The incidence of chickenpox has declined dramatically since the beginning of the 21st century, dropping approximately 85% between 2005 and 2014 (1).

However, some groups of people, including newborns, pregnant women, and people living with HIV/AIDS or other immunodeficiency disorders, are at an increased risk of contracting the infection (2, 3, 4).

An immunodeficiency disorder means that your immune system is compromised, so your body typically has a harder time fighting off viruses, diseases, and infections.

Having a chickenpox infection can be extremely uncomfortable at times.

Therefore, minimizing the symptoms of the infection, as well as staying hydrated and nourished, are some of the best things you can do to help manage chickenpox.

This article highlights some of the best foods to eat, as well as some foods to avoid, when you or someone you know has chickenpox.

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is one manifestation of the varicella-zoster virus (5).

The same virus is also responsible for herpes zoster, an infection more commonly known as shingles (4).

Chickenpox is a highly contagious and uncomfortable disease characterized by symptoms such as fever, nausea, fatigue, muscle cramps, and a rash of itchy red bumps, scabs, and blisters that covers the body (6, 7).

Sometimes, additional complications can develop, including ulcers, hepatitis, pancreatitis, pneumonia, and even stroke (1, 3).

summary

Chickenpox is a highly contagious and uncomfortable disease that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for shingles.

Treating chickenpox

While vaccines have reduced the number of people who contract chickenpox each year, not many medications currently show potential to treat the varicella-zoster virus directly (8, 9, 10, 11).

One review of 6 studies measuring the effectiveness of chickenpox treatments in humans found that taking acyclovir orally within 24 hours of the onset of chickenpox symptoms might help treat the infection in healthy children and adults (12).

A second review found similar results. Plus, a review of 11 observational studies in humans noted that oral acyclovir appears to treat chickenpox, although only when administered within the first 24 hours (13, 14).

Acyclovir is an antiviral medication that is typically consumed orally in the form of a pill, or as a topical ointment that is applied to the infected area.

Given that there are not many treatment options for chickenpox aside from acyclovir, caring for someone with chickenpox usually centers around symptom management and pain relief.

Some of the most common ways in which you may try to manage the symptoms of chickenpox include:

  • using acetaminophen to reduce fever, although taking other medications with chickenpox, including aspirin and ibuprofen, has been linked to potentially lethal side effects in children (2, 15, 16, 17)
  • avoiding scratching the rash to keep the infection from spreading
  • relieving pain and itching with a cool bath or calming lotions
  • eating a variety of easy-to-tolerate healthy foods
  • staying hydrated
summary

Not many pharmaceutical options treat chickenpox once you have become infected with the virus. Treatment often centers around managing symptoms.

General dietary guidelines

The rash caused by the chickenpox virus may not only cover the outside of the body but also affect the inner tongue, mouth, and throat (18).

In fact, a 2001 study in 62 children aged 2–13 found that the number of oral lesions caused by the varicella-zoster virus ranged from 1–30, depending on the severity of the case (19).

Therefore, it’s best to avoid foods that may further irritate these oral lesions, such as spicy, acidic, salty, and crunchy foods.

In addition, if your immune system is already compromised, the chickenpox virus is more likely to cause further complications, such as gastritis, a condition in which inflammation of the stomach leads to symptoms like pain, nausea, and vomiting (20, 21).

Following a mild diet that is easy to tolerate is one way to ensure that you or the person you’re caring for stays hydrated and nourished while fighting chickenpox.

Though not extremely common, another possible concern when you get chickenpox is an elevated risk of anemia, or a shortage of iron in the blood (22, 23, 24).

Consuming foods that are high in iron while fighting chickenpox may help reduce this risk.

The role of amino acids

The replication of certain viruses is highly dependent on various amino acid levels in the body (25).

Two amino acids in particular — arginine and lysine — play a role in protein synthesis and have been recognized as influencing virus growth.

One virus that appears to be especially responsive to changes in amino acid intake is herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 is the virus that causes fever blisters, which are also known as cold sores (26).

While arginine is believed to promote the growth of HSV-1, lysine is believed to inhibit its growth.

Some people have suggested that the same may be true for the varicella-zoster virus and its manifestations, including chickenpox and shingles.

However, not much human research has been conducted on how amino acid intake influences chickenpox in particular.

Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the claim that a diet high in lysine and low in arginine can improve chickenpox symptoms.

Summary

Because chickenpox may affect your mouth and throat, it’s important to follow a mild diet. Iron-rich foods may be beneficial as well. There is currently not enough research to suggest that your amino acid intake influences chickenpox.

Foods to eat

Here are some foods that are safe and tolerable to consume with chickenpox.

Soft foods

  • mashed potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • avocado
  • scrambled eggs
  • beans and lentils
  • tofu
  • boiled chicken
  • poached fish

Cool foods

  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • ice cream
  • cottage cheese
  • milkshakes
  • smoothies

Bland foods

Non-acidic fruits and vegetables

  • applesauce
  • bananas
  • melon
  • berries
  • peaches
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • cucumbers
  • spinach

Staying hydrated

Staying nourished and eating a variety of healthy tolerable foods is crucial to helping your body fight the chickenpox virus and recover quickly.

But staying hydrated is an equally important part of the treatment (27).

Given that chickenpox can have such a significant impact on the mouth and throat area, it might be painful to consume foods and beverages. This can consequently put people infected with the virus at an even higher risk of dehydration.

Some hydrating beverages include:

  • plain water
  • coconut water
  • herbal tea
  • low-sugar sports drinks
  • electrolyte-infused drinks

Some beverages that might contribute to dehydration include:

  • sugary fruit juices
  • coffee
  • soda
  • alcohol
  • energy drinks

The table below includes recommendations for daily Adequate Intake (AI) amounts of total water — from both drinks and foods (28):

AgeAI for water per day
0–6 months24 ounces (0.7 liters)
7–12 months27 ounces (0.8 liters)
1–3 years44 ounces (1.3 liters)
4–8 years58 ounces (1.7 liters)
Girls 9–13 years71 ounces (2.1 liters)
Boys 9–13 years81 ounces (2.4 liters)
Girls 14–18 years78 ounces (2.3 liters)
Boys 14–18 years112 ounces (3.3 liters)
Women 19–5091 ounces (2.7 liters)
Men 19–50125 ounces (3.7 liters)
Summary

A diet for chickenpox should be filled with soft, cool, bland, non-acidic foods and plenty of water.

Foods to avoid

Here is a list of foods that might irritate or worsen symptoms of chickenpox among people who are experiencing blisters in or around their mouth.

Spicy foods

  • chili peppers
  • hot sauce
  • salsa
  • garlic

Acidic foods

  • grapes
  • pineapple
  • tomatoes
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • foods pickled in vinegar
  • coffee

Salty foods

  • pretzels
  • chips
  • soup broths
  • vegetable juices

Hard, crunchy foods

Summary

Spicy, salty, acidic, and crunchy foods should be avoided when you have chickenpox.

Sample menu

Here is a sample menu of what you may eat when you have chickenpox:

Breakfast

  • 1/2 cup (82 grams) of oatmeal
  • 1 scrambled egg
  • 1 banana
  • 1/3 of an avocado (50 grams)
  • water to drink

Lunch

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) of brown rice
  • 1 cup (224 grams) of sautéed spinach
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) of yogurt with berries and almond butter
  • water to drink

Dinner

  • 3 ounces (84 grams) of boiled chicken
  • 1/2 cup (105 grams) of mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup (156 grams) of steamed broccoli
  • 1 cup (237 ml) of strawberry-banana smoothie
  • water to drink

Depending on how you feel, you may want to break up your daily nutrient intake with more frequent, smaller meals.

summary

Many of the foods that you normally consume can be included on a chickenpox diet. Ensuring that vegetables and proteins have been fully cooked to a soft texture will make them more tolerable.

The bottom line

Chickenpox is a highly contagious and uncomfortable disease.

While vaccines prevent the virus, there are not many treatment options once it has been contracted.

Therefore, managing its symptoms and making yourself as comfortable as possible are some of the best things you can do.

Eating a diet that is filled with healthy but tolerable foods, such as those that are soft and bland, will keep you nourished.

Drinking water and other hydrating beverages throughout the day might also help your body fight off the infection sooner.

A chickenpox diet does not have to be limited, and a large variety of foods can be included.

Still, it’s best to avoid foods that are crunchy, hot, spicy, salty, or acidic if you’re experiencing sores on the lips, mouth, or tongue.

If you’re concerned about your or someone else’s nutrient intake during a bout of chickenpox, ask your healthcare provider for guidance.