The right foods to eat when you’re sick can do so much more than give you energy. They can help you feel better, get better faster, or stay hydrated as you recover.

When you’re under the weather, eating may be one of the last things on your mind. However, the following 15 foods can support your recovery.

1. Chicken soup

Chicken soup has been a go-to for sickness 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 quantities while you’re recovering from an illness.

Chicken soup is also a rich source of fluid and electrolytes, which are helpful if you’re at risk of dehydration due to diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, or fever.

The soup’s warmth may help reduce congestion, as hot or spicy liquids can be helpful for this.

The chicken in chicken soup also contains the amino acid cysteine. N-acetyl-cysteine, a form of cysteine, breaks apart mucus and has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.

Homemade chicken soup made from bone broth is also rich in collagen and nutrients that may help promote recovery — although there’s not enough research on bone broth’s effects on immune health to back up these claims.

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2. Broths

Like chicken soup, broths are excellent sources of fluid and electrolytes that can be helpful when you’re sick. When hot, they may also help relieve sinus congestion.

They’re full of flavor and rich in various nutrients while still being easy on your digestive system.

Additionally, bone broths are rich in collagen and amino acids (building blocks of protein) from animal bones, which may help promote a faster recovery, although research is still lacking.

If you need to follow a salt-restricted diet, choose low sodium or no-salt-added broths if buying premade broths from the grocery store.

3. Garlic

Garlic provides many health benefits and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries.

Test-tube and animal studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.

According to a 2016 study, aged garlic extract supplements may enhance immune function and decrease the severity of colds and the flu.

Adding garlic to food when you’re sick can both add flavor and make your food even more effective at fighting off cold or flu symptoms.

4. Coconut water

Coconut water is an ideal beverage to sip on when you’re sick. It’s rich in electrolytes, which need to be replenished along with fluids when you’re vomiting, sweating, having diarrhea, or running a fever.

It also contains a bit of natural sugar from the fruit itself, which can serve as a quick, easy-to-use energy source for your body.

However, one older study found that coconut water causes more bloating than other electrolyte beverages. It might be a good idea to start slowly if you’ve never tried it.

5. Hot tea

Tea is a favorite remedy for many colds and flu symptoms.

Just like chicken soup, hot tea acts as a natural decongestant. The tea needs to be hot to help relieve congestion, but it shouldn’t be so hot that it further irritates your throat.

Although some teas contain caffeine, research suggests that tea doesn’t contribute to dehydration or cause any increased water loss.

This means sipping on tea throughout the day is a great way to stay hydrated while relieving congestion.

Tea also contains polyphenols. These natural substances found in plants may have many possible health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.

6. Honey

Honey has some antibacterial properties. People often use it as an antiseptic wound dressing for cuts or burns.

Honey may also stimulate your immune system. Many people use local raw honey to relieve seasonal allergies, but there’s currently limited research to support this.

Additionally, honey may help suppress cough in children. However, it shouldn’t be given to children under 12 months old due to the risk of contamination with botulism-causing bacteria.

7. Ginger

Ginger is widely used in food, herbal medicine, and home remedies. It’s probably best known for its anti-nausea effects. Studies show it can effectively relieve nausea related to pregnancy and cancer treatment.

So if you’re feeling nauseous or throwing up, ginger is one of the best natural remedies to relieve these symptoms.

Use fresh ginger in cooking, brew some ginger tea, or pick up some ginger ale from the store to get these benefits. Just make sure that whatever you’re using contains real ginger or ginger extract, not just ginger flavor.

8. Spicy foods

Spicy foods like chili peppers contain capsaicin, which causes a hot, burning sensation when touched.

In high enough concentrations, capsaicin can have a desensitizing effect. Pain-relieving gels and patches often include capsaicin.

Many people report that eating spicy foods causes a runny nose, breaking up mucus and clearing out the sinus passages.

While few studies have tested this effect, capsaicin does seem to thin out mucus, making it easier to expel. Some research suggests that nasal capsaicin sprays may help relieve congestion and itching.

However, you should avoid spicy foods if you already have an upset stomach. Studies show that spicy food can cause bloating, pain, and nausea in some people.

9. Bananas

Bananas are a great food to eat when you’re sick. They’re soft and bland but rich in nutrients and fast-acting carbs. The potassium in bananas can also help replenish your electrolyte stores since potassium is one of the key electrolytes your body needs.

Another 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.

10. Oatmeal

Like bananas, oatmeal is bland and easy to eat but also provides calories, vitamins, and minerals you need when you’re sick.

A 2021 research review suggests that oats may help boost your immune system and aid digestion. Still, more research is needed.

Instead of buying artificially flavored oatmeal with lots of added sugar, consider adding a small amount of honey or fruit to rolled or steel-cut oats for even more health benefits.

11. Yogurt

Yogurt contains beneficial probiotics, which are strains of bacteria that can colonize in your gut and provide health benefits.

Research suggests that probiotic dairy products like yogurt can help both children and adults get colds less often, heal faster when sick, and take fewer antibiotics.

However, some people report that dairy intake thickens their mucus secretions, which can be compounded when you’re sick.

If you feel that dairy products make your congestion worse, you may consider other probiotic foods (like kombucha) or a probiotic supplement instead.

12. Certain fruits

Fruits are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which can support your overall health and immune function.

Many fruits are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps your immune system function properly.

Some fruits contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give certain fruits — like strawberries and blueberries — their red and blue colors.

Anthocyanins make berries excellent foods to eat when sick because they have strong anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting effects.

Studies show that fruit extracts high in anthocyanins can prevent common viruses and bacteria from attaching to cells. They also stimulate your body’s immune response.

Additionally, one review of 14 studies noted that flavonoid supplements, which are made from specific antioxidants found in fruit, were linked to a 40% reduction in the number of days people were sick with a cold. However, the researchers cautioned that the results were unclear.

Add some fruit to a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt for more health benefits, or blend frozen fruit into a cold smoothie that soothes your throat.

13. Avocados

Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

They’re a great food to eat when sick because they provide calories, vitamins, and minerals 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 in olive oil), they may help decrease inflammation while playing a role in immune function.

14. 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.

Dark green vegetables are also loaded with polyphenols. These act as antioxidants to protect cells from damage and help fight inflammation.

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.

15. Salmon

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.

Salmon is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects that may help your immune system work more effectively.

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.

What are the best foods for kids when they’re sick?

Children often have a different taste palate than adults. While the principles are the same for kids — stay hydrated and nourished — some of the food choices may differ. It’s essential they replenish their nutrients, so it’s most important to select foods they will eat.

Discover a dietitian’s pick for the best foods to give your child when they’re sick.

Was this helpful?

Ultimately, what’s best for you to eat and drink will depend on your specific illness and symptoms. Here are some common questions about specific situations.

What foods should I eat if I’m feeling sick to my stomach?

If you’re experiencing nausea or a stomach bug, opt for dry, starchy foods like crackers and toast. It’s also best to stick to water or other nonalcoholic clear drinks.

Some experts recommend the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), but there’s little research into the effectiveness of such diets.

What should I eat and drink when sick with the flu?

Many of the options mentioned above, like broths and fruits, are beneficial if you have the flu. Staying hydrated and nourished when sick with flu is important, so simple, nutrient-filled meals are best. Depending on your symptoms, you may also want to choose soft, warm foods to soothe a sore throat.

What should I eat when sick with COVID?

When sick with COVID or another viral infection, foods that boost your immune system might be helpful. Look for foods that contain vitamins C and D, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

What are the worst foods to eat when sick?

Which foods you avoid when sick may depend on your specific symptoms. You’ll want to stay away from foods that worsen symptoms. In many cases, this includes foods high in fat or sugar.

You also won’t benefit much from processed or fast food, as they typically contain fewer nutrients.

It’s best to avoid alcohol as it dehydrates you and weakens your immune system.

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 is likely to cure sickness, eating the right foods may help support your immune system and relieve certain symptoms.