When cold and flu season hits, there is no shortage of opinions floating around as to what immune boosting foods you should be eating to prevent illness. At the same time, just one sniffle or sneeze and chances are the person in line behind you is already offering the latest nutritional advice they found on Instagram for shortening a cold. The problem is, most of these common tips, whether they have been engrained in us since childhood or just hit the news, may just be fiction. If you are sick of being sick and sick of not knowing if the advice you are receiving is a fact or actually just fiction, keep scrolling. 

1. Fiction: Vitamin C will prevent a cold

tangerine, citrus, clementine, juice, sweet, mandarin orange, orange, satsuma
Vanessa Amendola

Brace yourself... the most classic recommendation of vitamin C supplementation as an effective method for cold prevention may be somewhat of an oversimplification. The first thing to know about vitamin C is that it is a water soluble nutrient, meaning that any amount consumed over your body's basic requirements is just going to be excreted in your urine. Research shows that a vitamin C deficiency may be linked to reduced immune function, but at the same time, supplementing with vitamin C has shown no effects in cold prevention. So, getting adequate vitamin C is of course beneficial for maintaining your health, but if you're trying to avoid catching whatever your roommate has just by eating a a bag of oranges, it might be time to consider a back up plan. Instead of focusing on citrus alone, strive for a well rounded diet rich in many vitamins and micronutrients; including vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, and zinc for the best immune boosting results. 

2. Fact: Fight your cold with chicken noodle soup

Hannah Matthews

If you’re not reaching for a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup, are you even sick? Yes, chicken soup is good for the soul, but it turns out it is also good for when you're feeling under the weather. Not to burst your bubble, but the chicken and noodles may not necessarily be the key here. Almost any soup can offer beneficial hydration, steam, and nutrients that may help combat a cold. In addition, just the scent of a soup alone can help clear your sinuses and offer temporary relief. Experts agree that while a piping hot bowl of soup may not be the cure all, it is definitely worth trying. If all else fails, the beneficial hydration and nutrients it can offer certainly won’t hurt. If you just took a break from reading this to blow your nose, check out this simple recipe for slow cooker chicken noodle soup that even a sick person could make. 

3. Fiction: Feed a cold, starve a fever

sweet, cookie, wheat, cracker, pastry, bread, candy, cake, chocolate, milk
Razan Kawar

I never seem to remember which way this phrase actually goes, but it turns out it doesn’t really matter. Feed a cold? Yes. Starve a fever? Not so fast. Regardless of the nature of your illness, a good nutritional status is key to recovery. In fact, an increased body temperature actually speeds up your metabolism and studies have shown an increased calorie need by 7% for every 1 degree above normal. While it is sometimes thought that starving the bacteria or virus could be useful for shortening the duration of your illness, science doesn’t actually support this. If you are hungry and have a fever, you should definitely eat something, even if it is just a cracker or two. 

4. Fact: Honey will soothe a sore throat

sweet, honey, honey dipper
Sam Jesner

While it may not cure your cold, a recent study did find honey to be almost as effective as certain cough syrups at providing cough relief. So if you want to avoid keeping your roommates up all night with your coughing, try drinking a cup of tea with some honey in it before bed for some temporary relief that beats a nasty cough syrup. Don't overdo it though, as coughing is the body's natural way of helping clear mucus from your airways

5. Fiction: Sugar will suppress your immune system

salt, cereal, sweet, rice
Aakanksha Joshi

Sugar itself will not suppress your immune system. The immune system itself is very complex and this common belief that sugar will bring your immune response to a screeching halt is tied to a study from 1973, but further research has not fully supported or rejected this claim. Before you run and grab your favorite sugary snack though, you should know that while sugar may not be suppressing your immune system, it is certainly not going to help it either. Too much processed sugar does have a negative effect on your overall health, so sticking to the recommended guidelines for sugar intake of no more than 10% of your calories a day is probably your best bet here. 

6. Fiction: Avoid dairy if you are congested

tea, beer
Alex Frank

If your nose won't stop running and you have already used up an entire box of tissues, a friend may have recommended you take your coffee without milk for the day. It’s a common suggestion to avoid dairy products for congestion because it is thought to increase the production of mucus. Turns out, studies have found no evidence of this. In fact, the vitamin D, calcium, and probiotics found in many dairy products are actually immune boosting, so don't shy away just because you are feeling sniffly! 

7. Fact: Stay hydrated to stay healthy

ice, water, splash, cup of water, water cup, water splash, dropping ice
Jocelyn Hsu

Much like the importance of a good nutritional status when you are sick, a good hydration status is essential for both preventing and shortening the duration of any illness. Water is needed to carry nutrients to your cells and flush out any toxins that may have invaded. The immune boosting benefits water provides aren't the end, so even if you aren't sick, staying hydrated is a crucial healthy habit!

So, if you’re looking to stay healthy this cold and flu season, be sure to take more precaution than just frequent hand-washing and don’t wait until you are already sneezing to eat that orange. Instead, strive to consume a well-rounded and nutrient dense diet everyday. Stay hydrated; whether it be through chugging water, slurping a bowl of chicken noodle soup, or sipping a piping mug of tea with honey.

Of course, always see your physician if you're not feeling well, and do your best to follow evidence-based advice for staying healthy rather than trying to cure your cold based on a rumor or catchy phrase your great-great-great grandma used to say.