Your immune system needs calories, but the right nutrients are important, too. Protein helps your body to repair itself and fight infections. Anti-inflammatory chemicals called bioflavenoids -- found in many citrus fruits -- can help reduce the severity of cold symptoms. Foods rich in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, which are found in many fruits and vegetables, can help reduce the cell damage that cold viruses cause [source: WebMD]. Zinc is another important nutrient, since a deficiency can reduce production and activity of the white blood cells that attack and kill viruses.
Dietician H.K. Jones, in an article for HealthCastle.com, recommends a menu for cold sufferers that emphasizes healthy, nutrient-rich foods -- fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates for energy -- and plenty of liquids to keep you hydrated [source: Jones]. A good breakfast, for example, would consist of oatmeal made with water and topped with mixed berries, some whole-grain toast, orange juice and a cup of hot decaffeinated tea. Lunch would include a bowl of soup, a mixed green salad, mandarin orange sections, a glass of tomato juice and more tea. For dinner, have steamed mixed vegetables, whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, applesauce, sliced fruit and still more tea [source: Jones].
As it turns out, Grandma was right: A scientific study confirms that one of the best things to eat when you have a cold is a nice steaming bowl of chicken soup. University of Nebraska Medical Center researcher Dr. Stephen Rennard analyzed several chicken soup recipes, including his grandmother's, and found that the popular comfort food had anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, chicken soup reduced the movement of neutrophils, the white blood cells whose activity in the upper respiratory tract can cause the congestion and other symptoms that we associate with colds. On the other hand, if what you're really craving is a spicy bowl of chili, indulge yourself. According to nutritionist, dietician and radio host Susan Mitchell, hot and spicy foods help open up the sinuses and reduce congestion [source: Cerino].