscle damage. Don’t worry about the carbs, either: one ounce of pure tart cherry juice or pure pomegranate juice has only about 4 grams of carbohydrate.

Salmon. Why not wrap up your workout by eating a nice piece of salmon? Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which lessen inflammation and ease pain (including arthritis pain). If you’re not a fan of fish, try walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and soybean oil.

Feeling fatigued and drained of energy goes hand in hand with the holidays. Sleep is the best remedy, but when you just can’t get enough, be sure to include these foods in your eating plan.

Steel-cut oats. When your body needs energy, the best fuel source is carbohydrate. But not just any carbohydrate — an unprocessed, slow-to-digest carb, like oatmeal. Oatmeal gives your body an energy boost without leading to a spike in blood glucose. Plus, it contains fiber and B vitamins that help your body process food for energy. Choose steel-cut, Scottish, or Irish oats rather than instant oatmeal, which is highly processed and often contains sugar.

Eggs. One of nature’s most “perfect” foods, eggs are a prime source of protein, iron, and B vitamins, which are nutrients that help the body produce energy from food.

Water. OK, it’s not a food, but we can’t live without it. If you’re even slightly dehydrated (which is very possible), your body’s cells can’t do their job as well, which includes producing energy for the body to function. Drink up — aim for 8–10 glasses every day (seltzer and other liquids count, too). Start your day off by drinking a glass of water.

Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Terri

    At the end of the day, moderation is the key. I also would stress that processed foods are no good for us especially because some of them are laden with various starches and sugars with a plethora of different names that we would do well to familiarize ourselves with…

  • Ms Mercer Ervin

    Very good articule, Thanks!

  • Judith Grout

    Catching up on past new-letters just in time for the holiday parties to begin. Your information is just what I needed to learn. Thanks much.