Your Winter Defense: Tips for Beating the Cold

A few simple diet and lifestyle tips may help keep you cold-free this winter.

Feb. 2, 2008— -- It's called a "cold" for a reason: Winter's frigid temperatures make us more vulnerable to whatever germs are going around. But by making healthy choices about what we put in our bodies, we may be able to keep the sniffles at bay all season long.

Eat to Win

At we often talk about "eating the rainbow" -- which means a simple rule of thumb to follow is to make sure your plate is as colorful as possible at every meal.

Your body's primary line of defense -- your immune system -- relies on your diet for important nutrients to help resist pesky cold and flu germs. The easiest and most effective way to ensure you are receiving purportedly cold-busting antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C is to eat colorful fruits and vegetables.

Foods like carrots, apricots and broccoli are packed with beta carotene, which helps to maintain the mucous lining of your nose and lungs -- an important line of defense against germs. So switching your chips for carrots at snack time, or grabbing a handful of dried apricots to munch on, means you're eating to win the battle against cold and flu.

Strive to get most of what you need from fresh, seasonal produce that is often grown locally, so it's not only good for you but the environment, too. Check out's Winter Shopping List for inspiration. By stocking up on some of winter's bounty, you'll turn your refrigerator into a medicine cabinet, supplying your body with all the vitamins and nutrients it needs to keep you well.

Our Picks

Grapefruits -- Not only are they packed with vitamin C like other citrus fruits, they also support the good bacteria in your intestines to keep your digestive health on track. Look for those with the deepest red or pink flesh -- that means they have the highest amount of powerful carotenes.

Cruciferous veggies -- Stock up on the green and leafys like bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. They are packed with immune-boosters like Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin B-6, not to mention an excellent source of folate and carotenes. (Try this healthy recipe for Garden Harvest Soup from Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen.)

Cranberries -- Even though you may have had your fill of these around the holidays, it's a good idea to keep them around all season long (in fact, you can freeze fresh ones for six to 12 months). Toss them into your AM smoothie with other berries and the also-seasonal and nutritious banana.

Persimmons and Pomegranates -- Both deliver a powerful Vitamin C-packed punch. Add persimmon slices or pomegranate seeds to your salads—or use pomegranate juice to flavor your smoothie.

Supplement Smarts

We always recommend getting your vitamins straight from the source (fruits and veggies), because studies still debate the merits of loading up on Vitamin C or E supplements.

However, research does support taking natural herbs with anti-viral properties like echinacea to help boost our immunity. One "study of studies" says Echinacea can cut the chances of catching the common cold by more than half and reduce the duration by 1.4 days. This University of Connecticut study was published in the July issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet.

But with over 800 products containing different parts of the echinacea plant currently on the market, researchers still don't know which parts of the plant and what doses work best.

Until that research is conducted, don't rely on echinacea as a first line of defense; look to it as a supplement. Ask your doctor, nutritionist or pharmacist for a recommended brand and dosage and always be sure you are buying from a reputable company whose products are trustworthy and tested.

Play Defense With Germs

Remember to wash your hands often (e.g., after using the bathroom, before meals, after public transportation) for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing all the way up to your wrists.

When you need to cough or sneeze, use the inside of your elbow to shield your mouth and nose -- not your hand. While instinctive, using your hand is a surefire way to spread germs.

As a general rule, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands throughout the day; these are the gateways for germs to enter your system. If you're looking for a more natural way to keep well-trafficked surfaces clean at home, the office or while traveling, spray a blend of tea tree, eucalyptus, melissa and lavender oils (diluted with water).

And don't forget healthy habits that should stick with you all year long regardless of the season: get plenty of sleep, keep your stress levels down and exercise regularly. Time and again, studies show these three lifestyle habits make for healthy bodies. is an expert-reviewed wellness site and daily e-mail covering issues relating to nutrition, fitness and other areas of health.