What to Feed That Flu

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With the temperature climbing steadily toward the hellish heat of Houston summer, I could've sworn I'd escaped the flu season unscathed. If only I was so lucky. I got sick, making it hard to taste anything. And as someone who loves food, this was especially unfortunate. I knew I had to conquer this flu, and I had to do it fast.

Every time we're sick, we follow the same routine: cold compress on the forehead, lots of pills and syrups, endless television, ginger ale, and chicken noodle soup. The cold compress reduces core temperature, the medicine manages the symptoms, and the TV gives us something mindless to occupy our time. But why ginger ale and chicken noodle soup? Why are they universal antidotes for the flu? Even in my feverish state (or maybe because of it), I pondered this, and when I finally mustered up the energy, I dragged myself to the computer to do a little research.

Aside from ginger ale obviously countering dehydration which happens during illness, the carbonation helps soothe upset stomachs, and the ginger is medically proven to combat nausea. The trick is to drink it slightly warmer and slightly flatter than you normally would -- try pouring it out in a glass and letting it sit at room temperature for about ten minutes before drinking. Too cold or too carbonated, and it may exacerbate the stomach pangs.

I'm no ginger ale connoisseur, but I like Vernors. The oldest surviving ginger ale in the nation, it was invented in 1866 by James Vernor, a pharmacist from Detroit. Vernors has more ginger flavor than the more common Canada Dry version, and it's considered a "golden ginger ale"--similar to ginger beer, which, before Prohibition, was flavored and colored by caramel. After Prohibition, though, the "dry" (thus, Canada Dry) pale ale was popularized as a mixer for cocktails.

Chicken noodle soup is another food tied to cold and flu. The steam helps with congestion, and the hot broth, with its anti-inflammatory properties, comforts the sore throat and helps stop the movement of white blood cells, which trigger mucus accumulation in the respiratory system. Chicken noodle soup is easy to digest and very nutritious; the chicken is the protein for the body to heal, the vegetables pack on the vitamins to restore health, and the noodles are carbohydrates that provide energy. Of course, homemade chicken noodle soup is the best kind, but if you feel like you're near death as the flu often makes us feel, perhaps you should stock up on the Campbell or Knorr variety next flu season. (Knorr was actually found to be the best brand to fight the sniffles, according to researchers at Nebraska's Medical Center.)

The chicken noodle soup you eat doesn't have to be the typical American kind. In fact, my Vietnamese mother would always cook chicken congee, a rice porridge consisting of shredded chicken, onion, scallion, ginger, and fish sauce. Now when I feel an ailment coming on, I'll cook a pot of chicken congee to eat throughout the day. Or if the flu hits me too quickly, and I have no time or energy to cook anything, I'll just whip out the can opener and some chunky chicken noodle soup. Bring it to a boil on the stove, and I'm eating within minutes, thankful to have an appetite.

According to the CDC, the U.S. influenza season begins in October and lasts through April. Occasionally, there are the straggling viruses that linger until May. With only a few weeks left, hopefully you won't get the flu. But if you do, you can rely on the good ol' remedies of ginger ale and chicken noodle soup.

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