Eating when you have the flu
When you or a loved one has the flu, the last thing you may feel like doing is eating. It’s certainly okay to eat a little less with the flu, as you likely have a reduced appetite.
Still, you'll need to eat small amounts of the right foods to provide you with energy and nutrients while you recover.
Read on to learn more about what you should eat and drink as well as what’s off-limits when you have the seasonal flu.
Foods to eat
Food is what gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to function. Such effects are equally vital when you have the flu. Still, it’s all about eating the right foods for your condition.
Consider eating the following foods when you have the flu.
Whether you prefer chicken, beef, or vegetable, broth is one of the best things you can eat when you have the flu. You can eat it as soon as your symptoms begin and until you have fully recovered.
Broth helps prevent dehydration, and the warm elements can help soothe a sore throat and relieve congestion.
2. Chicken soup
Chicken soup combines the benefits of broth along with additional ingredients. Cut-up chicken provides your body with iron and protein, and you’ll also gain nutrients from carrots, herbs, and celery.
You can eat chicken soup throughout the duration of the flu to help keep you hydrated and satiated; just be sure to watch the salt content.
While you might think of garlic as a food-flavoring agent, it’s actually been used in alternative medicine for a variety of ailments for centuries. One study of garlic supplements in adults with the flu found enhanced immunity and reduced symptom severity.
You don’t necessarily have to take supplements, though. Eating raw garlic may also be beneficial. Due to the immune-enhancing effects, consider eating garlic at the first signs of the flu.
Yogurt with live cultures not only can help soothe a sore throat but can also boost your immune system, according to a study of mice reported in the journal International Immunopharmacology. Yogurt also contains protein.
You can eat yogurt while your throat is sore, but just be sure to choose whole yogurts without any added sugars.
5. Vitamin C–containing fruits
Vitamin C is an important nutrient to help boost your immune system, which is especially important when you’re sick. While supplements can help, your body can absorb nutrients like vitamin C more effectively from the foods you eat.
Consider snacking on vitamin C–rich fruits while you have the flu. Some fruits high in vitamin C include strawberries, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
6. Leafy greens
Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens can also help boost your immune system when you have the flu. They have both vitamin C and vitamin E, another immune-enhancing nutrient.
Consider combining leafy greens with fruit in a smoothie, or eat them raw with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil. It’s best to eat these immune-boosting foods throughout the duration of your illness.
Broccoli is a nutrient powerhouse that can benefit your body when you have the flu. Eating just one serving will provide immune-boosting vitamins C and E, along with calcium and fiber.
Consider eating broccoli when your appetite returns toward the middle or end of the flu. You can also eat broccoli soup; just remember to check the sodium content.
When you’re sick, a hot bowl of oatmeal can be a soothing, nutritious food choice. Oatmeal, like other whole grains, is also a natural source of immune-boosting vitamin E. It also contains polyphenol antioxidants as well as immune-strengthening beta-glucan fiber.
Choose whole oats for the most benefits.
Toward the end of the flu, you might have increased sinus and chest congestion. Certain spices, such as pepper and horseradish, can help break up congestion so you can breathe better. However, avoid spicy foods when you have a sore throat.
It’s easy to get dehydrated with the flu. Not only do you eat and drink less and have an overall reduced water intake, but you also lose water with sweat when you have a fever.
Not only are fluids important for your body functions in general, but they can also help break up congestion and stave off infections.
When it comes to hydrating beverages, water still ranks number one. It also acts as a natural detox for your body. If you aren’t a fan of water or are looking for something with more flavor, you can also drink:
- ginger tea
- herbal tea with honey
- honey and lemon tea (mix equal parts with hot water)
- 100 percent juices (look for products without added sugars)
Low-sugar sports drinks or other electrolyte-containing beverages, such as Pedialyte, may be used if you’re dehydrated only.
Although they’re not typical of the seasonal flu, vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms that could warrant the use of electrolytes.
What to avoid
Knowing what to avoid eating with the flu is perhaps just as important as what you should eat. When you’re sick with the flu, avoid the following items:
- Alcohol. This lowers your immune system and causes dehydration.
- Caffeinated beverages. Items such as coffee, black tea, and soda can make you more dehydrated. Plus, many of these beverages may contain sugar.
- Hard or jagged foods. Crunchy crackers, chips, and foods with similar textures can aggravate a cough and sore throat.
- Processed foods. Whether these are from a fast food joint or made from a box, the more processed a food is, the fewer nutrients you’ll get. With the flu, your body is trying to heal itself, so it’s important to support the process with whole, nutritious foods.
Helping your child stay nourished
As an adult with the flu, when you have no appetite or energy, it can be difficult to eat nutritious foods and make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. This can be even more difficult for children.
Children are also more likely than adults to become dehydrated because of their lower body masses. Make sure you offer fluids to your child often.
You can also:
- Administer an over-the-counter pain reliever for aches and fever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). Just be sure to check the dosage amount, and choose a baby or child version if appropriate for your child’s age and weight.
- Have your child dress in layers if they have a fever and chills.
- Offer popsicles to help soothe their throat and alleviate fever.
- Encourage them to rest by creating an environment with minimal stimulation. Even though it may be tempting to put them in front of the television, watching too much TV may have a negative effect on their sleep.
Eating the right foods and staying hydrated are important to help you get over the flu. While the worst of the symptoms may be gone after five days, it can take one to two weeks to get over the flu entirely.
Your recovery may take even longer if you develop a secondary infection from the flu. As a rule of thumb, you should stay hydrated and make your best effort to eat flu-friendly foods until your symptoms go away and your appetite returns to normal.