So you did everything in your power to stay away from the office cold (dang it, Linda!) and even made sure to get your flu shot this year. But despite your best efforts, you’re now stuck on the couch for a brutal few days — ugh.
Whether it’s a plain old head cold, a stomach virus, or the mother of all flus, it’s time to stock up on food and drinks that’ll get you back in tip-top shape in no time.
You know that old saying “Feed a cold, starve a fever”? A 2016 study at Yale found that, yes, eating may help fight viral infections and fasting may help combat bacterial infections.
But hang on a sec. It’s worth noting that the study was done on listeria- and influenza-infected mice, not humans. Also, the subjects were force-fed glucose (sugar), an ingredient on our list of no-no’s below. So until more research is done, we can’t tell you for sure either way.
But what we do know is that when you’re sick, your body needs at least some nourishment. No matter how awful you feel, it’s important to stick to a regular eating schedule because consuming fewer calories than normal can restrict your body’s ability to heal.
We recommend eating small, frequent portions of food. Listen to your body to determine when you’re actually hungry. This makes it easier to maintain a steady supply of fuel while your body recovers.
The best foods on this list will keep you hydrated, give your body extra energy, and provide nutrients to help you stay strong, all without aggravating your upset stomach or clogged-up respiratory system.
Next time you’re feeling under the weather, try incorporating some of these foods into your diet to experience a quicker — or at least more comfortable — recovery.
The best way to kick a cold is to drink plenty of fluids and eat phlegm-fighting foods. Here are some winners.
This one isn’t just an old wives’ tale — chicken noodle may actually help soothe a cold.
For starters, broth contains vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, which you’ll need if you’ve been sweating. Plus, a landmark study from 1978 showed that hot broth helps keep nasal passages moist, prevent dehydration, and fight inflammation in the throat.
Drinking tea (especially Chinese, Japanese, or American varieties) while you’re under the weather can help your body fight off infections. This is thanks to natural bacteria-fighting compounds in tea, especially green tea.
Plus, warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and alleviate congestion. Freshly brewed tea or hot water with lemon is ideal for staying hydrated while helping out that stuffy nose.
While vitamin C, found in large amounts in citrus, can’t necessarily cure the common cold, research summarizing 29 trials found that it can help reduce the length and severity of colds in both adults and children.
What’s more, fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes contain flavonoids, which research shows have antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
Staying properly hydrated while sick with a chest cold can thin mucus and lessen congestion. Since it’s better to eat whole fruit than to drink it, ice pops are a great way to hydrate.
As a bonus, they are especially easy on your throat. Buy ones made from 100 percent whole fruit. Extra points if you make your own healthy ones at home.
Spicy foods can make your nose run and your eyes water, but they’re also effective natural decongestants. Eating chili peppers, wasabi, or horseradish can help relieve the symptoms of congestion.
When it comes to stomach issues (which can accompany the flu), eating bland, easy-to-digest foods and staying hydrated are the best strategies for a quick recovery. Here are a few of your best bets.
Crackers and toast
If you’re hugging the porcelain throne (or about to be), remember this rule: The blander, the better. Plain, unsalted crackers; cereals; pretzels; and toast are simple foods that are easy on the stomach.
It’s not totally clear why this is, but perhaps it’s a scent thing. Studies show that strong-smelling foods contribute to nausea.
Bananas are easy to digest and rich in potassium, which is often depleted during bouts of sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Plus, one study showed that pectin (a type of water-soluble fiber found in fruits) relieved digestive distress and inflammation in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
Ginger has long been studied for its stomach-soothing properties. Several studies have shown that ginger is effective at preventing and treating nausea and other gastric ailments, such as constipation, bloating, and vomiting.
Drinking ginger tea or flat ginger ale (to avoid disrupting your stomach with carbonation) can help you stay hydrated while relieving tummy troubles.
Spicy and acidic foods
While spicy foods might be good for clearing nasal congestion, they can be rough on your stomach. This is thanks to a powerful ingredient called capsaicin, which can disrupt your digestive tract.
The same goes for citrus. The vitamin C may be beneficial for cold-like symptoms, but fruits like grapefruit, oranges, and lemons can also irritate your stomach lining and cause more pain and discomfort. Steer clear of both if you have an upset stomach.
If ever there was a time for comfort food, being sick in bed would be it, right? But a high sugar intake can contribute to inflammation and a lowered immune response. Even though fro yo sounds like a good idea, it’s best to skip it when you’re feeling under the weather.
Greasy foods and refined carbs
Pass on the burgers and fries. Greasy foods cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain artificial trans fats. These fats lower the HDL (“good”) cholesterol in your body, and they increase inflammatory markers — the last thing you need when you’re sick. [Mohsen M, et al. (2017). Inflammatory markers are positively associated with serumtrans-fatty acids in an adult American population.DOI: 10.1155/2017/3848201]
Might as well ditch the bun, too. Studies have shown that refined carbohydrates (white breads, pastas, pancakes) cause a sharp insulin spike and create inflammation in the body.
The jury is still out on this one. Many people believe that drinking milk promotes mucus production in the lungs, but a 2019 study from Australia showed that may not be the case.
Even if your phlegm isn’t dining on dairy, the texture of milk combined with saliva can feel thick and uncomfortable in your mouth. If this bothers you or you have a known dairy allergy, avoid milk while you’re sick.
Being sick is your body’s way of telling you to Slow. Down. Right. Now. It’s annoying, sure, but it’s also serving a pretty huge purpose — to get you back into a state of equilibrium.
So let’s honor that. At the risk of sounding like your mother: Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and fill your plate with lots of nutrient-rich foods, kiddo. Maybe even tuck into a Netflix series (or five). You’ll be back on your feet in no time.