15 Best Foods to Eat When You’re Sick
When you’re under the weather, eating might be one of the last things on your mind.
However, eating the right foods when you are sick can do more than just provide energy.
Certain foods can help you feel better, recover faster, or stay hydrated while you recover.
Here are 15 of the best foods to eat when you’re sick.
- Chicken soup
Chicken soup has been the go-to for disease for generations – and for good reason. It’s an easy-to-eat source of vitamins, minerals, calories, and protein, which are nutrients your body may need in larger amounts as you recover from illness (1Trusted Source).
Chicken soup is also a rich source of fluids and electrolytes, which is useful if you are at risk for dehydration from diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, or fever (2Trusted Source).
The warmth of the soup can help reduce congestion, as hot or spicy liquids can help with this (3Trusted Source).
The chicken in chicken soup also contains the amino acid cysteine. N-acetyl-cysteine, a form of cysteine, breaks down mucus and has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
Homemade chicken soup made from bone broth is also rich in collagen and nutrients that can help promote recovery – although there isn’t enough research on the effects of bone broth on immune health to support this claim.
Like chicken soup, broth is an excellent source of fluids and electrolytes that can help when you’re sick. When hot, they can also help relieve nasal congestion.
They are full of flavor and rich in a variety of nutrients while still being easy on your digestive system (6Trusted Source).
In addition, bone broth is rich in collagen and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from animal bones, which can help speed up recovery, although research is lacking.
If you need to follow a salt-restricted diet, make sure you choose a low-sodium or no-salt broth if you buy premade broth from the grocery store.
Garlic provides many health benefits and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries.
In test-tube and animal studies, it has been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
One study in 146 people found that participants who took garlic-based supplements had about 70% fewer sick days than the placebo group. However, the authors note that this is not enough evidence to conclude that garlic can help prevent disease, and more research is needed (9Trusted Source).
Additionally, aged garlic extract supplements may improve immune function and reduce the severity of colds and flu (10).
Adding garlic to food when you are sick can add flavor and make your food more effective at fighting cold or flu symptoms.
- Coconut water
Coconut water is an ideal drink to drink when you are sick. It is rich in electrolytes, which need to be replenished along with fluids when you vomit, sweat, have diarrhea, or have a fever (11).
It also contains a small amount of natural sugar from the fruit itself, which can serve as a quick and easy-to-use energy source for your body (11).
However, one study found that it caused more bloating than other electrolyte drinks. It’s probably a good idea to start slowly if you’ve never tried it (12Trusted Source).
- Hot tea
Tea is a favorite remedy for many of the symptoms associated with colds and flu.
Just like chicken soup, hot tea acts as a natural decongestant. The tea should be hot to help relieve nasal congestion, but not so hot that it irritates your throat further.
Although some teas do contain caffeine, they do not appear to cause dehydration or cause increased water loss (13Trusted Source).
This means sipping tea throughout the day is a great way to stay hydrated while reducing congestion.
Tea also contains polyphenols. The natural substances found in this plant may have a large number of possible health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and even potential anticancer effects.
Honey has some antibacterial properties and, in fact, is often used as an antiseptic wound dressing for cuts or burns
Honey can also stimulate the immune system. Many people use local raw honey to relieve seasonal allergies, but there are currently no studies supporting the use of this honey (21).
In addition, honey can help suppress coughs in children. However, it should not be given to children under 12 months because
Ginger is widely used in food, in herbal medicine, and as a home remedy, and is perhaps best known for its anti-nausea effects. It has been shown to be effective in relieving nausea associated with pregnancy and cancer treatment
So if you are feeling nauseous or vomiting, ginger is one of the best natural remedies available to relieve these symptoms.
Use fresh ginger in cooking, brew ginger tea, or buy ginger from a store for these benefits. Make sure that whatever you use contains real ginger or ginger extract, not just ginger flavour.
- Spicy food
Spicy foods like chili peppers contain capsaicin, which causes a hot, burning sensation to the touch.
In sufficiently high concentrations, capsaicin can have a desensitizing effect. It is often used in pain relief gels and patches
Many people report that eating spicy food causes a runny nose, breaks up mucus and clears sinus passages.
While several studies have tested this effect, capsaicin appears to thin the mucus, making it easier to expel. Nasal capsaicin sprays have been used with good results to relieve nasal congestion and itching
However, you should avoid spicy food if you already have a stomach ache. Spicy foods can cause bloating, pain, and nausea in some people
Bananas are a great food to eat when you are sick. They are tender and tasteless but rich in nutrients and fast-acting carbohydrates. The potassium in bananas can also help replenish your electrolyte reserves, because potassium is one of the main electrolytes that your body needs
Another great benefit of bananas is the soluble fiber they contain. Soluble fiber becomes a gel in the presence of liquid, so it can help reverse diarrhea by reducing the amount of free water in your digestive tract
Like bananas, oatmeal is bland and easy to eat, but it also provides the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need when you’re sick.
One study in mice found that beta-glucan, a type of fiber in oats, helped reduce inflammation in the gut. But more research is needed to determine if it could have the same effect in humans and be useful for relieving digestive symptoms.
Instead of buying artificially flavored oatmeal with lots of added sugar, consider adding a little honey or fruit to rolled or steel-cut oats for even more health benefits.
Yogurt contains beneficial probiotics, which are strains of bacteria that can colonize your intestines and provide health benefits.
According to several studies, probiotics can help children and adults catch colds less often, recover faster when sick, and take fewer antibiotics.
One study found that sick children who took probiotics felt better an average of 2 days earlier, and their symptoms were about 55% less severe.
However, some people have reported that milk intake thickens their mucus secretions, which can be exacerbated when you are sick.
If you find dairy products make congestion worse, try another fermented food that contains probiotics (such as kombucha) or a probiotic supplement.
- Certain fruits
Fruits are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which can support your overall health and immune function.
Many fruits are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that helps the immune system function properly .
In addition, some fruits contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give certain fruits — such as strawberries and blueberries — their red and blue colors.
Anthocyanins make berries an excellent food to eat when sick as they have strong anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting effects.
Several animal and test-tube studies have shown that fruit extracts high in anthocyanins can prevent common viruses and bacteria from attaching to cells. They also stimulate your body’s immune response (44Trusted Source, 45Trusted Source).
Additionally, one review of 14 studies noted that flavonoid supplements, which are made from a type of antioxidant found in fruit, decreased the number of days people had colds by 40% (46).
Add some fruit to a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt for more health benefits or mix frozen fruit into a chilled, throat-soothing smoothie.
Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals (47Trusted Source).
They’re a great food to eat when sick because they provide calories, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs. They’re also soft, relatively bland, and easy to eat.
Because of the healthy fats avocados contain, especially oleic acid (the same beneficial fatty acid found in olive oil), they may help decrease inflammation while playing a role in immune function (48Trusted Source, 49Trusted Source).
- Green leafy vegetables
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re especially good sources of plant-based iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate (50Trusted Source).
Dark green vegetables are also loaded with beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. These act as antioxidants to protect cells from damage and help fight inflammation (51Trusted Source).
Add spinach to an omelet for a quick, nutrient-packed, protein-rich meal. You can also try tossing a handful of kale into a fruit smoothie. Most leafy greens also make excellent additions to soup, which is another great choice when you’re sick.
Salmon is one of the best protein sources to eat when you’re sick. It’s soft, easy to eat, and full of the high quality protein your body needs for recovery (52Trusted Source).
Salmon is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects that may help your immune system work more effectively (53Trusted Source, 54Trusted Source).
Salmon is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, which many people don’t get enough of. Vitamin D also plays a critical role in immune function (55Trusted Source).
The bottom line
Resting, staying hydrated, and getting proper nutrition are some of the most important things you can do to feel better and recover faster when sick.
Fortunately, many foods have benefits that go beyond providing your body with nutrients.
While no food alone can cure sickness, eating the right foods may help support your immune system and offer relief from certain symptoms.