The ancient Greek father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While food may not be able to cure a cold or flu, picking foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols can certainly support the body in fighting an illness and help you recovery more quickly.
On the other hand, while some foods support a healthy recovery, others actually suppress your immune system and make it harder to get better. Here are some of the best and worst foods to eat when sick.
Best Foods to Eat When Sick
Sticking to a healthy diet when you’re feeling under the weather is incredibly important. Try out these foods to support your return to good health.
Soups & Broths
Grandma knew the deal. Whether it’s chicken noodle, minestrone, pho, pozole, or a simple broth, few things are better to eat when you’re sick than soup. That’s because they’re an all-in-one, easy way to prevent dehydration and get a slew of nutrients your body desperately needs. The warm liquid also acts like a natural decongestant and soothes a sore throat.
Garlic has been used medicinally since the beginning of recorded history. Ancient texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and India each prescribed this onion family plant for medicinal purposes. Interestingly, cultures around the world that had no contact with one another came to similar conclusions about the health benefits of garlic.
Today, scientists discovered that sulfur compounds, like allicin, in garlic are antimicrobial and help boost immune function. So, add some to your favorite soup, put it in pesto or hummus, or just take a garlic supplement when you’re feeling crummy.
There are many soothing herbal teas that can help alleviate a cold, support a healthy immune response, and foster a healthy recovery (check out Best Herbal Teas for Cold and Flu Season). Ginger tea, for instance, eases nausea and supports a healthy inflammation and immune response. Thyme tea, on the other hand, helps soothe a cough and chest cold, while rose hip and hibiscus teas are packed with vitamin C that offers superb support for a healthy immune system. Herbal teas are also a great way to stay hydrated which is an essential part of the recuperation process.
Honey, especially manuka honey, has broad-spectrum antibacterial activity which makes it an excellent food to eat when sick. It helps soothe a sore throat, and studies show it can help suppress a cough in children. You can eat it by the spoonful or add it to your herbal tea.
Oats are a good source of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and zinc. It also contains the immune-boosting compound of beta glucan. Since they’re bland and easy to eat, they’re a good option to eat when you’re sick and have a compromised appetite. Just steer clear of prepackaged, artificially flavored oatmeal which can contain loads of added sugar. Instead, use plain oats and add a spoonful of honey or fruit for added flavor and health benefits.
As one of the most popular fruits in the world, bananas are not just universally enjoyed, they’re also packed with antioxidants and nutrients. They infuse your body with vitamin C and B6 as well as the minerals potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Like oatmeal, they’re easy to eat when you’re sick and have little appetite, and they’re part of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) which soothes an upset stomach.
Berries are like Mother Nature’s multivitamins — delicious morsels of vitamins and minerals that support the body when you’re fighting a bug. They also contain a show-stopping class of antioxidants called anthocyanins. These are the flavonoid pigments inside the fruit that give them their red, purple, or blue hues. It stands to reason, then, that some of the berries with the highest concentration of anthocyanins are: black and red raspberries, blueberries, black currants, elderberries, and blackberries.
Anthocyanins are not just powerful antioxidants, they also support a healthy inflammation response, and have been shown to support a healthy immune response. That makes berries the perfect food to sprinkle on your oatmeal, with some sliced banana, when you’re sick. Or you can just grab a handful and savor nature’s goodness directly.
Mushroom powders are all the rage lately and are mixed into everything from lattes and smoothies, to omelets and soups. Why the fungus frenzy? First, there’s a growing body of research supporting the health benefits of certain mushrooms. Second, Chinese Traditional Medicine practitioners have treasured various mushrooms for thousands of years, using them as healing agents that deeply support immune function.
Some shroom superstars are: reishi, shiitake, turkey tail, maitake, chaga, cordyceps, and agaricus. Mushrooms like shiitake can be sautéed with your favorite stir-fry recipes, but some are only used medicinally and can be taken in powder form or as a supplement, like Immune Health™.
Worst Foods to Eat When Sick
Just as there are some fantastic foods to eat when you’re sick, there are others that can do more harm than good, or just outright make you feel crummy. When you’re trying to get better you don’t want to impede your body’s natural healing process, so make sure to avoid these worst foods to eat when you’re sick.
When you’re sick, you should stay away from sugary foods like cookies, pastries, doughnuts, and the like. You should also stay away from highly processed foods that you may not even realize have added sugar. Breakfast cereals, low-fat yogurt, granola bars, sodas, and even pasta sauce and canned soup can be packed with added sugars. The reason sugar is one of the worst foods to eat when you’re sick is that it causes inflammation and suppresses the immune system. Not good when you’re trying to recover and need to strengthen your immune system, not weaken it!
For many years a rule of thumb was to avoid dairy products when sick because they were thought to promote mucus production. Today there is a debate about whether dairy increases the amount of mucus or just makes existing mucus thicker. Either way, if you are congested, you may want to lay off milk and other dairy products.
Greasy foods, like fries, chips, or fried chicken, are difficult to digest. When you’re sick, your poor digestive system is often sluggish and not working at full capacity. Fatty foods can make this worse and should be avoided, especially if you have a stomach bug.
One of the most important things to support a healthy recovery is staying hydrated. That’s one reason why soups and herbal teas are so beneficial when you’re sick. Coffee and other beverages with high caffeine content, on the other hand, can be dehydrating. Another one of the most crucial keys to recuperating your health is getting lots of sleep, something caffeine is known to disrupt. That’s why it’s best to skip a cup o’ joe or soda while under the weather.
Alcohol can be dehydrating, cause inflammation, disturb your gut’s microbiome, and suppress the immune system. It’s a big no-no when you’re fighting a bug.
Help Your Body Recover
While everyone hates being hit with a miserable cold or flu, knowledge is power. The pillars to a healthy recovery are getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating nutritionally supportive foods. The foods above can provide some relief and help you get back on the road to good health.