Obviously a good diet promotes good general health. Fresh fruit and vegetables, three good meals a day containing a balanced range of foods will promote a healthy body. But what helps the body fight off infection is the ‘internal doctor’ – the immune system. If we can establish which dietary features promote a vigorous immune system, then we can augment our diet with these foodstuffs to bolster the effectiveness of the immune system.

Avoid processed foods or foods infused with chemical additives or toxins as all these have first to be neutralised by the body before it attacks incoming viruses. Try to eat organic foods (ideally that are fresh or raw), fruit and vegetables containing vitamins A,C,E and B complex, Zink and Iron – all these strengthen the immune system. Sources of these vitamins include green leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, red and yellow fruit such as tomatoes and carrots and eggs, nuts and seeds. It is particularly important that root vegetables be organic – as these grow within the soil and are therefore more susceptible to toxic penetration from pesticides.

Organic Foods

Organic food is free from artificial chemicals and fertilisers and insecticides which are used to treat non-organic mass farmed food. Organic fruit and vegetables also contain less water and therefore have a higher nutrient content. Most supermarkets now sell a wide variety of organic produce – although their cost if often extortionately high. Many local-to-your-area producers operate a ‘box scheme’ where you can have a variety box delivered to your door for a fixed weekly sum.

In particular to colds the following fruit and vegetables are highly recommended:-

High in Vitamin C – also gets rid of toxic free radicals.

Good source of Beta carotene, Selenium and Vitamin C.

Fibre, Folic Acid and Vitamin C.

Stimulates the immune system.

Eliminates mucus, contains Iron and Vitamin C.

Romaine or Cos. Contains Vitamins A and C.

Thins blood, eases bronchial conditions.

Zinc is responsible for the production and function of immune system cells and tests have proved that low levels of Zinc in the body results in weaker immune response. Zinc is found in seafood and wholemeal bread.

Scientific studies have shown that increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream lowers the efficiency of the immune system.

diet when having a cold

Garlic has anti viral and immune system enhancing properties and is particularly effective if added raw to foods. Crushing a clove of garlic into soups, stews etc is effective and greatly enhances flavour – and it can also be crushed raw into salad dressings.


The human body is composed of 97% water. Obviously a healthy body needs water, and tap water is usually perfectly safe – though it also usually contains Fluoride and some residue toxins such as pesticides which wash through soil and into reservoirs. Natural mineral waters are up to 500 times more expensive, but are likely to be far less polluted by toxins and generally have a superior taste. Unfortunately, many bottles of mineral water bottle their product in plastic bottles and there is some evidence that plastic releases toxins known as Pthialates which can produce hormone imbalance. Paradoxically, tap water is also fed through blue plastic underground pipes – so best go for mineral water in glass bottles.


Tea contains chemical compounds known as polyphenols, which contain flavonoids which have antioxidant properties which help boost the immune system. Antioxidants protect cells by removing free radicals. The flavonoids in tea are three times more concentrated than in beer and wine – and in fact, ‘Typhoo’ is Chinese for doctor. It also contains antibacterial and astringent properties. For colds in particular, tea is a good source of Zinc. However, no more than 10-12 cups should be consumed on any day.


If vegetables and fruit must be cooked, it is best to steam them – certainly prolonged boiling will deplete their mineral and vitamin resources.

Drinking plenty of mineral water or fresh pure fruit juice is very beneficial in replacing bodily fluids lost through rhinovirus infection. A little alcohol is also beneficial at bedtime to promote good rest and sleep. A tot of whiskey wit honey and lemon juice is good, and for aiding digestion a mixture of one measure of port to two measures of brandy is also beneficial (for adults only).


In the west, herbs and spices were until recently generally regarded as food flavourings, but in the east they are also revered for their medical properties. In fact, many spices and herbs used in traditional Chinese medicines are the ingredients of Indian curry recipes.

The typical ingredients of curries – onions, root ginger, cumin, turmeric, garlic, cayenne pepper, coriander and chilli powder etc, all contain vitamins and minerals supportive of the immune system. Certainly a hot spicy curry relieves the general congestion of colds and makes a very refreshing meal to combat the groggy symptoms. Obviously a take away is crucial- to go to a restaurant merely risks spreading the infection to other diners – who will not be grateful. For the cook, many curry compounds are readily available from food stores and these can just be added to cubed meat or poultry or vegetables and are best served with basmati rice. Follow the recipe on curry paste/powder packet. Alternatively, many large supermarkets serve prepared curries for re-heating at home from their delicatessen counters.

The really hot curries such as Madras, or Vinadaloo are recommended for colds – the burning aftertaste can be quickly relieved by eating aniseed balls or cubes of chocolate. Plain Greek yogurt mixed with chunks of cucumber makes an ideal cooling accompaniment.


Sleeping is how the body recharges its batteries: it is the time when tissue cells replenish, replace and repair themselves. During sleep muscles relax and the conscious mind is quietened. In particular for the rhinovirus infection, sleep increases the effectiveness of ‘T’ cells which are essential to the immune system in its fight against infection. The main barriers to good sleep during a cold are the usual symptoms of sort throat, continually being awoken by spasmodic coughing and difficulty in breathing due to blocked airwaves. The benefits of whiskey and honey or brandy and port are obvious in moderation, as are herbal teas – but the best relief for symptoms is to rub the lower face and chest with menthol infused vapours which clear airways and have a soothing effect on the throat. Keep the bedroom warm but airy, and drink plenty of mineral water from a glass bottle and, of course, handkerchiefs.

The Bedroom

Dust mite droppings often trigger allergies such as asthma and will contribute to dry coughs and sneezing. Dust mites live where dead human skin cells collect, and as you spend about 17.5 years of a normal life span asleep in bed, plenty of dust mites will be living and excreting in your bedroom. For this reason generally bedrooms should be free of excessive decorative curtains, carpets and upholstered beds and furniture, and bed linen should be cotton and washed very regularly. Avoid vacuum cleaners during your cold as these throw up dust during operation.


The general nasal and throat symptoms of the common cold are exacerbated by smoking, and there is evidence that smoking prolongs the symptoms of a cold – as well as making the smoker more susceptible to colds through impaired immune system activity. In particular, Vitamin C is excellent for colds – but smoking affects the body’s ability to metabolise Vitamin C.

If you must smoke, menthol cigarettes at least feel easier on the throat – but remember: you are still smoking. Best of all, colds usually make cigarettes taste foul – so maybe the cold is a good excuse to start giving cigarettes up altogether.


Stress has a debilitating effect on the immune system, making it less effective and making the person more susceptible to random rhinoviruses in the environment. Most stress is perhaps unavoidable, but if one leads a particularly stressful lifestyle it is all the more important to pay attention to good diet. If you know a stressful situation is imminent – such as exams, driving tests, interviews, house move, job change etc it would be wise to seek out medicines which enhance the immune system strength over this period.


Generally, these diets hints are only of help when relieving cold symptoms – i.e. when you have already got a cold. But it is critical to realise that the cold will only take hold in the first place if the immune system is weak – so these diet notes really should apply constantly to eating habits – it is far better to avoid the cold in the first place than to compensate for the symptoms of the illness!