5 Ingredients That Can Worsen Your Winter Cold

woman-in-bed with-cold
(Photo: iStock)

You always wash your hands, you habitually take Vitamin C and you've tried everything to fight off a cold, but now you're feeling so terrible you can't even get up to turn on Netflix. Cue the frustration--and Kleenex. It's that time of year where we pass around colds like we pass around festive meals at the holiday dining table.

According to the National Institute of Health, U.S. adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, so it's not surprising if you catch one during the holiday hustle and bustle. While we know we should make our favorite soup and steep soothing tea, there are other foods out there that can actually worsen our symptoms. Food, a cold's enemy? It is sadly possible. Here are five ingredients to avoid when you're trying to fight off those pesky germs.


Sugar cookies, gingerbread houses and a festive berry punch might seem like something you need to eat or drink to feel better, but high sugar intake can actually increase inflammation in the body. By hindering immune system strength and germ-fighting white blood cells focused heavily on attacking infection, sugary foods can make it difficult for our body to recover.


It's the season for cocktails and champagne, but it's best to stay away from alcohol when you're sick. Drinking alcohol, like sugar, causes inflammation. But it also dehydrates while impairing your ability to fight off infection. In addition to reacting dangerously with medication, chugging back on the family's old cough mixture leaves you parched and thus raises blood alcohol content more quickly. Alcohol might clear up your sinuses for a while, but that's not a risk we're willing to take.


Can dairy make your cold worse? It's been a debate for what seems like forever. Studies have shown it's highly dependent on the individual and severity of the case. While most experts don't believe dairy products cause phlegm production on their own, some say dairy can exacerbate mucus already built up in your throat, making it thicker and more bothersome. But if your body can tolerate dairy, stock up on foods rich in protein, calcium and Vitamin D as they can help you fight infection.



Most mornings, coffee has the power to make us feel like Simba being presented to the world in The Lion King. But news flash—when you have a cold, more than two cups of caffeinated food and drink can act as a diuretic, stripping you of balanced vitamins and nutrients. Since staying hydrated and adequate rest is essential for treating and preventing colds, doctors advise to limit or avoid caffeinated foods. Goodbye for now, chocolate, energy drinks, soda, and our beloved coffee. Also, if your caffeine intake is reducing the amount of rest you're getting, it's best to stop altogether.

Fast and Fried

Craving greasy and gooey comfort foods often comes with a cozy holiday season, but consuming delicious fried and fatty fare that is void of any nutritional value can hinder digestion and immune system function. Everything from fries to fried chicken can be loaded with sodium and saturated fat that can mess with your body's resistance and dehydrate you. Foods in this family also contain a slew of immune-suppressing ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, MSG, artificial colors and flavors and more that will aggravate your condition and make you feel heavy.