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Eat This, Not That! to Fight Cold Sores

Don't let the herpes virus give you any lip! These top food swaps will help end cold sores quickly.

Cold sores can do to our social lives what anvils do to Wyle E. Coyote: They drop out the sky as if from nowhere and crush all our best-laid flat-ab plans. Also known as "fever blisters," they got their name because they most frequently break out when we're under the weather. But these sores aren't an offshoot of the flu; they're a symptom of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). And like a cowardly bully, they pop up when they sense we're in a weakened state—making cold sores that much more of a hassle to get rid of.

Problem is, fever blisters can linger long after the rest of our bodies are healed and ready for action. Cold sores typically rupture around four days into an outbreak, leaving an open wound that's easily aggravated—and highly aggravating, especially if you were hoping to enjoy some kissing in your near future.

So to help you heal fast, the editors of Eat This, Not That! scoured the research to find the best and worst foods and drinks for managing an outbreak. Next time a cold sore leaves you sitting on the couch watching The Bachelor instead of embarking on your own journey of love, use these simple food swaps to heal that scarlet letter fast, and get you back in the game.

Cappuccino VS. Hot Chocolate


DRINK THIS: Cappuccino

NOT THAT!: Hot chocolate

We've been touting the benefits of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, for years. But if there's one time when you want to avoid this metabolism-boosting superfood, it's when you start to feel the tingle of a cold sore coming on. Chocolate is rich in an amino acid called arginine, which the herpes simplex virus needs in order to replicate and run its full course. To feel warm and cozy without herpes crashing your party, opt for a cappuccino. The frothy milk is high in another protein, lysine, which occupies the same receptors as arginine does. More lysine means you're providing less fuel for the virus to run on, and that means you'll get rid of your cold sores faster.

Carrots VS. Pickles


EAT THIS: Carrots

NOT THAT!: Pickles

If you want some crunch, reach for a fresh crudite rather than a salty one. Salty foods can not only irritate your skin, but high levels of sodium in your diet may interfere with activation of macrophages, cells that help decrease tissue inflammation and promote wound healing, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Tackle those pesky spots by incorporating carrots into your diet; the orange veggies are full of vitamin A, a mineral that has been shown to play an important role in the immune system by helping to regulate T cells, aka, the immune system warriors. Eating just one medium carrot will provide you with 200% of your suggested daily Vitamin A intake.

Yellow Peppers VS. Oranges

yellow peppers

EAT THIS: Yellow peppers

NOT THAT!: Oranges

Heavy or prolonged stress damages your immune system, leaving you open to an outbreak, and makes it difficult for your body to get rid of cold sores. But many of the superfoods most known for their immune-boosting vitamin C levels, like oranges and grapefruit, are also highly acidic—and that's bad for your sores. Eating acidic foods like citrus may prevent a crust-like scab from forming or even crack and reopen a scab that has already formed. You can lower your overall aggravation level, and boost your immune system, with ripe bell peppers. Just one whole yellow pepper contains 568% of your daily recommended vitamin C intake, which makes them a great option to boost immunity and reduce stress. German researchers found when they subjected people to a well-known stressor via a public speaking task, those who had taken supplements of vitamin C had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure than those who did not get the vitamin supplement.

Plain Yogurt VS. Fat-Free Fruit Yogurt

plain yogurt

EAT THIS: Plain yogurt

NOT THAT! Fat-free fruit yogurt

Fruit yogurts, especially the fat-free variety, are one of the worst sources of hidden sugars, which can damage your immune system and put you at risk for an outbreak. A review in the Journal of Tumor found that sugar can interfere with your white blood cells' ability to destroy bacteria and increase inflammatory markers in your blood. A 6-ounce container of Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry contains 24 grams of sugar—about what you'd get in a serving of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. Switch to plain yogurt to get your calcium and protein hit; the same size container has 352 mg of lysine, the herpes-fighting protein. Add your own fruit for a perfect workout partner. "It's a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, which are good for muscles," says registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro.

Swiss Cheese VS. Almonds

swiss cheese

EAT THIS: Swiss cheese

NOT THAT!: Almonds

As one of our best proteins for weight loss, almonds pack a slew of health-boosting nutrients—magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium—but also contain cold-sore-inducing arginine, and lots of it. To get a quick calcium and protein hit, consider cheese instead. Swiss cheese, in particular, has the highest percentage of herpes-fighting lysine, which can help you get rid of those pesky cold sores. But all your favorite cheeses like gouda, blue cheese, provolone, and brie also claimed top marks. And cheese isn't just good for preventing cold sores, it can also help you lose weight!

Red Tea VS. Red Wine

red tea


NOT THAT!: Red wine

Stressing about your cold sore just makes for a worse cold sore, and makes it harder to get rid of. People are prone to cold sores particularly during periods of stress, when their immune system aren't performing at full speed. But while you may want to reach for an adult beverage to help steady your nerves, there might be a better answer: A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that people who had recently increased their drinking had higher levels of stress hormones. Rooibos tea (also known as red tea) is great for soothing your mind because it squashes stress hormones, thanks to a unique flavonoid called Aspalathin. Research has shown that this compound targets stress- and aging-related genes, according to a study in Phytomedicine. Rooibos isn't the only stress-relieving tea, read on for more teas that combat stress.


Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia
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