Nine Dietitian-Approved Home Cold Remedies

Try these foods, beverages, and supplements next time you're under the weather.

Tea photo

Tea photo via Shutterstock

It’s that time of year again. If you aren’t sick already, you likely spend your morning commute frantically avoiding coughing strangers on the T.

But cold medicine isn’t exactly a cure-all. In addition to leaving you feeling foggy all day, registered dietitian Ayla Withee says it may actually worsen your illness. “As soon as you start to feel that nasal congestion, a lot of people go for the cold medications that dry you out to try and get some relief,” she says. “But the mucus that your body produces is the way that we mobilize bacteria and viruses and get them out of our bodies.”

Leave the NyQuil at the drug store and try Withee’s other cold remedies and preventative tips:

Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements

1. Zinc: Use to shorten the duration of a cold.

Zinc doesn’t actually prevent colds, but Withee says it may shorten the length of existing illness. It’s found naturally in animal products like meat and shellfish, but your best bet when feeling ill is to turn to concentrated lozenges.

2. Vitamin C: Use to boost your immune system and shorten a cold.

Vitamin C keeps the immune system running smoothly, and may help shorten the duration of a cold—just make sure you’re buying respected brands. “I think that it’s important when you’re doing any kind of supplement to look for quality,” Withee says.

3. Vitamin D: Take to keep the immune system going.

Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in New England, simply because we just don’t get that much sun in these dark and gray months. While the vitamin won’t rid you of your current cold, it will help prevent others in the long-term.


4. Work it out: “Exercise is tremendously supportive at helping to boost your immune system so that you are fighting off bacteria and viruses and not getting sick,” Withee says. “But as soon as you start to feel the signs and symptoms of an illness coming on, that’s when you really need to back off.”

In other words: Exercise is great preventative medicine, but if you feel sick, rest and relax.

Hot liquids

5. Drink up: Drink tea to soothe symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion. Withee also suggests adding warming spices, like ginger or cinnamon.


6. Probiotics:

Eating probiotic foods can give your immune system a big boost, Withee says. Foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and pickles all provide good bacteria.

7. Anti-microbial foods:

Garlic, coconut, and coconut oil all have anti-microbial properties that can help fight viruses and keep your immune system healthy, Withee says.

8. Bone-broth: 

Ultra-trendy bone-broth is a good option when you’re too sick to eat much. There are contradicting reports about its efficacy, but broth in general is a solid cold remedy.

9. Elderberry extract:

“The favorite of mine is black elderberry extract,” Withee says. “It’s potent and high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.” She recommends taking it to maintain health throughout flu season, or at the start of a cold. It’s available as a syrup, lozenges, or an extract or tincture to put in beverages.