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Stick with diet even with the flu

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Summer's gone, autumn's here and the leaves are changing. And that means the cold and flu season is upon us. As I write this, I have a scratchy throat, a stuffed nose and a tight chest. Now seems like the right time to fill you in on low-carb cold care. Yes, there is such a thing as low-carb cold care, but let me warn you about a few potential pitfalls.

When you're feeling under the weather, please don't decide: "I'm sick. I deserve pampering. I may as well go off my diet." Nutritionists from Dr. Atkins to "Fat Flush Plan" creator Ann Louise Gittleman have long insisted that eating sugar will weaken your immune system, and a 1995 study showed that the activity of immune system cells called leukocytes decreases significantly when blood sugar levels rise.

If there's any chance that eating a lot of carbs will keep you sick longer, you don't want to do it!

Just as important, if you've been low-carb for even a few weeks, you've probably noticed a dramatic increase in energy. Do you really want to give yourself one of those energy-sapping blood sugar crashes that come after the blood sugar rush? Talk about feeling wretched.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for your low-carb cold care:

Juice is not your friend; it's a great way to take in tons of sugar without any of the fiber that would buffer its absorption if you were to eat the fruit. However, Hood has now added low-carb juice drinks to their nationally distributed Carb Countdown line. Available in Orange, Orange-Pineapple, Pineapple-Orange-Banana, Ruby Red Grapefruit and Lemonade, the Hood juice products all have 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C per 8 ounce serving with 5 grams of carb. Instead of fruit or juice, you may want to take vitamin C in pills.

Hot beverages soothe a scratchy throat and loosen chest congestion. Tea is the obvious choice. If you usually put honey in your tea, be aware that just one teaspoon has 5.7 grams of carbohydrates, all of them sugar. There are a couple of brands of sugar-free imitation honey on the market: Steele's and HoneyTree. These are remarkably good and available through online retailers and low-carb specialty stores. I've also been drinking Sipper Sweets brand sugar-free raspberry lemonade mix, made hot. This is very easy to make (just heat water and stir in a little mix) and has just 1 gram of carb per serving. Sipper Sweets also makes an apple cider mix.

Beware of cold medicines! Cough syrups and liquids like NyQuil have a lot of sugar. If you like NyQuil and/or Dayquil, buy the medicine in gel cap form.

Also, opt for sugar-free cough drops, including the sort with menthol and eucalyptus that help open up a stuffy nose. Your best bet for these is a pharmacy more than a grocery or discount store.

Chicken soup is standard for colds, but most packaged chicken soups have noodles or rice in them. If nothing else will do, it's good to know that Campbell's Chicken Noodle has 8 grams of carb per serving -- not great, but not terrible. Chicken Rice has 7 grams of carb. If there's a local Chinese restaurant that delivers, consider sending out for egg drop or hot and sour soup. Though recipes vary, both tend to be low in carbohydrates and higher in protein than canned chicken noodle.

Hot and sour soup, my cold-care favorite, has the added advantage of hot peppers to help clear out your nose.

Can't get delivery?

With boxed or canned broth in the pantry, this egg drop soup is quick and easy enough to make in your weakened condition.

Egg Drop Soup

1 quart chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon guar or xanthan (see cook's note)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 scallion, sliced

2 eggs, beaten

If you're using the guar or xanthan, first put a cup or so of the broth in your blender, turn it on low and add the thickener. Let it blend for a second, then put it in a large saucepan with the rest of the broth. Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and scallion. Heat over medium-high burner, and let it simmer for five minutes or so, to let the flavors blend. Beat your eggs in a glass measuring cup or small pitcher -- something with a pouring lip. Take a fork and start stirring the surface of the soup in a slow circle. Pour in about a quarter of the eggs, and stir as they cook and turn into shreds, which will happen almost instantaneously. Repeat three more times, using up all the egg, then serve. Three biggish servings or 4-5 small ones.

Cook's note: Guar and xanthan are flavorless, fiber-based thickeners available at health-food stores and online low-carb specialty stores. They add a little body to the broth but aren't necessary to make the soup.

Nutrition information: Assuming 4 servings, each will have 2 grams of carbohydrate, a trace of fiber and 8 grams of protein.

-- Reprinted with permission from "500 Low Carb Recipes" (Fair Winds Press, 2002).

-- Dana Carpender is the author of "15-Minute Low-Carb Recipes" and "The Low-Carb Barbecue Book," and the editor of the biweekly online newsletter "Lowcarbezine!" You can contact her online at

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