Sickness means different for everybody but in a general way, sickness includes cold or flu symptoms, headache, running nose, fever and sore throat. Even though sickness is common and you can get it anytime, you might take your habits or knowledge for granted and suffer an abnormal time dealing with sickness.
Because it can be frequent to get sick, being sick for more than a week can impact your daily life productivity and weaken your immunity overall. The common symptom of sickness is loss of appetite and no taste. And this is where people ignore food.
Having the right foods at the right time when feeling sick can boost your recovery and make you healthy overall. So in case you are wondering what to eat when sick, here is a list of 15 foods to get you started.
1. What to Do When Sick?
1.1 Contact Your Healthcare Provider
We all are guilty of thinking that our seasonal cold or sore throats will get better in a week or so and then proceed to do nothing about it until it’s been three weeks and you can’t ignore it anymore.
Be it a seasonal cold or headache, make sure to check with your healthcare provider. It can be an early sign of anything serious that they are aware of and in any case, the earlier, the better.
1.2 Personal Care
We all know to not have anything cold when under the season or to eat soft food in cases of a sore throat but we are guilty of cheat days even for something as temporary as flu which worsens the chances of us recovering anytime soon.
So, taking care of yourself is the best way to make sure you recover within days and it is easy to do so. By figuring out what to eat when sick, you can get over any sickness as soon as possible.
2. What to Eat When Sick?
2.1 Hot Tea
Hot Tea is one of the best remedies for any type of sickness. Hot teas act as a natural decongestant, but the tea shouldn’t be too hot cause it might lead to throat irritation.
Caffeinated drinks are not recommended for sickness as it leads to dehydration. Although some teas also have caffeine, they don’t lead to dehydration so you can still consume those but in a limited amount.
Also, tea contains polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids. The natural substances found in plants have numerous health benefits like they have anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidants, immune stimulation and sometimes anticancer effects.
Helpful for any type of sickness, hot teas are particularly helpful in cold and flu season, specially Echinacea tea. Herbal teas have a refreshing smell and can help in the case of sinus to clear mucus.
Hot ginger tea can help with a sore throat and stuffed nose. Ginger is the main ingredient as it has its own category below as it has benefits like calming stomach pain. The benefits of green tea are not unknown. It has antioxidants to help get over any mild sickness.
Honey tea helps with a sore throat. With that, you can add a cinnamon stick, a dollop of bourbon and a lemon slice to make a ‘hot toddy’ which is also well known in Scotland to recover from sickness.
Besides these, any tea leaves that are oolong, green, white or black, can be used. The antioxidant nature of teas helps in fighting free radicals arising when your body is fighting viruses or bacteria.
Ginger is already known as herbal medicine and a home remedy. It’s known for anti-nausea effects, specially in cases like pregnancy or cancer treatment or simply vomiting. Other than that, ginger helps in cases of digestive issues, cold, liver issues and sore throat.
Besides having it in tea, you can use fresh ginger in your meals or get the convenient ginger ale from any store until and unless it’s natural and not artificial. You can easily add it to your stir-fry dishes.
Many cultures have food where they add ginger to make it spicy which is one of the best foods to eat when you’re sick. Ginger is anti-inflammatory due to phytochemicals, has antioxidant benefits and is antimicrobial.
When consuming crystallized ginger, you need to make sure to not over-consume and have it in moderation.
Garlic has been known and used for centuries. Besides taste, it has numerous health benefits. Garlic is antibacterial, has anti-fungal effects and is antiviral as concluded in test-tube and animal studies. A 2015 review study also concluded that garlic helps by activating white blood cells.
Many researchers agree that studies on the benefits of garlic still lack research but it is accepted that it has positive effects on your health. Also, it is said that aged garlic extract supplements help in increasing immunity and recovery from cold, flu and other ailments.
Garlic helps with bad breath and also adds spice to food which helps to cure sickness as explained below.
2.4 Coconut Water
Besides tea, coconut water is one of the best beverages to sip on when you are feeling sick. It has electrolytes which replenish along with fluids when you vomit, have diarrhea or fever or are sweating.
When sick, you should avoid sugar but it means artificial or processed, not the sugar found in natural fruits like coconut water. Coconut water is easy to drink and an easy way to get energy lacking due to sickness.
In case you have an upset stomach, it happens when the stomach lining is inflamed and tannins are compounds that help fight inflammation and is found in coconut water.
Coconut water is also a good source of minerals like potassium and sodium and can help in hydrating specially if you have diarrhea or have vomited.
Known as a good source of hydration when feeling sick, coconut water helps you to stay hydrated on the same level as that of any sports drink according to a study but it is also healthy with no artificial sugar. Some people also call it ‘nature’s sports drinks’.
In case you have never had coconut water before, it is recommended to start slowly because it can lead to bloating if consumed too much in one go.
Just like ginger and garlic, the benefits of honey are also well known. Other than having it in tea, you can use it in food and other beverages and get the benefits, specially when feeling sick.
Due to its antibacterial properties, honey is also used in dressing burns or cuts. It helps in building immunity as well. People have been using local raw honey in cases of seasonal allergies for a long time.
Honey is also used in medicines to relieve cough caused by bacterial infections and is commonly found in cough syrups that are given to children as well (not under 12 months of age). This is because honey is a great source of antimicrobials.
According to a 2018 review, honey was compared to over-the-counter children’s cough remedies. The authors of the study found that honey was more effective than salbutamol and diphenhydramine drugs which are often used in those medicines. Honey was also found similar to another common ingredient- dextromethorphan.
2.6 Spicy Foods
They are a good source to relieve sickness. Best foods like chili peppers have capsaicin which gives a burning sensation on touching and when in high concentration, capsaicin cause desensitizing. This is why it’s used in pain-relieving gels and patches.
Spicy foods in general lead to having a runny nose breaks up mucus and clears the sinus passage. Although it’s difficult to conclude so without any scientific evidence it has been used by people for a long time with the effects of thinning out mucus. Everybody knows the effects of nasal capsaicin sprays in cases of itching and congestion.
Spicy food can also help in case of headaches and sore throats. If thinking of any specific spicy food, you can go for any Indian, Latin and Japanese food. These cuisines contain natural decongestants.
Specifically, you can go for wasabi, cayenne, chili, jalapeno peppers, salsa, hot sauce, spicy curry, buffalo sauce and horseradish. All these foods have spices that help with sinuses and stuffed noses.
In case of sickness, we also don’t feel the taste and so don’t feel like eating anything. This is where spicy foods help and we can eat them without feeling bored and get better as well.
In case of stomach flu, you should avoid spicy foods as they can lead to bloating and other side effects.
When sick, we avoid eating food since it tastes bland and as a result, it becomes difficult for us to recover soon. With oatmeal, we can gain calories, minerals and vitamins which help us to recover soon.
One cup of oatmeal with water has 4 grams of fiber which is good considering that adults are recommended to consume 16% fiber daily. Raw oats have more fiber than cooked and rolled oats are also easy to digest in case you have an upset stomach and are scared to consume anything.
A study concluded that a type of fiber found in oats- beta-glucan, was effective in decreasing inflammation. The study was performed on rats and there isn’t enough evidence or studies to show that there will be a similar effect on humans but in general, people have found it of help.
What you can do is instead of using artificially flavored oatmeal, you can add honey and fruits (bananas and berries) to your oats since the market products also have sugar which is not natural and harms your health indirectly.
The fruits and additional ingredients also help in increasing the fiber intake, a source of antioxidants and relieving issues like constipation.
Oatmeals are also helpful in flu, nausea and vomiting. Some oatmeals also have vitamin D which helps in activating immune cells. A good source of that is adding milk to your oats and also an additional way to stay hydrated.
2.8 Chicken Soup
As discussed above, anything hot helps in cases of sickness specially if you have a stuffed nose or sore throat. Apart from hot tea, another famous recipe you can try next time you feel sick is the very famous chicken noodle soup.
Unlike tea and other beverages, soups like chicken soup or chicken noodle soup help you with issues while also adding nutrients, calories, vitamins, minerals, protein and even hydration which in turn help in recovery.
Chicken soup or chicken noodle soups are a good source of electrolytes and help with dehydration caused by diarrhea, vomiting, fever or sweating. A bowl of warm soup also helps with congestion.
The chicken is a good source of amino acid cysteine. N-acetyl-cysteine is a form of cysteine that breaks mucus and has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidants.
If you make homemade chicken soup which has bone broth, it can be more helpful since it has collagen and nutrients to help in recovery.
It is a no-brainer that avocados are healthy. They have monounsaturated fats, vitamins, fiber and minerals.
Besides all his, avocados are a rich source of calories that helps with recovery. Healthy fats, like oleic acid (fatty acid similar to the one found in olive oil), help to reduce inflammation. Besides these, fruits like avocados contain polyphenolic flavonoid, a form of antioxidant.
Ignoring all the healthy things, avocados also have a rich taste, making it easier to include in our diet when thinking about what to eat when sick.
2.10 Apple Cider Vinegar
It is antifungal. With mouth gargle, it kills candida species so it is helpful in cases of sore throats or mouth sores caused by Candida albicans. You can consume it by diluting it with water.
Apple cider vinegar is said to be better in sickness than nystatin which is also used by any in cases of microbial issues in the oral cavity.
2.11 BRAT diet
BRAT is an abbreviation for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. These are bland and gentle on the stomach. With having a BRAT diet, you consume food rich in starch and fiber which thus helps in cases of diarrhea.
Other than the four food mentioned, in this diet you can include watermelons, boiled potatoes, oatmeal and crackers.
You should start slowly taking this diet by having water before other liquids like broth or apple sauce and if the stomach is fine, you can include more right foods in the diet. It is also recommended to return to your regular diet after 48 hours of BRAT.
2.12 Dried Fruits-
All fruits are healthy and can be consumed during sickness but dry fruits specially apricots, prunes and figs are the best sources of fiber when compared to other fruits.
Dry fruits have sorbitol- a natural laxative which draws water into the intestines and helps with bowel movements.
Prunes and apricots have polyphenols as well which increases bacterias like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which are good for your health since they stimulate your intestines.
Flaxseeds are a source of high fiber and help with bowel movements. It also has omega-3, a fatty acid which is believed to reduce bowel inflammation after constipation.
The outer shell of flaxseed is considered difficult to digest by many so you can eat pre-ground flax so you can get the nutrients without any issue.
You can add the ground flaxseed to your smoothie, and use it in baking or in porridge. Some people also prefer eating as it is but after removing the outer layer, you can also try it.
Other than their taste, yogurts have probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria which is considered good since it supports our immune system.
There have been many studies and all concluded on the benefits of having yogurt when sick. It is said that it leads to lesser chances of having flu, and common cold and healing faster if have any.
If you feel that yogurt might be bad for you because it is one of the dairy products and thickens your mucus secretion then you can try other fermented best foods which have probiotics like kombucha or a probiotic supplement.
Whilst thinking about which yogurt you should have, just make sure to use the one with no added sugar to get the maximum benefit of having it.
2.15 Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables have minerals, fiber, iron, vitamin C and K, folate, polyphenols, nutrients and high-quality protein. To conclude, leafy greens are all-rounder. You can eat them in many ways if you don’t like them simply.
Try making smoothies or soups of them. Although every vegetable is healthy, specific foods like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce are the best foods to eat when you’re sick. Do contact your doctor to know if there is anything you should avoid though.
Just like vegetables, all kinds of fruits are healthy, even the ones with natural sugar. They are to a great source of minerals, fiber, antioxidants and vitamins like Vitamin C and anthocyanins.
Fruits are known to be anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and antiviral and help in preventing viruses and bacterial infection.
According to a study, it was concluded that fruits high in anthocyanins prevent viruses and bacteria from cells and help to grow immunity. A study, which reviewed 14 studies said that flavonoid supplements found in fruits reduced 40% the number of days people were under the weather.
You can try elderberry when figuring out what to eat when you’re sick since in a 2016 study it was found that people who had elderberry extract and flew in economy class were less likely to suffer from respiratory symptoms and feel cold.
Pomegranates have antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C and E. All of these make it antiviral and antibacterial. You can have it in desserts or even in snacks.
Bananas are best since it is soft and tastes like other bland foods and is loaded with nutrients and carbs. It is a great source of potassium and soluble fiber which makes it easy in cases of diarrhea. Other foods include apples, pineapples and watermelons.
If you don’t like eating fruits as it is, you can try mixing some with your oatmeal or even yogurt which makes the taste better. Also, try blending either one or different fruits and make a smoothie or simply extract juice at home like orange juice.
3. What Not to Eat When Sick
By now, you might have got some idea as to what to eat when you’re sick but hardly anyone recommends what you should not eat when sick. Here is a short list of five things you should avoid consuming on sick days to recover faster.
Not concluded by any scientific evidence, dairy is believed to increase mucus production and worsen sinus congestion. Dairy products also have added sugar which is not good for health.
3.2 Caffeinated Drinks
Caffeine is not good for health as known by all but consuming caffeine in sickness is not a good idea since it causes dehydration and makes congestion worse, causes stomach cramps and increases bowel movements.
Like caffeine alcohol also dehydrates and causes inflammation and worsens your cold or flu.
3.4 Greasy Foods
They have high-fat levels which can be difficult for the digestive tract and cause stomach irritation which leads to nausea.
3.5 Processed Foods and Grains
Processed foods are high in salt and fats but low in fiber. So consuming it makes digestion difficult. Processed grains similarly to white bread don’t include bran and germ- which is what would make it high on fiber if included.
The bottom line is that no food can cure your sickness but knowing what to eat when sick can help your body heal, boost immunity and recover faster.
Consuming food rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can go beyond just helping you get better. The issue is that you might feel no appetite when sick, so it is recommended to eat healthy food in small portions frequently to not overburden your digestive system until you find it tolerable.
It is important to stay hydrated during sickness, and during the unappetizing phase, you can have healthy fluids like tea and soups.
Most importantly, you should stay in touch with your doctor and get some tips regarding your diet since some healthy foods can be harmful to you.