Fight a cold by … eating yogurt?


Boost your immune system: Most everyone knows that vitamin C is key to a healthy immune system. But did you know that drinking green tea can also boost your ability to fight off viruses? Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins, which are known to have flu-fighting properties, according to The tea also contains theophylline, which opens your airways to help you breathe easier if mucus has taken hold. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants who took two green tea capsules a day experienced fewer symptoms and instances of the cold and flu compared with a placebo group. The bonus? Green tea has also been shown to raise your metabolism, reduce your risk of heart disease and reactivate dying skin cells to help your face retrieve its spring glow. Experts recommend drinking two or three cups a day for optimum benefits.

Prevent dry skin: Niacin, riboflavin, vitamin A … oh my! The list of nutrients needed to keep your skin healthy is longer than Santa’s. The good news is that that means everything from cereal to carrots can play a role in keeping dry skin away. Let’s start with niacin. The B vitamin is helpful in preventing the skin rashes and inflammation that can occur in dry weather, according to the National Institute of Health. Niacin can be found in eggs, lean meats and legumes. Riboflavin is another B vitamin required for healthy skin. Breads and cereals are often fortified with riboflavin, the institute says, but you can also get it from eggs, milk and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin A helps cells reproduce, which will aid in turning old, dry skin into new, supple skin. Eating vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, such as cantaloupe, passion fruit, tomatoes, sweet potato, carrots and spinach, can help your skin retain moisture.

Tame dry hair: Your mother probably told you to eat your broccoli, but she may not have told you that it would be good for your looks. “The unique combination of emollient oils and fatty acids in broccoli can make hair stronger and more lustrous,” said Dr. Charles Crutchfield, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Because of the lack of moisture in the air, hair can be brittle and easily damaged during winter. Any food with a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids will help soothe stressed strands. Look for fish, olive oil and nuts in your local grocery store.

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Protect your nails: Has a walnut brownie caught your eye? There’s a healthy component to that tempting treat. Walnuts contain biotin, a B vitamin that helps strengthen nails, according to Crutchfield. Strawberries are another good source of the important nutrient.Fingernails also contain the protein keratin, which helps protect your nails from environmental damage. Eat foods that are also high in protein like lean meats and low-fat dairy products to prevent weakness.

Bone up: Winter weather is extra dangerous for bones, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. Protect yourself from the inside by building strong bones with vitamin D.

Avoid the vampire look: You may blame pasty skin on the lack of sunshine this time of year, but your diet can have a lot to do with your face’s rosy glow. People who aren’t getting enough iron have lower red blood cell counts, which may make them appear pale, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Dark, leafy greens like spinach and mollusks like oysters, clams and scallops are iron-rich foods that will help bring back your pinch-able cheeks. Other vegetables can also help brighten a dull exterior. Carotenoids are natural pigments that produce the color in vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and tomatoes,according to the University of Maryland Medical Center; they’ll do the same for your skin.

Prepare for the future: There’s nothing like a hot cup of cocoa after a day frolicking in (or shoveling) snow. And since researchers at Cornell University say the delicious drink contains a healthy dose of antioxidants, you shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging. The antioxidants protect your body from free radicals that can damage cells, according to the National Institute of Health. Need more convincing? A study published in the August edition of the journal Hypertension showed that flavanols — the main type of flavonoids, or antioxidants, found in cocoa and chocolate — may even improve mild cognitive impairment in the elderly.

This winter, there’s a good chance you might be looking for anything and everything to rid yourself of an annoying, lingering and sometimes debilitating cold.You may want to add yogurt to your list of cold-fighting remedies.

“When it comes to yogurt specifically, I’d say there’s not a lot of research that we can point to that indicates yogurt reduces symptoms of a cold,” said Mickey Rubin, vice president of nutrition research for the National Dairy Council. That being said, “There are some things (in yogurt) we can point to that, in theory, would be beneficial.”

For example, yogurt is full of probiotics, which can help boost the immune system, according to Kristi L. King, a senior registered dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital and a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Studies that have looked at probiotics have found promising results in terms of reducing the duration and incidence of colds. However, specific benefits can only be attributed to the actual strains studied — which do not necessarily exist in regular, non-supplemented yogurt, according to Rubin. For example, conventional yogurt contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus — two cultures that are integral to the yogurt making process, and as such are known as “starter cultures.” While these are beneficial bacteria, they are not necessarily the same probiotics that have been studied in clinical trials, according to Rubin.

“We know yogurt is a nutritious food choice and we know probiotics are beneficial to health, so including them in an overall healthy eating plan makes sense, but recommending them specifically for the common cold would be premature,” said Rubin.

Yogurt also contains another immune booster: zinc. Research indicates that zinc can reduce the duration of cold symptoms, but the amounts of zinc needed for benefits — at least 75 milligrams — is much higher than the 2 milligrams present in an 8-ounce cup of yogurt.

Carbohydrates in yogurt provide energy, which are important in helping you recover from a cold, according to King. And one recent study, funded by the National Dairy Council, found that when women consumed yogurt every day for nine weeks, they had reduced inflammatory markers in their blood — findings that suggest a mechanism by which yogurt might be helpful in fighting off cold symptoms.

“The common cold and its symptoms are an inflammatory response to the bug … such that if yogurt or other foods reduced inflammation, it could in theory be beneficial — but we need more research to know for sure,” said Rubin.

The bottom line

Though the ability of yogurt to help fight a cold is, at best, theoretical right now, experts say there’s no good reason not to choose yogurt when you have the sniffles or difficulty swallowing.

“I wouldn’t rely solely on yogurt to fight the cold, but in conjunction with a healthy diet, yogurt may be beneficial,” said King.

“Yogurt is smooth and goes down easy, so if you have a sore throat, or even a runny nose, it’s comfortable to eat,” added Rubin.

So choose yogurt for its soothing texture and nutritional attributes, which include calcium and vitamin D, along with possible cold fighters like zinc and probiotics — but not necessarily as a primary therapy for a cold.

For maximum benefits, King recommends eating plain yogurt with other antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, which contribute natural sweetness, in addition to more cold-fighting nutrients. “Pairing yogurt with blueberries or strawberries will give you an extra dose of vitamin C and antioxidants to fight the cold off,” she said.


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