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 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.

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.

However, staying hydrated helps promote overall bodily function. Fluids can also help break up congestion.

When it comes to hydrating beverages, water 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:

  • broth
  • 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 also be considered if you’re dehydrated. However, you should only use Pedialyte under your doctor’s guidance.

Although not typical of the seasonal flu, vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms that could warrant the use of electrolytes.

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.

1. Broth

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 symptoms begin 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 is traditionally thought of as a go-to food when you’re feeling sick. Though scientific evidence is lacking to back up its healing properties, it can be easy to stomach when you’re under the weather.

Chicken soup still provides some benefit. The broth is a good source of fluids and electrolytes to prevent hydration. The chicken provides your body with protein and zinc. You’ll also gain vitamin A from carrots, and vitamin C from celery and onions, and antioxidants from herbs.

3. Garlic

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. While data is limited, results from one study found the use of garlic supplements in adults with the flu enhanced immunity and reduced symptom severity.

You don’t necessarily have to take garlic supplements, though. Eating raw garlic may also be beneficial.

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is a good source of probiotics. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can help support the immune system. Research in mice found that probiotics may help shorten the duration of the flu.

Just be sure to choose whole yogurts without any added sugars for maximum nutritional benefit.

5. Vitamin C–containing fruits and vegetables

Vitamin C is an important nutrient to help boost your immune system, which is especially important when you’re sick.

Your body absorbs nutrients like vitamin C more effectively from the foods you eat. Foods high in vitamin C include:

  • red or green pepper
  • oranges or orange juice
  • grapefruit juice
  • kiwi
  • broccoli

Though you can also take a vitamin C supplement.

6. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens can also help boost your immune system when you have the flu. They are quality sources of immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, and K.

Consider adding leafy greens to a fruit smoothie, or eat them raw with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil.

7. Broccoli

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 on its own or adding it to soup; just remember to be mindful of sodium content.

8. Oatmeal

When you’re sick, a hot bowl of oatmeal can be a soothing, nutritious food choice. Oatmeal is a good source of several immune-boosting nutrients, including:

  • copper
  • iron
  • selenium
  • zinc
  • fiber
  • protein

9. Spices

Adding certain spices to your diet, such as ginger and turmeric, can help ease symptoms. These spices contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help break up congestion. Consider adding them to tea or hot water with lemon.

Hot peppers and horseradish can also help clear sinus passages and alleviate mucus buildup.

Understanding what to avoid eating with the flu is perhaps just as important as knowing what you should eat. For some people, certain food ingredients may make symptoms such as diarrhea worse. When you’re sick with the flu, stay away from the following items:

  • Alcohol. This lowers your immune system and causes dehydration.
  • Fatty foods. Hard to digest items such as fried foods, pizza, and fast foods.
  • Excess simple sugars. Foods and drinks like candy, sweetened beverages and some fruit juices can prolong diarrhea.
  • Limit dairy intake. Milk and milk products contain the sugar lactose. Some people recovering from viral gastroenteritis may experience problems digesting lactose.
  • Processed foods. Whether from a fast food chain 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.

BRAT diet

The “BRAT” diet is named after the acronym for the foods recommended in this eating plan, which includes:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Apples
  • Toast

Traditionally, the BRAT diet was recommended for the stomach flu or other gastrointestinal illnesses that involve nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The idea behind the BRAT diet was that these foods are easy to digest and may promote recovery from an upset stomach.

However, the BRAT diet is low in protein, fat, fiber, and other nutrients which may actually help promote healing. And going too long without essential nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies. As a result, the BRAT diet is no longer recommended.

Regardless, some people still turn to the BRAT diet or bland foods when they’re feeling unwell. Just remember to start incorporating more nutrient-dense foods back into your diet when you’re on the mend.

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 challenging for children.

A child is also more likely than an adult to become dehydrated because of their lower body mass. Children are also more likely to lose fluids from a high fever. Make sure you offer fluids to your child often. You can also offer popsicles to soothe a sore throat and help with hydration.

Eating healthfully year-round is a great way to boost immunity which may in turn help prevent flu. While there’s no one exact immune-boosting diet, it may help to eat foods rich in various nutrients and antioxidants, such as:

  • vitamin C, such as oranges, peppers, and grapefruit
  • vitamin D, such as salmon, mushrooms, and fortified milk
  • zinc, such as oysters, red meat, and fortified cereals
  • selenium, such as seafood, eggs, and dairy
  • iron, such as lean meat, white beans, and nuts
  • protein, such as beans, nuts, and poultry
  • probiotics, such as kefir, yogurt, and kimchi
  • prebiotics, such as garlic, onions, and leeks

If you get the flu, it’s important to rest, stay hydrated, and eat nutritious foods. The worst of your symptoms should be gone after five to seven days. In the meantime, work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to help you recover.