Being sick with flu, cold or a stomach bug can really drain you physically and mentally. In such cases, the key to a fast recovery is to stay nourished and hydrated.
Some foods are better than the others in combating specific symptoms and helping you recover faster. It is always good to know the best foods, such as chicken soup, broth, leafy vegetables, garlic, coconut water, etc., to eat when you are sick.
In this article, we share with you some of the best foods to have when you are feeling under the weather and why?
1. Herbal tea
If you are experiencing cold and flu symptoms, a cup of hot tea may just be the remedy for you. Not only does the tea help you stay hydrated, but it also acts as a natural decongestant.
Herbal teas refresh your mind, and their steam can help to clear the mucus from the sinuses. Green tea contains polyphenols like reservatol, anthocyanins, catechins and terpenes like taxols that have significant antioxidant properties (1).
Catechins, in particular, are known to protect against certain types of influenza virus. Herbal teas also contain certain polyphenols called tannins.
Not only do tanning act as antioxidants, but they also have anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial properties (2).
Adding ground turmeric to hot water can also help provide relief from a sore throat. The antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties of this spice make this tea quite effective against common ailments.
2. Chicken soup
Chicken soup is the best dish for many of us when we are feeling unwell. It is packed with immunity-supporting nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur.
It is an easily digestible source of calories, proteins, minerals, and vitamins, all of which are needed by our body in higher quantity when we are sick (5).
Chicken soup also contains carnosine, an amino acid that helps reduce cytokines. Cytokines are inflammatory compounds that contribute to a runny nose, sneezing, and cough during respiratory infections (6).
Chicken soup also contains the cysteine. This amino acid thins mucus and helps the cilia (tiny hair that lines the bronchi and lungs) to move mucus out of the lungs (7).
Chicken soup is also a rich source of fluids and electrolytes that help the body stay hydrated.
Honey is very effective against a sore throat caused by bacterial infections. According to a recent study, honey is more effective than diphenhydramine and salbutamol in treating cough symptoms in children (8).
Honey is also considered to be an excellent topical wound healing agent thanks to its broad-spectrum antibacterial activity and healing properties (9).
Honey is also known to have bioactivities that stimulate the immune response and suppress inflammation. Mix half a teaspoon of honey in a warm cup of milk or water and drink it to soothe your throat, suppress coughing and to stay hydrated.
Gingerol, the main bioactive compound in ginger, is responsible for most of its medicinal properties. Chewing raw ginger or having ginger tea is a common home remedy for nausea and vomiting (10).
Ginger is also a diaphoretic, which means it promotes sweating and works to warm the body from within, which makes it a soothing remedy for cold and flu.
Ginger can also help fight off bacterial infections that can lead to urinary tract infections, and bronchitis (11).
You can make delicious ginger tea by adding one teaspoon of fresh ginger to a cup of hot water. Steep it for five to six minutes and then strain. Add to some honey to your ginger tea if you prefer some sweetness.
Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and it stimulates the nervous system (12). Adding fresh garlic to soups and foods can help if you have a cold or flu.
Many studies have found that consuming garlic has a positive effect in preventing colds and flu. According to one study, 146 volunteers took a garlic supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks. The results showed that there were fewer occurrences of the common cold in the garlic group (13).
Garlic is also known to enhance immunity and reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms (14).
Coconut water is one of the best health drinks to have when you are sick. When you have a fever, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, you can lose a lot of water and electrolytes. Coconut water contains glucose and electrolytes that are important for hydration.
During a 2007 study, coconut water was assessed for its effectiveness in restoring exercise-induced dehydration. The study found that sodium enriched fresh coconut water was as good as commercial sports drinks for rehydration with less nausea and stomach upset (15).
Coconut water also contains compounds called tannins, which are useful in reducing the inflammation of the stomach lining.
7. BRAT foods
BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This diet is used for the treatment of diarrhea and other stomach illnesses.
Since these foods are bland and easy to digest, they help relieve the symptoms of stomach illness like nausea, vomiting, and encourage quicker recovery.
Crackers, oatmeal, watermelon, and potatoes can also be included in the BRAT diet. Since this diet is rich in starch and contains little fiber, it has a binding effect on stools and helps speed up recovery.
According to the University of Vienna, eating yogurt may be one of the best ways to fend off a cold. The healthy bacteria in yogurt boost the immune system and helps fight off harmful bugs.
According to a review of 20 randomized controlled trials, probiotics reduce the duration of illness in healthy children and adults who develop common respiratory infectious conditions (16).
Yogurt is also rich in calcium and contains other vitamins and minerals which help build immunity.
9. Citrus fruits and berries
Citrus fruits and berries are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which provide nourishment and boost the immune system when you are sick.
Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits are rich in flavonoids and vitamin C. They help to decrease inflammation, which may help fight fevers.
Berries like strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries contain anthocyanins, which are the flavonoids that given them their typical red, blue and purple color.
Anthocyanins have potent antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting properties. Several studies have shown that anthocyanins can inhibit common bacteria and viruses from attaching to the body cells (17, 18).
Quercetin, a flavonoid found in berries also helps treat rhinovirus infections. This virus is responsible for most of the common colds.
10. Leafy greens
Boosting your intake of vitamins and minerals is crucial when you are sick. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce are rich sources of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and folate, all of which help in boosting immunity.
Green leafy vegetables have high antioxidant activity, which protects the cells from damage and helps fight inflammation.
These vegetables also contain various pharmacologically active compounds which are helpful in the treatment of bacterial infections (19).
Wild caught salmon has one of the highest omega-3 content of any fish. It is also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. One serving of salmon contains more than days’ worth of vitamin D (20).
Vitamin D is known to boost immunity and fight inflammation, and this makes salmon the perfect food to eat when sick.
Avocados are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (21). They help provide the extra calories and nutrients that our body needs when we are sick. Avocados are also easy to eat when you are sick as they are soft and relatively bland.
Avocados also contain oleic acid, which plays a vital role in decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity (22).
13. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin A, which plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the mucosal surfaces, including those inside the nose, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.
Keeping the mucosal membranes healthy is vital for preventing infections.
This spice is rich in antioxidants and is considered a natural anti-inflammatory. Turmeric helps relieve the body of toxins and people who consume turmeric are less susceptible to colds, coughs, and congestion.
Curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric, is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effects (23).
Laboratory studies have found that curcumin reduces viral replication of 90 or more cells infected by influenza virus. This means that turmeric can offer therapeutic benefits in treating flu.
Oatmeal is easy to digest, and it provides the calories, vitamins, and minerals that you need when sick. It also improves sugar control and enhances immunity.
According to one study on rats, beta-glucans found in oats helped decrease inflammation in the gut. Thus oatmeal can improve symptoms like intestinal cramping, diarrhea and bloating (24).
A healthy diet can provide relief when an individual feels sick. Add the foods mentioned above to your diet to recover from cold or flu faster.
Not only do these foods help in relieving the symptoms, but they also boost immune function. Also, eating a varied diet and staying hydrated will help to stave off any infections.