Being sick is never fun. While reducing stress and getting plenty of sleep can help you get through a nasty bout of seasonal sickness, food can play an important role, too. Of course, some foods are better than others. Here are some of the best and worst foods you can eat when you’re feeling under the weather.
You know that old wives’ tale: “Starve a fever, feed a cold”? Not true! The reality: When we’re sick, the body needs more calories to function normally. “In fact, for every degree your body temperature is elevated, your metabolic rate is stimulated (or elevated) by seven percent,” explains Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., RD, director of nutrition research at Miami Research Associates. So one of the worst things to do if you have a fever is not eating, as your body needs the fuel to support the immune system.”
Additionally, it’s important to stick to regular eating schedules when sick because consuming fewer calories than normal can restrict the body’s ability to heal. In fact, studies suggest reducing calorie intake when sick not only increases susceptibility to the flu, but also worsens symptoms and lengthens the duration of illness.
Best Foods for Cold-Like Symptoms
The best way to kick a cold is to drink plenty of fluids and eat phlegm-fighting foods. Here are some of the best ones to pick.
Chicken soup has been a longtime remedy for any sickness — and for good reason. Broth, slow-cooked bone broth in particular, is very dense in nutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus, and other difficult to obtain trace minerals. Your body will have a harder time fighting off illness if it is suffering a deficiency, and drinking warm broth is comforting for the soul. (Here’s a vegan recipe that rivals the meat version.)
Not only is green tea chock full of antioxidants, but it also has anti-viral and antibacterial properties — yet another reason to stock green tea in your pantry. If caffeine isn’t your thing, chamomile tea elevates phenols, which are antioxidants that have been shown to possess antibacterial powers.
Honey is sometimes thought to be as effective (or more) in suppressing coughs as over-the-counter meds. A 2010 study found that children with upper respiratory infections experienced greater relief from a 2.5 ml serving of honey before bed than from over-the-counter cough suppressants. If you have some spare change, try New Zealand’s own manuka honey, which is touted as being one of the most medicinal honeys in the world.
Grapefruit, oranges, and lemons are bursting with nutrients, including vitamin C, which is a well-documented ally if you’re fighting off the sniffles. Eat them whole, spritz some into your water, or make homemade juice if you’re feeling up to it. Popsicles are also great for numbing a sore throat. Ask someone to make you some homemade orange juice pops for a tasty, health-boosting remedy. Don’t waste your money on Vitamin C supplements, though — the body can’t use more than 200 milligrams a day.
Spicy foods can make our noses run and our eyes water, but they’re also effective natural decongestants. Eating chili peppers, wasabi, or horseradish can help relieve the symptoms of congestion.
Best Foods for Stomach Symptoms
When it comes to stomach issues (which can accompany the flu), eating bland foods that are easy to digest and staying hydrated are the best defenses for a quick recovery. Here are a few of your best bets.
Crackers and Toast
Plain, unsalted, or lightly salted crackers and toast are simple, bland foods that are easy on the stomach. These high-starch foods won’t aggravate the stomach and can help with digestion and recovery after an upset stomach.
Bananas are rich in potassium, which is often depleted during bouts of sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. They’re easy to digest (A+ for bland foods!) and can help replenish lost electrolytes.
Research has shown that ginger is incredibly effective at preventing and soothing nausea and other gastric ailments (such as constipation, bloating, and vomiting). Drinking ginger tea or flat ginger ale (to avoid disrupting the stomach with carbonation) can help keep you hydrated while also soothing tummy troubles.
In general, you should avoid any foods that cause inflammation, like white flour, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Here are a few examples:
Highly acidic foods.
When your body is trying to bring itself back into balance, you don’t want to keep pumping in acidity and inflammation. Stay clear of any foods to which you may be sensitive — like dairy and gluten — and opt for eating less red meat and dairy, which can be heavy and acidic to the body.
Sugar is acidic to the body. Avoid refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, which cause inflammation. Instead, opt for honey and maple syrup, which are full of beneficial minerals, or eat whole fruits, which balance the sugar intake with fiber.
Fried chicken is not going to make you feel any better. Foods high in grease and fat often leave your stomach unsettled and can produce further inflammation. Adding to your bodily inflammation while your sick just isn’t a smart idea, so steer clear of all fast food burgers when you are fighting off a cold.
While there isn’t a general consensus on this, most believe that dairy encourages the development of mucus. It’s probably not something you’re craving when you have a stomach bug either. If you’re searching for something cold to soothe your throat, opt for natural popsicles before hunkering down with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough. (On the other hand, fermented dairy, like yogurt and kefir, may be beneficial in small amounts, due to the high levels of probiotics.)
The earlier you recognize an incoming illness, the better. Eating the proper foods can help you get out of bed and out into the world in no time. Remember, your food is medicine.