From folk remedies to pop-medicine trends, there are loads of sources out there telling us what to and what not to eat when we’re sick. We’ve gone straight to the scientists and pulled out some of the best medically-backed food remedies to prevent you getting sick and to help you feel better when you’re already sick. Check out this list of some of the 25 best foods to eat if you start feeling sick.
Beta-carotene is the cause of orange flesh in foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. It’s also what our bodies convert into vitamin A – a critical nutrient for healthy mucous membranes like those in your nose and throat and for your system in general.
Chocolate with a high cacao content (above about 70%) has finally been making it into the mainstream as of late. (Try to avoid the snack-food varieties which are pumped full of sugar and saturated fat.) Opting for a darker chocolate will fill your body with the powerful antioxidant polyphenol which boosts your immune system.
Eat fat…as fish
Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna reduce inflammation in your body. When various parts of the body such as the lymph nodes are inflamed, our immune systems don’t work as well and thus we get sick easier and stay sick longer. (Fat otherwise are more difficult for the body to process so eat other fats sparingly while sick.)
Continuing on the seafood track, oysters may help cut down on the duration of a cold. This is due to their high zinc content – the highest of any food – which has been proven to reduce the common cold when taken as a supplement (though the supplements have some side effects as well). Make sure to cook the oysters as a compromised immune system won’t be able to fight off potential bacteria in raw seafood.
A common food to eat during weight loss, oats also contain a special fibre named beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been shown in some rat studies to prevent infection of our upper respiratory tract and prevent early, stress-related death. A cholesterol-fighter and immune-booster? Sounds like a win-win.
Asian cooks recommend ginger for nearly everything and rightly so – ginger helps prevent infection and heal you once you’re sick. This ancient root helps anything from nausea to constipation to bloating. Try it like the Chinese sometimes do as ginger eggs: add little bits of ginger to your scrambled eggs to reduce coughing.
The small, licorice-flavoured seeds often appearing in central European sausages, fennel seeds are wonderful for your respiratory system as they can decongest you and reduce coughing. Crush the seeds to make a tea or roast the bulb and stalks which you can find in most megamarkets – they add a nice zing to a mixed vegetable roast or soup.
One of protein’s major roles in our bodies is helping antibody production and fighting infection. Though oily, greasy foods might make you feel better for an instant, think about having roast turkey or chicken next time you feel sick.
Beans, Legumes, & Nuts
Benefitting you for some of the same reason as lean meats, the protein in beans, legumes, and nuts can help you get through sickness. Especially useful are Brasil nuts (just one meets your daily recommended amount of selenium, a cold- and flu-fighter) and sunflower seeds (packed with vitamin E, they can improve lung function and protect your cell walls).
Probiotic-Rich Dairy Products
Yogurt with various kinds of healthy bacteria (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum) are hitting the market strong – and rightly so. With 10 trillion bacteria living in your intestines, it’s good to keep a high supply of the good variety when you’re feeling sick, especially when experiencing things such as vomiting and diarrhea which can wipe out some of your supply.
No sickness-fighting list would be complete without chicken soup. The amino acid cysteine present in chicken thins mucus in your lungs and warm broth helps with the critical tasks of keeping you hydrated and keeping your nasal passages moist.
Your grandmother was right – the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) diet is a brilliant cure for stomach ailments. The blandness of the foods combined with their nutritional benefits – for instance, bananas whose high potassium levels replenishes important electrolyte lost when you are expelling liquids and toast which can help stabilize a turbulent digestive system – actively work to help you feel better.
Anise seeds are often found in cookies but they can do more for you than just taste good. Anise helps you expel mucus and eases a cough, too. Try making a tea from a cup of crushed anise seeds and a cup of boiling water. Flavor it with honey and cinnamon.
Sweared on by cooks across the globe, garlic is nearly a panacea food. You’ll get the highest antioxidant content from garlic when eating it raw, but as some people find this a bit off-putting, try adding garlic to your food when sick or taking supplements.
Well, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. Recent research has shown that drinking loads of orange juice and taking vitamin C supplements don’t help in fighting the cold that much, but this vitamin rampant in citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, and lemons might slightly reduce how long you feel icky.
Though your body makes vitamin D when the the sun hits your skin, if you’re cooped up inside sick or in a cold climate you’re likely not getting enough of this important nutrient. Many foods are now fortified with vitamin D, the most notable being most milk products. (Bonus fact: contrary to popular belief, drinking or eating dairy does not increase your body’s mucus production! So have a glass of cow juice and, at the same time, lower your chances of getting a respiratory infection.)
A warm cup of tea is perfect when you have the sniffles. Though the most beneficial variety is green tea, all varieties made from the Camellia sinensus plant (rather than herbal teas) pull their weight as flu-fighters due to high amounts of the antioxidants called catechins. A Japanese study even showed that people who regularly take catechin supplements were 75% less likely to catch the flu.
Mushrooms are technically funghi and though you might steer away from them generally, they are full of antioxidants which act like a sports drink to your immune system. The potassium, vitamin B, and fiber in them can help you beat a cold.
Hot, Salty Water
It’s widely known that gargling with hot, salty water is good when you’re sick, but do you know why? As salt is hydrophilic (meaning it attracts water to it), it pulls moisture out of an inflamed throat and reduces discomfort. It also cuts through throat mucus and rinses away bacteria.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Very beneficial to your health due to their high nutrient content, dark, leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, and spinach are especially beneficial when you’re feeling sick and your body is lacking nutrients. Recent research has even shown bitter varieties like arugula can help boost your white blood cell count.
Mostly associated with Indian and South Asian cooking, turmeric is a major part of Ayurvedic medicine and has preventative and healing properties that rival gingers’. A powerhouse on the anti-inflammatory and antibiotic scenes, turmeric can also help an upset stomach and a loss of appetite. Add half a teaspoon to a cup of boiling milk or add it to the sauce of a dish with carrots or lean meats for a super health hack.
Blueberries are bursting with anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant which gives blueberries their bright blue or purple colours. All their antioxidants also boost the immune system (and your brain’s health too). There’s also loads of anthocyanin in wine, but the effects of alcohol while sick can have a mostly negative effect.
Having now appeared on heaps of grocery shelves, echinacea is most commonly consumed as a tea or supplement. But beware – scientists have not found conclusive evidence the herb helps with sickness and it can even have a side effect of an upset stomach. It has been shown, though, to boost white blood cell count which can help your body fight off infection.
Reach for a jar of the sweet stuff next time you feel unwell. Honey, besides being something you may actually like to eat when feeling sick, helps ease a scratchy throat and boost your immune system. Be wary of other foods high in sugar as they can prevent your immune system from doing its best.
If you like your chillies and curries, rejoice! They’re good for you to eat when sick – but only when it’s a head cold, not when you have an upset stomach. The heat of spicy food can aggravate your stomach and digestive system, but when you feel stuffed up it can help decongest you and flush mucus out.