What to Eat When You Have a Cold

By Layla Majnoon - Nov 21, 2019 12:02:00 PM

Freezing young woman wrapped in blankets

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cold is a condition which can either invade the body from outside, or develop internally as a result of a bad diet and unhealthy lifestyle. Inside the body, cold causes symptoms such as:

  • Chilliness and dislike of cold
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Lack of thirst, or only thirst for warm drinks
  • Copious, clear urination
  • Loose stools

Other symptoms may also occur depending on which specific organs are being affected by cold.

It is possible to drive out cold using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and special techniques such as moxibustion (burning an herb called moxa on or close to the acupuncture points). However, one of the simplest ways to disperse cold and warm your body is by eating the right foods and preparing them in the right way.

Dietary Therapy for Cold

Dietary therapy is a great way to improve your health by taking small actions every day. If you are suffering from the symptoms of cold, you should eat more foods that are warming in nature. Some of the foods you should try to incorporate into your diet include:


  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions
  • Scallions
  • Squashes e.g. acorn, butternut
  • Turnips


  • Cherries
  • Dates
  • Lychees
  • Peaches


  • Chestnuts
  • Pine kernels
  • Walnuts


  • Sorghum
  • Sweet rice

Fish and Seafood:

  • Anchovies
  • Mussels
  • Shrimp
  • Trout

Animal Products:

  • Butter
  • Chicken
  • Goat
  • Goat’s milk
  • Kidneys
  • Lamb
  • Mutton

Herbs and Spices:

  • Basil
  • Bay
  • Black pepper
  • Cardamom
  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Coriander seed
  • Dill seed
  • Fennel seed
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mustard seed
  • Nutmeg
  • Rosemary


  • Brown sugar
  • Capers
  • Malt sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Wine

As well as choosing more warming foods, you should use cooking methods which enhance the heating properties of your food. These methods include roasting, baking, broiling, and grilling, all techniques which reduce the moisture content of food and make it warmer and more yang.

You should avoid eating cold and raw foods, or drinking cold or iced drinks. These will only create symptoms of cold in the digestive organs such as diarrhea or vomiting.

The exact foods that you choose will also depend on which organs are being affected by cold, and whether the condition is chronic or acute.

If you have had your symptoms for a long time, it is likely that you have a chronic condition, probably due to a weakness in one or more of your organs. If this is the case, you should eat more foods which are warming and sweet. Sweet foods nourish the organs and help them to function more efficiently. Some good examples include squashes, turnips, and dates.

garlic, ginger and onions

Dietary Therapy for Coughs and Colds

If you have symptoms which came on suddenly are and quite severe, you probably have an acute condition. The most common cause of acute cold symptoms is what we call a common cold in the west.

In TCM, this is seen as an excess of cold combining with wind and attacking the body. Everyone will have experienced this at some point, with the familiar symptoms of sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose.

The best way to drive out a cold through diet is by using more foods which are warming and pungent. Pungent foods have a strong flavor and a dispersing effect within the body. Some good examples of warming, pungent foods include onions, garlic, and ginger.

Ginger Tea Recipe

In China, if you catch a cold, it is traditional to drink ginger tea as soon as possible after the symptoms start. This tea is brewed quite strongly and is intended to make you sweat, allowing the coldness to be forced out through your pores. It is a great recipe to have at your fingertips, especially throughout the cold autumn and winter months. If you are feeling under the weather, why not give it a try?


  • One large piece of fresh ginger
  • Brown sugar to taste


  • Slice the ginger up finely. You can use up to 10g of ginger each time and the idea is to make the tea as strong as you can handle it. If you like ginger, use the full amount, otherwise use a little less.
  • Place the ginger in a pan and add 300ml of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Strain the liquid into a cup and add brown sugar to taste.
  • Drink the tea while it is still hot to induce mild sweating.
  • Drink up to three cups a day until your cold is gone.



City Acupuncture and Kamwo Herbs

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