Intermountain Health logo

Please enter the city or town where you'd like to find care.

Get care nowSign in

Health news and blog

Not Sure What to Eat When You're Sick?

Not Sure What to Eat When You're Sick?

Not sure what to eat when sick

Cold and flu season is once again here, which means try as you might, you’re likely still going to get sick at least once this winter. But what can you do to minimize it — and maybe even escape it?

Wiping down your shopping cart at the grocery store, sanitizing your keyboard at work, and avoiding others who are sick are all basic steps that can help reduce your sick days.

And here’s a more important solution: It’s always important to eat well — especially when you’re sick. Not eating when you’re sick can inhibit your body’s ability to heal itself. While you might crave junk foods while you’re sick, they won’t help your body heal either.

Stock up now on these healthy staples so you’re prepared for any sickness that might come your way this year.

Foods to help you fight a cold or flu

  • Broth-based soups. Your mother knew what she was doing when she fed you chicken noodle soup as a kid. Broth-based soups can help thin mucus in the lungs, keep your nasal passages moist, and fight inflammation in the throat. They also act as a natural decongestant and provide fluids, electrolytes, calories, vitamins, and protein.
  • Spicy foods. Loading up on foods that contain spicy ingredients like chili peppers can help break up mucus and clear out your sinus passages. Spicy foods can also improve symptoms of a cough. Be aware, though — spicy foods can also cause bloating, nausea, or pain in some people.
  • Hot tea. Tea can act as a natural decongestant, soothe your sore throat, and increase the amount of fluids you drink. Some teas can even fight bacteria growth in your throat, support your immune system, or shorten the length of your cold or flu symptoms. Even if you’re not a tea drinker, you can get similar benefits from drinking hot water and lemon with a small amount of honey.
  • Fresh fruit. Fruit is full of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Some fruits like berries have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting properties. Similarly, the thin white layer on citrus fruits contain flavonoids that can speed up your recovery when you’re sick. Get more fruit in your diet by making a smoothie or adding berries to your yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Garlic. Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal effects and it stimulates the nervous system. Adding fresh garlic to broth-based soups or spicy foods gives them added power.

Foods to settle an upset stomach

Anytime your stomach is unsettled and you’re experiencing nausea, an upset stomach, or diarrhea, it’s best to stick with foods that are easily digestible. These can include:

Drinking water while you’re sick

One of the most important things you need when you’re sick is fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body heal quickly and help ease your symptoms while you’re sick. Stick with water as much as possible.

You can drink it hot or cold and even suck on ice chips. If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, try decaffeinated teas or enhance your water with lemon and honey. Skip sugar-loaded sports drinks, fruit juices, alcohol, and coffee (caffeine can dehydrate you). If you’re vomiting, you may want to replace some of your lost electrolytes with a store-bought or homemade oral rehydration solution.

No matter your diagnosis, it’s important to take care of yourself when you’re sick. Eating the right foods will help. If you have more questions about what to eat while you’re sick, talk to your doctor.