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Three Flu Fighters

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

Chicken Soup

According to the CDC, influenza (aka the “flu”) contributes to the deaths of nearly thirty-six thousand people each year and makes many thousands more feel like a truck ran them over. It can be a life threatener for children, the elderly and the sick and immune compromised.

There are three basic types of influenza that the body encounters and tries to fend off during this time of year. Human influenza A and B viruses are the nasty ones that seem to run rampant during the holiday season, especially here  in the United States. Influenza C is the one that’s less of a Scrooge and usually only produces mild respiratory illness.

Of course a flu shot is the preventative measure of choice, along with frequent hand washing and covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Bring along some antibacterial gel, especially when you don’t have access to soap or water, and make sure you are well rested and eat a good diet to keep your immune system strong. And speaking of diet, there are some natural foods that may help battle the little bugs, too!

Chicken Soup

Surprise! Chicken soup is not only good for the soul but also for the body because it’s a good source of vitamin A, which bolsters the body’s defenses against foreign invaders. Maybe Mom had good intuition all along? In the early 1200s, a Jewish scholar named Maimonides said colds should be treated with a certain “medical” brew . . . which is known today as chicken soup. The warm broth soothes a sore throat, and depending on which ingredients are added, this soup can serve as a wonderful base for other cold- and flu-fighting foods, such as carrots, which are rich in beta-carotene, and onion and garlic, which have antibacterial properties. Some research suggests that chicken soup may also work by exerting an anti-inflammatory effect on the upper respiratory tract, speeding along symptom relief and reducing the duration of the cold. An Italian study found that chicken soup had the best research to support its ability to fight influenza. Be careful though — chicken soup is typically high in sodium—as much as 27 percent of the daily value per serving!


Vampires beware (and anyone who might want to kiss you). Garlic packs a strong odor, which is attributed to the immune-boosting sulfur compounds contained within. Though not rich in any one nutrient, it does contain alliin and allicin, which are two sulfur compounds known for their antibiotic activity. Louis Pasteur first showed how garlic juice inhibited the growth of bacteria, yeast, and fungi. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that those who took a garlic supplement didn’t have fewer occurrences of the cold and flu, but it reduced symptoms and time that subjects felt badly.


Elderberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, and a good source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. These berries also contain many plant nutrients such as flavonoids, tannins, anthocyanins, and polyphenols, which help battle inflammation, cancer, and viruses. Elderberries are one of the leading foods proven to help stop influenza A and B virus dead in its tracks. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that symptoms from flu were relieved an average of four days earlier and that the use of medications was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract, compared with those who received the placebo. There is even research that supports its effectiveness against H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu!

The right foods combined with other healthy habits can really help the body hold up well through the holiday season. These “flu fighters” are just one example of the sixty healthy food lists you’ll find in my new book coming out January 8th called

The Best Things You Can Eat: For Everything from Aches to Zzzz, The Definitive Guide to the Nutrition-Packed Foods That Energize, Heal, and Help You Look Great

Do you have favorite foods or remedies to battle a cold, flu bug, or even the stress of holiday shopping?  Let me know in the comment section. Meanwhile, stay well!

Photo: iStockphoto

The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand


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