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Best Food for the Common Cold

It is well known that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to significant impairment of immune function and an increased susceptibility to infection that can be reversed by supplementation in deficient individuals. “However, it is unclear to what extent supplementation may aid in maintaining an optimal balance within the immune system in adequately nourished individuals.” As I discuss in my video, Kiwifruit for the Common Cold, researchers in New Zealand tried supplementing with whole kiwifruit. In a petri dish, gold kiwifruit puree appeared to boost natural killer cell activity in human blood and also boost the response to the tetanus vaccine. But, does the same thing that happens in a petri dish happen in people? In another study, researchers found that two immune-related sets of genes were upregulated by eating three kiwifruit a day. But, does that translate into actually helping us fight off infection? We didn’t know the answer until recently.

Researchers in New Zealand found that the consumption of gold kiwifruit reduces the severity and duration of certain upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. Why study gold kiwifruits? The study was funded by the company that owns the patent to gold kiwifruits.

In the study, a few dozen elderly individuals were randomized into one or two groups, eating either two bananas a day or four kiwifruit a day for a month, and then switching. The next month, the banana group ate kiwis, and the kiwi group ate bananas. The rationale for providing banana as the “placebo” was to provide an alternative fruit that had relatively similar calories, but lower nutritional value.

The study’s purpose was to determine whether regular consumption of gold kiwifruit reduces the incidence, duration, and severity of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, like the common cold, in comparison to bananas. They found no reduction in overall incidence, but those who did get sick during the kiwifruit phase had significantly reduced severity and duration of head congestion, as well as a reduced duration of sore throat. And not just by a little. The sick banana eaters suffered for five days with a sore throat and congestion, compared to the kiwifruit eaters, who felt better after just a day or two. That’s significant.

The reason the researchers studied older individuals is that they tend to be more susceptible to respiratory infections. Small children are another at-risk group, averaging twice as many upper respiratory tract infections as adults, four to six per year. So, in another study, 66 preschoolers were randomized into the same two groups, kiwifruit versus bananas. In the kiwi group, not only were there again significant improvements in the symptoms of those who got sick, fewer got sick in the first place—45% lower odds of a cold or flu-like illness, which means that the children eating kiwis had almost a 50% reduction in the chance of having a cold or flu.

This suggests that kiwifruit consumption may be a “daily prescription for health”; though about 1 in 150 children report being allergic to kiwifruit, which ranks them number three after milk and eggs, and above peanuts, in a survey of 3,500 kids, of the most common food allergies. So, kiwis are not for everybody.

The upside of the financial conflict of interest is that it offers a rare source of funding for fruit and vegetable research. For more on kiwis, see Kiwifruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Kiwifruit and DNA Repair, and Kiwifruit for Insomnia.

What else can we do to lower our risk of pesky respiratory infections? Check out Can Gargling Prevent the Common Cold?, Preventing the Common Cold with Probiotics?, Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold, and Using the Produce Aisle to Boost Immune Function.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:



Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

78 responses to “Best Food for the Common Cold

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  1. I have a question about the book “how to die” . Would eating the same foods and including those same foods on a daily basis , eventually cause one to become more allergic to those foods ?

    1. It’s better to eat a variety, since various veggies, beans, grains, and fruits all have differences. Spinach, for instance, is high in oxalic acid, which cuts way down on how much of the calcium you absorb from it, so it’s a good idea to vary your greens rather than depending on spinach all the time. Greens like kale and collards don’t have this problem, so it’s good to include them often.

      There are unlimited variations on this theme, and nutrients we don’t yet understand the value of in most of them, so eating a wide variety gives us a better chance of covering all our nutritional bases, even for things we don’t yet know we benefit from eating.

      1. There’s some evidence that too much raw kale has an adverse effect on thyroid function, so it’s probably best to ignore the fad for daily raw kale smoothies.

        1. Yes, Dr. Blaylock in his information on blenderizing drinks that is what kale, broccoli and a couple other veggies do. Kale is great to lightly steam, then use in a green drink or smoothie. that will negate the negative effects. We drink blenderized greens and cabbage each morning and we have benefited with no flu or colds each year.

      2. I eat raw spinach everyday and don’t have any problems with it. I think it is important to eat it fresh as you can, straight from you organic garden is best.

    2. Immunotherapy where you slowly become nonreactive to allergens or not allergic is basically just a healthcare provider slowly exposing you to higher and higher concentrations of allergen so…. yes. If you start at super low amounts of kiwi fruit (like soak a kiwi in water, then dilute the water) and slowly increase the concentration over a course of months then you COULD become less allergic to it.

      I would recommend NOT doing this if you have serious reactions to kiwi like swelling, hives, trouble breathing, anything along those lines.

      1. New Zealand kiwi is available here for only a limited time
        I wonder how kiwi grown in California or Italy would compare although I have seen those as only green kiwi

  2. Too bad they’re a dollar each! Think I will stick to oranges, apples, berries, etc. things that grow abundantly nearish to where I live.

      1. Fruit trees and bushes are dormant in the MW in winter…ah…the wonder of fossil fuel transportation. Canned fruit is not that healthy. Frozen is best?

  3. Having a plant based diet severely decreases your chances for getting a cold and other common illnesses. I truly believe eating animal protein causes one to get sick more often. These animals carry many viruses and is why people who eat a high protein animal diet get sick often. Just my theory! I’m also living proof. While everyone around me is getting sick I haven’t had a single cold or flu all winter. Lots of stomach viruses too. Sticking to veggies!!

    1. I agree, certainly anecdotally. Since I’ve been WFPB (a little more than 10 years after having been a vegetarian) I get colds and flu far less often. But I do still get the occasional whopper, so info. such as that presented in this piece is still potentially useful.

  4. Why is it a financial conflict of interest when a food study is funded but rarely highlighted when a pharma company funds it? So, most every drug prescribed is approved using “conflict of interest” funded studies.

    Big pharma has great PR!

  5. I have kiwi vines and eat about 10 a day during winter when they ripen. Did not prevent me from the cold/flu season last year but at least they are soothing for a sore throat.

    1. Kiwi Gold is a patented variety out of New Zealand. I’ve eaten them and they are delicious.
      Problem (for me) is the stores that offered them a couple of years ago have not carried them since.

    2. How did you manage so many?!

      Back in my traveling youth, spent a winter picking packing and tying down vines. Ate as many as we wanted. That’s when us workers compared how many we could handle daily before the inevitable runs.
      3 daily was the undisputed max for hardiest constitution. Mine was 2.

  6. I understand why Big Kiwi does this kind of research. And it was impressive to see that they conducted, successively, the three different types of study: puree in a petri dish, eating the whole food and examining immunity markers, and eating the whole food and assessing the incidence/severity/duration of infections. But there is no context. Is there something special about gold kiwi versus other nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables? Does focusing on an individual food deflect from the more valuable focus on dietary patterns?

  7. For those unfortunate souls like myself who are allergic to kiwi, I’ve found I can tolerate the small, fuzzless arctic kiwi (aka kiwiberries) without having an allergic reaction. And they can be grown in colder climates, although the vines take several years to produce.

  8. Kiwi’s are high in vitamin C which increases a persons’s immune system. I am not familiar with “gold” kiwis. Also I have read articles that kiwis are good to eat at night to help with insomnia. I am a proponent of high doses of vitamin C and avoid colds and flu without taking flu shots which are harmful.

    1. Actually, what is really harmful is getting the flu. Between 10000 and 50000 Americans die from the flu each year. If one is making a rational Choice, a flu shot wins over no vaccination every time.

      1. I always had a reaction after getting a flu shot plus it never seemed to prevent what was going around anyway. What’s the point of taking a shot only to have a sore arm and a reaction as bad as the flu, then get another flu anyway? You enjoy, I’ll pass on the crap-shoot. Also, the flu mortality stats are a gross misrepresentation when they are lumped with deaths from pneumonia. I know quite a few people who died from pneumonia unrelated to a flu, but the only person I know of who died from the flu was my grandfather, during the 1918 pandemic. However, my neighbor suffered a supposedly rare side effect a few years ago after a flu shot, guillain-barre syndrome. Despite all the assurances that side effects are “rare”, that hasn’t been my experience, and I know plenty of people who pass because of them. Personally, the aggressive marketing propaganda and scare tactics just make me suspicious in themselves. The pharmaceutical mafia is way too pushy about a product with no actual proof of effectiveness, just guesstimates, but huge profits. You can’t go a block without being “reminded” to get your flu shot! It’s especially disconcerting in regards to pregnant women and small children, when the product insert states it has never been tested. Injecting invasive foreign substances into the body is not the way our immune system evolved to ward off threats anyway. I’m not against vaccination, I just want concrete evidence that the benefits outweigh the risk.

        1. Most, if not all, flu vaccines are from a dead virus so you simply cannot get anything other than a sore arm and I would much rather get that than the real flu which is far, far worse and can land you in the hospital. Maybe you never had the kind of flu that is going around now and if you did you would see what I mean!

          1. My husband’s supervisor got Guilliame Barre syndrome several years ago, and all the doctors at Johns Hopkins told him it was likely the flu shot he had had was likely at least part of the reason.

            1. You say “several years ago”. Was that when it was a live virus used in the shot? Also, this is just what someone told you. Not very well documented as being accurate.

          2. Most, if not all, flu vaccines are from a dead virus so you simply cannot get anything other than a sore arm …

            That is uninformed nonsense. Flu vaccines have so little dead virus in them they need an external way to induce the immune system to respond and make antibodies. An adjuvant, such as aluminum. Unfortunately these adjuvants are non-specific. They don’t know how to tell the immune system to only target the virus in the vaccine. So they are known to also target some of the body’s other cells. Causing nasty things like Type 1 Diabetes, arthritis and a host of other autoimmune diseases. Diseases that are on the rise.
            Aluminum is poisonous. Especially when injected directly into the system.
            This is just one facet of vaccines that should cause grave concern.
            Flu shots are unnecessary for most people and seldom effective.
            Just say no.

        1. Flu shots can injure, maim and sometimes worse.

          Some still contain thimerosal, a highly toxic brain-destroying poison.

          Thimerosal contains mercury, one of the most toxic substances known to man.

          The vaccines would cost a few pennies more without the thimerosal preservative. It’s all about the money. Your brain and your life apparently don’t count for much according to the drug industry.

          Vaccines are very big money.

    1. In Wrench book called Wheel of Health he states .
      ” If a man wishes to regain his pristine health and bodily vigor he has to abandon reliance on his instinct and save himself by knowledge . ”
      So instinct tells me not to eat the peel of a kiwi , but knowledge say’s there is even more vitamin and fiber in the peel than anywhere else according to Livestrong .

      1. Buster, I also avoid the skin of a lot of fruits unless they are organic due to pesticide sprays. Non-organic apple peel gives me serious indigestion and heart burn, this is most likely due to the wax polish they use on them. My mother who drinks and smokes once tried to chide me for peeling my apples, she did not believe me about the wax. To be honest I have never seen her eat a piece of fruit unless it was an ingredient in a cake.

    1. Raw garlic crushed (leave for a few minutes for the magic to develop) and swallowed with a little water .. a real wonder treatment from the plant kingdom. Brilliant for stomach upsets too… and fungal infections…..

  9. I did not find the kiwifruit study compelling. Anytime an industry group sponsors a study we should be skeptical. They may have performed other studies that were not so positive and just did not publish them. with 20 studies or so you can easily get a significant result if you hide the other ones. I have seen this type of bad science practiced man times and thus remain skeptical until either a study by unbiased researchers (at least not funded by big kiwi) confirm this.

    1. I agree, Jay Junk, it is a little bit fishy when a company does research on its own product and comes out successful. In any case, I cannot find these kiwis anywhere near me in Georgia.

  10. I found the majority of colds were brought on after a serious confrontation with a loved one that tightened the neck muscles and reduced the competence of the immune system in the throat. Fight today… soar throat tomorrow. I found the best remedy for colds was gargling with pure Echinacea on day one of symptoms. This often stopped the cold in its tracks. I tried zinc glutamate lozenges and found they reduced the average number of days of symptoms but couldn’t do what the Echinacea did.

    1. We’ve always found elderberry remedies like sambucol or even home brewed elderberry syrup to be especially helpful against flu and colds.

  11. Wait: As one friend pointed out, this is a study that involved financial conflict of interest. Why do we think that the study was not skewed in favor of eating kiwifruits? Can someone please tell me that? “Why study gold kiwifruits? The study was funded by the company that owns the patent to gold kiwifruits.” Dr. Greger adds: “The upside of the financial conflict of interest is that it offers a rare source of funding for fruit and vegetable research. For more on kiwis, see:” Well, how reliable are the findings going to be? Isn’t this a major concern? How down is the “downside”? Why can we trust this study as being reliable?

  12. By far the best thing to consume is wild blueberries like wymanns if you can get them.. Good size bowls several times a day and you heal very fast as I have done and seen with my family from experience..

  13. I eat kiwi everyday because I like it and because kiwi has a lot of seeds (= life), I have the impression that it is good. Nevertheless, I question the status that kiwi is a superfood. Why no one questions that this is not a conflict of interest. i.e. kiwi research is done by the kiwi association? Of course if this is coconut or a health doctor selling supplements then everybody will jump up and down. What a double standard.

    If you talk about vitamin C to protect from cold then citrus fruits have more. If you talk about strengthening the immune system then mushroom is the star.

  14. Thanks for your question. Thy are both rich in vitamins, folate vitamin E, vitamin K and fiber. The green ones can be left to ripen at room temperature for a week or so. As a fruit ripens its sugar content and also antioxidant effect of it increase. So the Golden Kiwi might have higher vitamin C by a few mg. Enjoy the Green ones that you get. I hope that is helpful to you.

    1. That is the first time I ever heard that! I had no idea.

      As a fruit ripens its sugar content and also antioxidant effect of it increase.

  15. What was the diet of the participates in the study? I think if you eat enough fruit and veg everyday you have a much better chance of feeding your immune system. I have not had even a cold let alone flu for many years, and I don’t even eat garlic. Bowl of fruit every morning. Big salad for lunch.

  16. I haven’t had a cold, common or otherwise, in many years. Along with healthy diet, which of my daily activities could I “blame” for this, I wonder.

    1. I think it depends. When I was growing up, all the way to my late teens, I was terribly sick with flu-like illnesses and extremely heavy colds. Often, I had to be in bed for days at a time. I think that you can develop some immunity, even if the new virus going around is a mutation of what you had. I speak only as someone who has read this and am quite willing to be corrected if I am mistaken.

  17. I have been advised to avoid foods high in oxalic acid due to kidney stones. Should I be avoiding spinach also should I be avoiding any other vegetables?

  18. Boy, Gold kiwifruit may have an April – October growing season in New Zealand, but I go years without seeing them and when I do, it’s for about two weeks in June usually. And I don’t believe that Italian gold kiwifruit can be the same kind, because it is NOTHING like as good. And why doesn’t China export kiwi if they are native to China?

  19. I would like to share my experience here which I hope many would find useful.
    If I feel that I have been exposed to somebody with a flue or cold at some gathering, I, after coming home that evening, just do what is called a Jal-Neti. Jal-Neti is running a mild table-salt solution through the nose, with the help of a special Jal-neti pot, in from one nostril out through the another, discarding it into the sink. Hold the head tilted to the side to help the solution run through the nose. And, also, run this solution down the nostril into the throat, spitting it out into the sink. I feel it works very well, and strongly recommend it. Of course, it takes a little practice to do it right. So, please learn the method from somebody knowledgeable. Doing Jal-Neti gives you instant relief when you have cold and your nose and throat feel congested.

    1. Pradeep – the common cold is a virus. Salt water cannot kill a virus.

      That said, for mild congestion, salt water is helpful. But not for a genuine cold.

  20. Golden kiwi can be found this time of year at the wholesale store Costco. I am not sure if they are organic or not but they are relatively inexpensive compared to other places to get them. The Costco’s that I have seen them out have been in the upper Midwest.

  21. What this study shows us is that a vitamin C-rich fruit is superior to a vitamin C-poor fruit on immune system function. I suspect we would see similar results with peppers, strawberries, and many other vitamin C-rich foods if compared to bananas.

  22. Very recently a friend suggested soursop as a “super food” full of antioxidants.

    However, a quick look on Wikipedia suggested that, “consumption of the neotropical annonaceous plant Annona muricata (soursop, graviola, guanabana) has been strongly associated as a causal agent in “atypical Parkinsonism”.

    This sounds quite scary! Is there any research to support this claim? Should we avoid this fruit?

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