Your mother was right when she told you to drink lots of fluids when you’re sick. But just what is the best thing to drink when you’re not feeling well? These comforting, healing beverages work to boost your immune system to ward off colds and flu or soothe your symptoms if the virus triumphs.
When the days are dark and the weather leans polar, we hover inside with loved ones (and strangers at the grocers, on the train, at the movies). This is when cold and flu viruses reign. We take precautions: bundle up, wash our hands frequently, and avoid crowded places. And yet despite all this, suddenly sickness strikes. A soreness in your throat. An achy feeling in your body. An extreme lack of energy. Even your mood turns sour.
Choosing healthy, fresh, plant-based beverages may be the best way to care for your body in its time of need. In addition, these healing, inviting potions may help ease your woes and even end your illness. (You may not feel like drinking but think of them as healthy medicine—your body needs to be well hydrated in order to fight off germs.) Warm, aromatic drinks may be just the ticket to entice you to get your fluid intake.
Do hot liquids really ease cold and flu symptoms?
Hot liquids, such as a warm cup of tea, are said to clear up congestion—but is this true? The answer is yes. Researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University in Wales investigated this claim. Their results supported the belief that hot drinks can provide helpful relief for most cold and flu symptoms.
Fact: Hot drinks provide relief
Researchers found that hot drinks provided immediate and sustained relief from a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, chilliness, and fatigue. The same drinks served to the participants at room temperature provided relief from far fewer symptoms: only a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. Obviously, nothing you drink will make your symptoms disappear in a snap. But these drinks are good for your body and won’t cause side effects. And they’ve been found to revive your spirits as well.
The hot toddy is a familiar go-to. But alcohol can be dehydrating. We found natural alternatives that harness the innate healing powers of foods like honey and lemon and spices like ginger, turmeric, and chocolate (yes, you read that correctly) which, combined with hot water or plant beverages like almond or coconut milk, offer pleasing variations in your fluid intake.
Our favorite hot beverages for colds and flu
This simple but effective concoction comes from Bon Appétit food director Carla Lalli Music, who has two kids and “knows a thing or two about soothing sore throats.”
The three-ingredient recipe is minimal—ginger, lemon, and a sweetener like maple syrup or honey. The ginger is finely minced and simmered in water for about 40 minutes. The liquid is then strained, combined with a squeeze or two of lemon juice and sweetened to taste.
There’s nothing like the power of honey, ginger, and lemon to soothe your body and your soul. Raw ginger contains active ingredients including gingerol, shogaol, and paradol that have been shown to have antiinflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
If you hadn’t heard the term Golden Milk until you read this, you will be surprised at how often it pops up now. The drink is called haldi doodh in India and it’s made like this: half a cup or less of piping hot milk, with a tablespoon of ground turmeric dissolved into it until the entire mixture is a bright yellow.
Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice commonly used in curries and sauces. It comes from the turmeric root. It’s been used for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years due to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties of its chief component: curcumin.
Curcumin needs help for bloodstream absorbtion
Milk is just the medium for the turmeric; blending it into hot tea, honey, or, in a pinch, even hot water to dissolve the turmeric are all common variants. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. It helps to consume black pepper with it, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%.
Curcumin is also fat soluble, so if you opt to use a liquid other than dairy it might be good to take it with something fatty on the side. In fact, some golden milk recipes add coconut oil to the concoction.
Powdered v. fresh
While powdered turmeric has been used for ages, fresh turmeric root recently emerged as the darling of the health food world. Peeled, sliced, grated, many golden milk recipes call for the fresh item; it gets high marks for taste.
Tests have not shown a difference in the health benefits of either fresh or powdered, but the amount is important to get a beneficial amount of curcumin. If you decide to go fresh, use this formula: 1-inch fresh turmeric = 1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric = 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, the recommended amount per serving.
The Guardian declared golden milk—the frothy, creamy, Westernized variant of haldi doodh—”the drink of 2016.” The Epicurious version, Golden Milk Turmeric Tea, is unapologetically westernized by the addition of ginger and cinnamon, but still delivers the goods when it comes to soothing and healing. And it includes both coconut oil and black pepper to boost the effectiveness of the curcumin.
Get the recipe for Golden Milk Turmeric Tea at epicurious.com.
Even though this turmeric latte appears to be Golden Milk with the word latte worked into the name, it’s got the added punch of Chinese spices. For the freshest flavor use fresh turmeric and ginger to make this drink—both are often stocked at Whole Foods or Asian and Indian grocers. Float a star anise on top for an exotic presentation.
What’s wrong with over-the-counter-cough suppressants? Lots! For one thing, according to a new video from the American Chemical Society’s Reactions series, “There is very little evidence that cough syrup is effective at treating your cough.” Scientists reached this conclusion after they analyzed all the available evidence, including systematic reviews that pulled data from multiple scientific studies.
In fact, in one review of 19 studies, 15 showed either no benefit of OTC cough meds, or conflicting results. So it won’t hurt to get back to the tried and true remedies that have worked for centuries, like this recipe, rich in ginger, turmeric, and garlic. (Garlic has long been touted as a potent flu and cold buster.) Be careful not to boil this tea—you’ll get a cleaner flavor and keep nutrients intact.
Cleansing is important when you have a flu or cold. The idea is to get toxins out of your body—and the more you eliminate, the better off you’ll be at fighting your illness.
Try this cleansing tea, rich in cilantro (coriander) and Manuka honey. In addition to a whole host of benefits like controlling blood sugar and protecting against cardiovascular disease, cilantro benefits your sleep cycle naturally and calms nerves, and can improve sleep quality through its natural sedative effects.
A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that high levels of cilantro extract produce the same levels of anti-anxiety effects as the popular prescription drug, Valium (diazepam).
Manuka honey, found only in New Zealand, is expensive but has impressive credentials. Did you know that in 2007, Manuka honey was approved by the FDA as an option for wound treatment? In addition, its antiviral and antibacterial properties can reduce inflammation and attack the bacteria that cause pain.
Manuka honey has multiple benefits, but can be pricey
The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). which comes from the conversion of another compound, dihydroxyacetone, that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.
Not only does Manuka honey attack harmful bacteria, it also coats the inner lining of the throat for a soothing effect. A recent study in patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer observed the effects of consuming Manuka honey on Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria responsible for sore throats. They found a significant decrease in Streptococcus mutans after the test subjects consumed Manuka honey.
Manuka’s nutrients are lost when ingredients boil, so add the honey when the brew has cooled somewhat. And if you can’t find or afford Manuka, use raw honey.
You might be surprised to see something as delicious and indulgent as hot cocoa included with all the ginger, turmeric and garlic drinks. But did you know that cocoa contains theobromine, a naturally occurring compound found in cacao plants and tea leaves, which can help fight off influenza virus infection and mitigate symptoms of cold and flu?
Doctors at the British National Health Service discovered that the cocoa in chocolate might help cure a persistent cough and was found to be more effective than the best cough medicine. Also, chocolate is one of the top antioxidant foods. And it releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. But the benefits don’t stop there. In fact, after water, cocoa may be one of the healthiest substances you can put in your body.
Cacao is rich in nutrients and antioxidents
Theobromine, a molecule found in large concentrations in cocoa, has been useful in treating respiratory tract problems such as cough for which no definitive drug has been developed, according to the NIH.
Of course, not all chocolate is equal. You should stick to dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao is best) and pure cacao or cocoa powders (without added sugar). And aim to find organic and fair-trade chocolate, so you aren’t contributing to unethical labor conditions.
Cacao is the purest, raw form of chocolate you can consume. It has the highest levels of nutrients and antioxidants. Many cultures have used it throughout history for health purposes.
On the other hand, cocoa, while still a healthy choice, is processed using high temperatures. Chocolate is less stimulating than many teas, like green tea, so you may be able to enjoy it later in the day or even before bed. To limit congestion, however, skip the dairy and opt for a plant-based milk or plain hot water.
Healthy Hot Cocoa
This recipe uses natural, not Dutch-processed, cocoa powder.
• ¾ cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk
• ¼ cup water
• 2 t. organic honey
• ½ t. pure vanilla extract
• ¼ t. ground cinnamon
• 1 heaping T. unsweetened non-alkalized cocoa powder
Warm coconut milk and water in a saucepan over low-medium heat, or in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes until hot but not boiling. Add honey, vanilla, spices, and cocoa powder. Whisk or stir until cocoa dissolves.
Makes 1 serving.
Healthy Hot Chocolate
A healthy drink can be made with dark chocolate squares in place of cocoa powder. And since chocolate already is sweetened you can skip adding more.
• 1 or 2 small squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or greater)
• 2 T. water, heated
• ¾ C. coconut or almond milk + 2 T. water
• ½ t. vanilla extract
• ¼ t. cinnamon
Place squares of dark chocolate in the bottom of a mug. Add two tablespoons of very hot, but not boiling water, and stir until the chocolate is dissolved. Warm coconut milk and two tablespoons water in a pan or in the microwave. Add to chocolate mixture with vanilla extract and cinnamon. Whisk to combine.
Makes 1 serving.
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