Doctor’s Recommendation: What To Eat When You’re Sick?

When you’re down with a cold or flu, the last thing you want to do is contemplate what to make for dinner. At the same time, the foods and drinks you choose to consume can make a difference in how you feel while you’re still sick and how long it takes for you to recover from the virus. After all, the last thing you want to do is hinder the recovery process and make the symptoms worse. To add more clarity to the situation and make choosing the best flu diet an easy task for you, we explain what foods and drinks doctors generally recommend or warn against during an upper respiratory infection.

The Drinks to Choose and Avoid When You’ve Got the Flu

As you already probably know, increasing your fluid intake is crucial when you’re down with a cold. As doctors explained: "During an infection, the body's basal metabolic rate increases, which can lead to increased loss of fluids, and you need to increase hydration with water to mitigate these losses." Therefore, the recovery process can be quite dehydrating, and drinking plenty of fluids can really help support your health and flush out those germs from your system as soon as possible.
What to Eat & Avoid When You’re Sick woman suffering from a cold

However, it’s important to choose the right kinds of drinks, as certain beverages can actually be dehydrating for the already weakened body. The absolute best choice is sipping on some plain room temperature water, warm herbal tea, or ginger tea to warm up the throat, as these drinks provide plenty of hydration and antioxidants. 

What about the quintessential vitamin C rich orange juice, you say? Doctors actually recommend avoiding it when you’re sick, as juices can be quite high in sugar, which, in turn, can cause diarrhea that further dehydrates the body. Other sugary drinks, such as energy drinks, sweet tea, and soda are best avoided as well. 

Alcohol and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and sports drinks are off the table, too. As Alpert, a certified dietitian, stated in an interview, “Not only are caffeinated beverages very dehydrating to the body but drinking these beverages as a replacement for hydrating drinks puts you even further behind on your overall hydration status." If you drink coffee every day, try limiting your intake to just one cup a day when you’re sick and drink plenty of water afterward.

What to Eat & Avoid When You’re Sick cup of tea with lemon

The Best Foods to Eat When You’re Down With a Cold 

Although dehydration is a major concern when you’re sick and it should be the top priority, the recovery process also drains your body from necessary nutrients at a quicker rate, and symptoms like muscle aches and fatigue are evidence of that. Therefore, it’s our job to get as many beneficial nutrients back into our bodies in order to feel better as soon as possible.

This doesn’t mean that you have to eat all the time. After all, you may be nauseous, and getting food to stay in the stomach may be difficult as is, so don’t push yourself. Instead, look for specific nutrient-dense foods instead of junk foods and snacks. Dr. Charles Peters recommends foods like chicken soup, leafy greens, yogurt, oatmeal, broccoli, pepper, and horseradish in a statement. Here’s why:

  • Chicken soup or broth- soups are not just easier to slurp down when you’re feeling ill, but they’re also full of beneficial nutrients and water that will help replenish and rehydrate your system. Be careful with canned soups, though, as most of them are too high in salt, and hence, dehydrating, so opt for low-sodium options if you have to get canned soup.
  • Plain white yogurt - not only is it pleasantly cooling for an inflamed throat, but yogurt is also a great source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals (calcium and zinc), so it can replenish the much-needed nutrients in your body. Yogurt also contains probiotics, which will help with digestion, therefore, it’s a great choice for those who feel sick on their stomach when they have the flu as long as you’re sticking to sugar-free plain white yogurt, of course.
What to Eat & Avoid When You’re Sick ill woman eating soup
  • Fruit and veggies - particularly leafy greens like spinach or kale, as well as broccoli, bell peppers, berries, apples, and mangoes - are full of vitamins and antioxidants that help you fight the cold. An added bonus is that most of these foods you can just eat as-is or blend up into a smoothie, no cooking required.
  • Oatmeal - easy and quick-to-make, oats will fill you up in no time and alleviate any digestive discomfort, too, as they have plenty of fiber.
  • Foods with a bit of spice, such as horseradish or ginger can clear up your airways if your nose is feeling clogged.

Related Article: 12 Common Myths about Colds and the Flu

Foods to Avoid When You’re Feeling Ill

If you like to have your chicken soup with a few saltine crackers on the side, or you’re really eating as many citrus fruits as you can when you’re sick, we have bad news for you - both of these habits may be hindering your recovery or just make the process of recovering more difficult than it has to be. Here are the foods you should avoid when you have the flu, and why:

  • Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits or tomatoes, are not the best choice for those who are experiencing nausea and stomach flu, according to experts. These foods may cause heartburn and could hurt your throat.
What to Eat & Avoid When You’re Sick thermometer on blanket surrounded by used tissues
  • Saltines are considered to be a staple food for upset stomachs, but these crackers actually contain a lot of sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and soybean oil, which can drive up the inflammation in your body according to dietitians. An equally crispy and low-calories alternative to saltine crackers is rice cakes.
  • Junk food. Let's face it, we should be eating this stuff even when we're healthy, so try to resist the temptation of ordering takeout when you're sick. The main concern with junk foods, like in saltines, are unhealthy fats, which can drive up inflammation and hinder the recovery process.
  • Dairy. Yogurt is the only dairy food nutritionists recommend because the rest of the foods, such as ice cream, milk, and even cheese may make the saliva and phlegm become thicker and hence cause additional discomfort when you're sick.
  • Potato chips, toast, and other crunchy foods may likewise scratch and aggravate a sore throat, so doctors advise against them if you have a painful throat.
  • Sweets and other high-sugar foods. As we've mentioned earlier, sugar can be dehydrating, but Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian, also mentioned to the Insider that refined sugar can also potentially increase inflammation levels and reduce the ability of some immune cells to function as they should. Therefore, avoid sweets like ice cream, popsicles, cookies, and cake until you get better.

​We hope you found this information useful, and if you're currently suffering from a respiratory infection, we'd like to remind you to stay hydrated and wish you a speedy recovery!

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