The next time you feel under the weather, look to this list of the best foods to eat when you’re sick.
WATER + FLUIDS
Fever, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting can lead to a significant loss of fluids and dehydration. Drinking plenty of water will help keep your body hydrated and prevent fatigue that often results from dehydration. If you’re vomiting, try to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water, plus an extra glass. This will ensure you’re replenishing lost fluids.
SOUPS + BROTHS
Mom bringing you a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup is spot on. An oft-cited study from the late-80s supports drinking hot fluids, which states that they can “increase nasal mucus velocity … through the nasal inhalation of water vapor.” That’s a fancy way of saying they can make mucus leave your nasal passages faster, which equals less congestion. In addition to offering comfort, soups, and broths are easy to digest and count toward your fluid intake. Check the canned or boxed soups and broths labels and aim for low-sodium options.
Similar to hot soups and broths, hot teas can help ease congestion. Calming teas such as chamomile can be incredibly soothing and may help promote rest, aiding the healing process. Many herbal teas also contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may support the body as the immune system works to overcome illness. Plus, tea also counts toward fluid intake to help keep you hydrated.
In addition to being a pantry staple, honey has antimicrobial properties. Coughing can cause your throat to become irritated and inflamed, and love can help soothe it from being sore, itchy, or dry. Further, a 2011 study shows that honey helps reduce the frequency and severity of coughs. Additionally, Manuka honey is often used in alternative medicine for wounds because of its ability to help prevent infection. Consider adding honey to a hot beverage such as tea, which can help manage these symptoms while you wait for the illness to run its course.
Ginger is one of the best foods to eat when you’re sick, thanks to its antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been used for hundreds of years to treat ailments. According to one study, ginger significantly helps prevent upper respiratory illnesses. It’s also a common home remedy for nausea and upset stomach, including ginger ale. Additionally, ginger teas and lozenges help via a similar mechanism. Aside from enjoying ginger tea, add raw ginger root to smoothies, soups, or broth. Use a zester to incorporate it easily! SMOOTHIES
Hot foods will help decongest and provide comfort, but smoothies are an excellent nutrition option if your appetite is low. Drinking a balanced smoothie can give your body adequate protein, fat, and carbohydrates to energize you while sick. Smoothies can also help you cool down if you experience the ups and downs of a fever. While the smoothie cannot treat or directly lower the rage, it may make you more comfortable while providing vitamins and minerals that support your immune system in an easily digestible form. Especially with greens added, a cool, blended beverage can provide fiber to help with fullness and easier digestion. Adding protein will help keep you full longer, and fresh or frozen fruit will provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
THE BRAT DIET
The BRAT diet, consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, is commonly recommended for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or upset stomach. These foods are bland enough to avoid aggravating your stomach, making them easier to keep down. The fiber in them will also help to add bulk to stool, which may help normalize bowel movements. The simple foods in the BRAT diet may be an excellent option to ensure you get enough calories to fuel your body during illness. As symptoms improve, you can add other foods as you can tolerate them.
FOODS TO AVOID WHEN SICK
- Now that you know what to eat when you’re sick, what foods are best to avoid? In general, the main foods to avoid when ill include: fried foods
- spicy foods
- sugary items
Though tasty, these foods won’t provide your body with as many nutrients as healthier options that your body needs, especially when it’s battling illness. Further, avoid consuming “empty calories.” These foods are high in calories but offer little to no nutritional benefit due to a lack of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other vital nutrients. Lastly, avoid caffeine and alcohol when you’re sick. These may further dehydrate you or exacerbate your symptoms, making it harder for your body to fight the illness well. Such stimulants can also prevent you from getting restful sleep, which is crucial for healing.
The right foods (and supplements!) can give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight illness more effectively. However, it’s just one of the many necessary tactics to get over colds, fevers, or the flu, and it shouldn’t be used instead of any medications prescribed by your doctor. In short, alongside medical treatments, following a healthy diet during periods of illness can be powerful for healing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, the research remains mixed regarding what to eat when you’re sick to help shorten the duration of illnesses like colds, fevers, and the flu. However, a nutrient-dense diet can help keep your body strong while the disease progresses. In particular, hot soups and beverages may help clear congestion while providing sufficient fluids to help you stay hydrated. Incorporating herbal teas, ginger, and honey can provide medicinal benefits to support the immune system. Staying hydrated is critical, but avoid caffeine and alcohol to ensure you get quality sleep.