It’s always awful to get sick, but did you know that certain foods can promote healing while others might actually keep you feeling ill for longer?
Certain well-known foods, like chicken soup and oranges, are touted as meals to eat when you’re sick, but is there actual research behind that? We tend to gravitate toward comfort foods when we’re ill, but those can be some of the worst foods to take in when your immune system is already overloaded.
Here are the best foods to eat when you’re sick, as well as the ones you’ll want to strictly limit or avoid until you’re back to 100 percent.
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The 7 Best Foods to Eat When You’re Sick
If you’ve come down with the cold or flu, then you might be curled up under three layers of blankets, googling “how to treat a cold”. If that’s you, the good news is that there are foods which support your body’s natural antiviral and immune work.
1. Chicken Soup
Eating chicken soup (or drinking chicken broth) isn’t just something your grandma thinks you should do when you’re sick. Research also backs this approach, since chicken soup has therapeutic properties for the type of inflammation associated with sickness. (1)
Plus, chicken soup is hydrating and can help the body to maintain fluid balance, which is especially important if you have a fever. (2) If you’re looking for a simple, Paleo-friendly recipe, we recommend making a big batch of this cozy turmeric chicken soup with zucchini noodles.
Bonus: Have you ever noticed how you eat a hot cup of soup and your nose starts to run? That’s because the steam helps to break up the congestion in your sinuses and can provide some relief.
Chicken soup also helps break up congestion because it contains an amino acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, which is antiviral and can help to decrease mucus formation and congestion. (3)
2. Citrus Fruit and Strawberries
Everyone knows that vitamin C is an immune booster, but it’s especially great because it’s an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C can help to reduce the number of illnesses an individual gets and might even shorten the duration of sickness, too. (4)
Citrus fruits and strawberries are extremely high in vitamin C. They also have beneficial nutrients like fiber and potassium, which can help to ease illness symptoms like diarrhea and dehydration.
3. Healing Spices
If you’re congested, it’s horrible to feel like nothing eases your sinus pain. The good news is that certain spices can help to open airways and fight inflammation. Hot pepper, horseradish, thyme, and fenugreek can all have decongesting or healing properties. (5)
You can prepare foods and drinks that contain these spices. Some of these are also available in supplement form, but you should always ask a doctor before taking supplements.
Garlic can also help to make sure you get better faster when you do succumb to illness. (7)
You can eat raw garlic, roasted garlic, cook with garlic, or take garlic supplements – or any combination therein – to harness its immune-supporting powers.
Drinking plenty of fluids is key to preventing dehydration when you’re sick, and they also help the body’s lymphatic system collect toxins from the body and transport them to the liver for elimination. (8)
While any fluids might work, tea can be extra therapeutic for illness, especially ginger tea, herbal tea, green tea, and black tea, because of their anti-inflammatory properties and antibacterial benefits. (9) Plus, warm tea is excellent for soothing an uncomfortable sore throat.
You can take your tea to another level by adding a bit of raw honey, which is antibacterial and can help to coat a sore throat or reduce coughing. (10)
Sure, veggies might not be high on the list of appealing foods when you’re sick, but some of them have more vitamin C than fruits, and they help the immune system in other ways. They’re also rich in vitamin E, which is another potent antioxidant nutrient. (11)
The key to eating veggies when you’re sick is to prep them with something that is comforting, like adding them to chicken soup. You can even add them to smoothies or smoothie bowls. When paired with fruit, they can be easier to get down when you’re feeling under the weather.
Ginger is anti-inflammatory and a proven remedy for nausea and upset stomach, making it a solid go-to if those are your symptoms. (12) You can drink ginger tea, or grate your own ginger root. You can even eat pickled ginger, the kind that’s often served next to sushi.
The Top 3 Worst Foods to Eat When Sick
While you can focus your efforts on eating the right foods, there are also some that might worsen health or lead to longer downtime with sickness.
Foods you should avoid when you’re already sick include:
Sugar and Junk Food
When you’re sick, you should be focusing on nutrient-dense foods to help heal the body.
Binging on sugar might be mentally comforting, but it isn’t doing your immune system any favors. Same goes for processed junk foods – they’re not supporting you, so they should be skipped until you’re back to 100 percent.
A lot of experts indicate dairy as a problematic food for sickness, especially colds, saying that it can increase mucus production. While, this isn’t necessarily true, you should avoid foods that you’re sensitive to, dairy being a common one.
You don’t want to pile on problems for the immune system to address, and compromised gut health will reduce your immune system’s chances of getting you healthy as quickly as possible. (14)
Few foods are strictly “good” or “bad” in daily life, but when it comes to sickness, certain foods can boost your body’s ability to fight back, while others can suppress it or slow healing time.
Pay your diet a little more attention when you’re under the weather; it might be just the TLC that you’re looking for.
For more healthy tips, check out these 11 natural remedies to stop the cold and flu in its tracks.