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Fighting the common cold and eating foods you like

Doctors don’t seem to support the theory that an increase in vitamin C will help fight the common cold and the flu. Of course if you’re actually worried about getting sick this winter, contact your doctor or the Salisbury Visiting Nurse Association and get a flu shot (see story, this page).

But if you’re just an average person with a bit of a tickle in your throat and some vague concerns about a stuffy nose, then why not just boost your vitamin C intake for a while? It can only make you feel better.

When I’m sick, I like something hot and steamy (tea or a bowl of chicken soup). For that reason, I in theory at least believe in eating lots of vitamin C-rich foods before I’m actually sick and feeling too sorry for myself to eat anything with fiber that requires chewing (I know, it’s pathetic).

Although I am a fan of the Emergen-C powdered vitamin C supplements, I will point out here that the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes for Health all strongly recommend that you only use supplements as, well, supplements.

As the Mayo Clinic says, “Whole foods are complex, containing a variety of the micronutrients your body needs — not just one. An orange, for example, provides vitamin C plus some beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients. It’s likely these compounds work together to produce their beneficial effect.”

Some vitamins and minerals are only absorbed by the body if they’ve been cooked (such as the lycopene in tomatoes). Others, such as vitamin C, are most helpful to you nutritionally if you eat them raw.

That’s easy with oranges but more difficult with one of the other top sources of C: potatoes.  So, as with all things, use some common sense and do your best. 

The number-one rated provider of dietary vitamin C is raw red peppers; a half cup gives you 95 milligrams of vitamin C (the less expensive green peppers only give you 60 milligrams in a half cup).

Broccoli is surprisingly rich in vitamin C, with 51 milligrams in a half cup (cooked; I actually like to eat broccoli raw or lightly steamed and then tossed with a little soy sauce, sesame oil and black sesame seeds, and presumably the less you cook your veg, the more C you will get).

A half cup of strawberries will give you 49 milligrams and a half cup of Brussels sprouts will give you 48 (which isn’t that surprising; if broccoli is high on the list, why wouldn’t brussels sprouts be there too?).

A baked potato has 17 milligrams, which doesn’t put it at the top of the list … but it is on the list. In fact, it’s higher than tomatoes, which surprised me. I will continue to think of tomatoes as a good source of C; and I will add potatoes to my list, especially since I like potatoes and tend to think of them as being kind of bereft of nutrition.

If you prefer to use zinc to ward off the common cold, you can of course take a supplement, or you can try to eat more of it. Very generally, you’ll get zinc from eating meat, fish, poultry, milk, whole-grain products and fortified cereals.