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Flu fighters

Caught in the grip of aches and pains? Your kitchen can be your pharmacy, providing some tasty, and medically effective, ways to sip and nibble your way back to good health.

Your nose is stuffy, your head is throbbing, it hurts when you cough, and you wish that 2-ton elephant would go find someone else's chest to sit on. It's time to bring out the flu fighters.

"Sipping chicken soup spiced with chili powder, garlic and onion is the best cold remedy there is," says Dr. Irwin Ziment, professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. Those foods' phytochemicals, which are natural chemical compounds that act as antioxidants, help relieve cold and flu symptoms.

For example, the capsaicin in chili peppers breaks up nasal congestion, and turmeric, an ingredient in curry powder, contains curcumin, which helps relieve chest congestion. Other phytochemically rich foods include horseradish, gingerroot, curry, citrus fruits, coffee and teas.

So go ahead, feed your cold and starve the elephant.

chicken soup

What it does: Relieves stuffy nose.

How it works: The aromatic moisture helps break up congestion and helps expectorate mucus. Hot liquids also help the body replace fluids and soothe sore throats. Chicken soup also contains cysteine, an amino acid that is chemically similar to a drug prescribed for bronchitis.

Enhancing the benefits: Depending on the ingredients you use, the soup likely will be full of vitamins and minerals. Garlic, cayenne pepper or curry powder will add the effects of decongestants.

chili peppers

What they do: help relieve bronchial and sinus congestion.

How they work: Capsaicin, a phytochemical that gives peppers their zip, stimulates the mucus glands in the lungs and nose, breaking up phlegm. The hotter the pepper, the better its decongestant powers.

Enhancing the benefits: A bowl of chili loaded with chilies, green and red bell peppers will help drain the sinuses, which in turn will help you be able to taste again.

Not up to a bowl of chili? Chinese, Thai or Indian hot-and-sour soup will help clear your nasal passages and soothe your throat.

citrus fruits

What they do: pump back lost fluids depleted from fever and diarrhea.

How they work: Rich in vitamin C, citrus fruits help reduce the severity of colds. A 1979 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found volunteers who drank one glass of orange juice containing 80 milligrams of vitamin C a day had 14 to 21 percent fewer cold symptoms than those who did not drink the OJ.

Enhancing the benefits: Drink at least 8 ounces of orange juice, grapefruit juice or tangerine juice once a day during the cold and flu season. More is better with vitamin C.

Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, the body quickly uses it up, so feel free to replenish with more juice or, better yet, a fresh piece of citrus fruit that will also add fiber to your diet.

A note on grapefruit, however. It contains a phytochemical that can alter the effect of some medications, including cold medicine. Make sure to talk to the pharmacist or doctor about the possible ramifications of grapefruit if you're on medication.