Feed a Cold

Before she became a full-time mom, my mother was a registered nurse. It was a career she had been proud of and whenever my sister or I got sick, she jumped right back into that role, doing everything short of donning her starched white nursing cap. She'd examine the thermometer critically and shake it down with a crack of her wrist, and announce, "You'll be spending the day in bed!" No child could have been better cared for. A glass of ginger ale (with a bendy straw) was always placed in easy reach. And I can still taste her chicken soup, with its perfectly cooked noodles.

Mom was following a timeless tradition: people have always looked to food as medicine. This cold and flu season, I decided to look into the beliefs long held by my mom and many others to see which are nutritionally valid and which are merely folklore.

Sip Chicken Soup
It turns out there is something to chicken soup after all. In one study, researchers measured nasal mucus velocity (science-speak for "runny nose") and nasal airflow resistance (stuffy nose) after volunteers drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup. Of the three, hot chicken soup was the most effective at making noses run-a good thing since nasal secretions help rid the body of pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Like any hot liquid, soup also helps hydration and raises the temperature of the airways, both important for loosening secretions. Adding a few hot chiles, as chef Rick Bayless does (see "Home Remedies," below), might help loosen things up even more. See Healthy Chicken Recipes and Healthy Recipe Collections

Try Vitamin C
Ever since biochemist Linus Pauling proposed megadoses of vitamin C to stave off cold symptoms, research has been piling up to assess its effectiveness. For perspective, I turned to a well-regarded review of 29 studies that involved more than 11,000 participants. The reviewers found that vitamin C failed to reduce the incidence of colds. But overall, with doses of 200 mg or greater (more than twice the 60-75 mg current recommended dietary intake for adults), the duration of colds was shortened by about 8 percent-not a huge difference, but something. There was also a significant reduction in the number of days subjects took off from work or school, which suggests vitamin C might help reduce a cold's severity. The likelihood of success seems to vary with the person-some people improve after taking vitamin C supplements, others don't. Try it and see for yourself but don't exceed 2,000 milligrams per day. More than this can cause an upset stomach.

Think Before you Zinc
Zinc's effectiveness against cold symptoms is more controversial. One study found that zinc lozenges shortened the duration of colds by one-half, while others found no advantage over a placebo. If you want to try zinc lozenges, follow the protocol used in scientific studies: take the lozenges every two hours and stop when your symptoms die down. Don't assume more is better; excessive doses of zinc can interfere with the absorption of other minerals, and high doses can be toxic.

Get a Dose of Vitamin D
Since colds and flu tend to strike during the darker winter months, some researchers believe a lack of vitamin D, the "sunshine" vitamin, might have something to do with making us more susceptible. At least one study found that a group of kids who took vitamin D supplements had fewer colds than another group that didn't. There's still much to learn, but unless you get steady exposure to the sun in the winter it seems prudent to take a multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the daily value for vitamin D.

Don't Avoid Dairy
Some people avoid dairy products because they are thought to increase mucus secretions, but scientific evidence has yet to support this. There may be some placebo effect at work: interestingly, people who say they believe that milk causes more mucus production tend to report more respiratory symptoms after they're given milk. But in a blind test using a soy-based drink with similar sensory characteristics as milk, subjects reported the same changes in mucus production as they did with cow's milk. Don't skimp on calcium-rich milk and especially not yogurt, which contains beneficial bacteria that may actually stimulate the immune system.

Today, I wonder if my mother would have given me something else to wash down with my ginger ale (maybe vitamin C?). I do know that she made me feel loved and cared for, and that did wonders for my prognosis.

And without a doubt the chicken soup helped.

Recipes

Chicken Noodle Soup with Dill
This recipe for "grandma's penicillin" has a long lineage. Passed from mother to daughter, friend to friend, on to EatingWell recipe tester Deidre Senior, each cook has given the recipe her own touch, resulting in a superb healing antidote to any winter chill.

Makes 9 servings, about 1 cup each

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy

10 cups chicken broth, homemade or reduced-sodium canned
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces dried egg noodles (3 cups)
4 cups shredded cooked skinless chicken (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

1. Bring broth to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add carrots, celery, ginger and garlic; cook, uncovered, over medium heat until vegetables are just tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Add noodles and chicken; continue cooking until the noodles are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in dill and lemon juice.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 191 calories; 4 g fat (2 g sat, 1 g mono); 64 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 24 g protein; 1 g fiber; 182 mg sodium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (50% daily value).

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

More Healthy Chicken Recipes

Edamame Succotash with Shrimp
We give succotash-traditionally a Southern dish made with corn, lima beans and peppers-an update using edamame instead of limas and turn it into a main dish by adding shrimp. To get it on the table even faster, purchase peeled, deveined shrimp from the fish counter instead of doing it yourself. Make it a meal: All you need is a warm piece of cornbread to go with this complete meal.

Makes 4 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 30 minutes
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy

2 slices bacon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced, or 1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 10-ounce package frozen shelled edamame (about 2 cups), thawed
1 10-ounce package frozen corn (about 2 cups), thawed
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound raw shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper

1. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Leaving the drippings in the pan, use tongs to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels; let cool.

2. Add oil to the pan. Add scallions (or onion), bell pepper, garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in edamame, corn, broth, vinegar and salt. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, sprinkle shrimp on both sides with lemon pepper. Scatter the shrimp on top of the vegetables, cover and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it on top.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 307 calories; 9 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 172 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrate; 30 g protein; 7 g fiber; 490 mg sodium; 476 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (120% daily value), Selenium (53% dv), Vitamin A (40% dv), Iron (30% dv). 1 Carbohydrate Serving. Exchanges: 1 1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat.

More Healthy Shrimp Recipes and Tips

From www.eatingwell.com with permission. © 2008 Eating Well Inc.

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