Assortment of tea, honey, and fruit on a table

Karina A., California State University, Fresno

Colds are pretty common, especially when you’re sharing your space with hundreds or thousands of other students on campus. And if you’re run down with the sniffles, your appetite is probably a little hindered. But it’s still important (if not more so) to get in some nutrients to support your immune system. In fact, restricting calories when you’re sick can potentially make your symptoms worse, increase the chance of you having the cold for longer, and even make you more susceptible to catching the flu, according to a study in the Journal of Immunology.

So what can you consume to help a cold?

Drink plenty of water

If you’re running a fever, you can get mildly dehydrated, which can worsen muscle aches (and the general sense of misery). Avoid coffee or sodas with caffeine, which can increase dehydration. Bonus: Water helps thin mucus, which makes it easier to clear from your sinuses and airways.

red icon of hot cupConsume hot beverages/soups

Tea with honey and lemon can soothe a sore throat and help clear up a sinus congestion, at least temporarily. So does chicken soup.

Eat a little something

Especially if you’re taking ibuprofen or other medicines that can be hard on your stomach, it’s good to have a little food now and then. Mucus drainage often causes loss of appetite and mild nausea (I call this the “snot swallowing syndrome”). Eating a little bit of something sometimes alleviates these symptoms. Your best bets: fruits, veggies, and whole-grain foods, which can help you maintain a healthy immune system.

Don’t bother with supplements

Assuming you’re eating a balanced diet, Vitamin C, zinc, multivitamins, and other supplements don’t give you anything you’re not already getting, and they can be costly.

What about dairy?

Icon of cow in redI often hear nonmedical people say to avoid dairy during colds, but there’s no scientific evidence to back this up. I’ve spent hours racking my brain over understanding this advice. I suspect that the basic idea is that colds cause overproduction of mucus. Mucus can be thick and white. Milk and yogurt are thick and white, so maybe people think there’s already enough of this going on. Bottom line: Dairy is fine during a cold. 

Truth? There’s no cure for the common cold. The most important things you can do are to get plenty of sleep, which helps you heal faster, and wash your hands frequently, which helps prevent getting others sick.

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Dr. Davis Smith is a practicing internist and a staff physician at the University of Connecticut. He specializes in the care of transgender, gay and lesbian, and adolescent patients. Previously he worked at Trinity College and Wesleyan University.