a person wrapped in a blanket eating chicken soup

4 Ways To Enjoy Food When You Have A Cold

If you’re battling a nasty head cold that makes you feel tired, weak and just plain foggy in the head, you’re probably also not in the mood to eat much. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that foods taste bland and unappetizing. And when things don’t taste good, your brain isn’t that incentivized to eat. 

The reason for the loss of appetite is largely due to the fact that when you have a cold your sense of smell is diminished. The build-up of mucus causes inflammation in the nasal cavity which, in turn, obstructs the normal functioning of your sense of smell. 

You see, your sense of taste and smell work hand in hand to give you the pleasure of eating foods. While your sense of taste provides the 5 basic tastes of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, it’s your sense of smell that adds flavor - the experience of food.

When we drink and eat foods, we’re experiencing them two ways - through the mouth and through the nose. In both cases the aroma molecules from the food and drink enter the olfactory system and send information to the brain. 

However, when you have a cold, mucus blocks this passage to the nasal cavity and in the absence of odor information, your brain can’t give you information about flavor, so everything tastes bland.

Or seen another way, when you have a cold, you temporarily lose your sense of smell and are left with only the five basic tastes - sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.

Not very exciting is it?

 

DO I NEED TO FEED A COLD AND STARVE A FEVER?

According to Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, there’s actually not that much scientific data supporting the old saying “feed a cold, starve a fever”. You should simply listen to your body and decide what, if anything, it’s craving. 

He states that your immune system does need nutrients, so if you’re able to eat (and you feel like eating) you should get some calories in your body.

So, as you can imagine, eating nutritious food is vitally important when you have a cold. 

 

TAPPING INTO OTHER SENSATIONS

When you eat something, you’re actually experiencing sensations beyond taste and smell. You’re also experiencing texture and temperature. That’s because receptors for texture and temperature are in the oral cavity; therefore, you can still tell whether what you’re eating is coarse or smooth, hot or cold. These sensations can help offset the lack of flavor in eating while having a cold. 

With that in mind...

 

Here are 4 ways to enjoy food when you have a cold:

 

1. SPICE IT UP

Spicy foods are known to give a sensation in the nose and send pain signals to the trigeminal nerve in the brain. So, in the absence of being able to smell your food, adding spices can bring dimension to your eating experience. 

Take, for example, the Capsaicin family, which includes jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, and other chili peppers. Not only are they spicy, but they’re known to provide short-term decongestant effects that may be beneficial for a stuffy nose and other symptoms of head congestion. They may also act as an expectorant and make it easier to expel phlegm in the lungs

So, add a dash of spice to your next meal to make it more appealing. Just remember, less is more. A little can go a long way. 

 

2. ADD SOME CRUNCH

Many studies have shown that people love the sound of crunchy food when they eat. In turn, they prefer the taste of these foods to soggy or smooth foods. If you talk to a person with anosmia who can’t smell, they’ll tell you they’re drawn to foods with texture, with crunch. 

What’s also interesting is the research conducted by gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology, Dr. Charles Spencer. He discovered that people believe noisy foods correlate with freshness, and the fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it retains. 

So, add a little crunch to your food - maybe some croutons in your soup or nuts to your salad. You’ll enjoy the experience of the food more with the added texture you experience in the mouth.

 

3. RAISE THE TEMPERATURE

According to researchers, the reaction of receptors in our taste buds is much more intense when the temperature of the food or drink is increased, sending a stronger electrical signal to the brain and resulting in an enhanced taste. 

Drinking something hot, like tea, is a good way to stay hydrated when you have a cold. And, because of the steam/vapors it emits, it can act as a natural decongestant, helping clear the sinuses of mucus. Consider drinking chamomile tea, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, or peppermint tea, known for its antimicrobial properties. 

 

4. MAKE IT COLORFUL

Our sense of taste is often fooled by our sense of sight. That’s because humans have certain expectations of how food should taste based on how it looks. Because we look at our food before eating, our eyes send signals to our brain well before our taste buds get the chance. This can predetermine how we will perceive the taste and flavor of what we're about to eat.

Colorful food can influence our brain to create an expectation that specific colors will taste a certain way. For example, the more vibrantly colored a food is, the more intense we expect its flavor to be.

So, think about the types of foods you put on your plate. Consider eating brightly colored foods like oranges or spinach. Generally speaking, the more colorful the food, the more nutrient dense it is. Your immune system will thank you. 

Get better soon and bon appetit!

 

One last thing…

As your cold subsides and your sense of smell is restored, learn 3 ways to boost your sense of smell so it can add dimension to your life again.

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