Foods to eat and avoid with the flu
Eating nourishing food and drinking plenty of fluids can provide essential nutrients and keep the body hydrated, which may help speed recovery from the flu.
In this article, we describe which foods may help or harm a person who has the flu, according to scientific evidence. Read on for a practical dietary guide to recovery from the flu.
Which foods may help flu recovery?
Medical research suggests that the following foods may reduce symptoms of the flu:
Chicken soup may reduce inflammatory responses in the body.
As a result, chicken soup may help clear congestion in the nose and airways and soothe other symptoms in the upper respiratory tract.
Other soups, including vegetarian or vegan options, may have similar effects.
Soups can be nutritious, easy to digest, soothing, and easy to prepare, even during illnesses. Also, because they contain water, soups can promote hydration.
Garlic may have antiviral and antimicrobial properties. These can help support the immune system as it combats infection, including a cold or the flu.
Authors of a 2014 review have looked at the effects of garlic on the common cold.
They refer to a 146-participant study in which participants who took a garlic supplement every day for 3 months had fewer colds than those who took a placebo. The authors note that confirming the effects will require further research, however.
Eating meals with plenty of garlic may help the body fight off infection.
Foods high in vitamin C
- sweet or hot peppers of any color
- oranges and orange juice
Many fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C are also excellent sources of flavonoids, which are compounds that can provide a wide range of health benefits. For example, flavonoids may help reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections.
Beyond the foods listed above, good sources of both vitamin C and flavonoids include:
- other citrus fruits, such as lemons
- red, blue, or purple berries
- red or purple grapes
- raw broccoli
- raw, dark leafy greens
A person can combine ginger with water, honey, and lemon to make an herbal tea.
One review found evidence to suggest that ginger was more effective than a placebo in treating:
- morning sickness
- chemotherapy-induced nausea
The researchers also noted that ginger helped lower the frequency of vomiting and the intensity of nausea during pregnancy.
Chopped ginger root or ground ginger can be a delicious addition to soups, stews, and other meals. Ginger also goes well in herbal teas or a mixture of hot water, honey, and lemon.
Leafy greens contain plenty of fiber, which aids digestion. These vegetables also provide key nutrients, such as:
- vitamin C
- folic acid
These play an important role in supporting the immune system.
Leafy greens can be an easy addition to soups or stews. They can also make an excellent side dish. Examples of these vegetables include:
- Swiss chard
- collard greens
Oatmeal is filling, easy to make, and a great source of fiber. In fact, the prebiotic fiber in oats can help feed healthful bacteria in the body.
The flu can cause nausea, and rich foods may not be appealing. Bland foods, such as toast or brown rice, may be easier to eat.
Pairing either toast or brown rice with soups or simple, vegetable-based meals can ensure that the body is getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Eating yogurt that contains live bacteria may help fight off the flu. Yogurt is also a good source of protein.
A 2011 study found that fermented yogurt combatted the flu virus in mice. However, confirming this effect in humans will require further research.
It is important to note that dairy increases mucus production in some people. This can temporarily worsen flu symptoms.
Other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and plant-based yogurts, are excellent substitutes that also contain live bacteria.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things that a person can do to help their body fight off the flu.
Below are some fluids that may be particularly helpful:
- Water: The kidneys use water to flush waste products from the body. Drinking plenty of water may help speed recovery.
- Coconut water: Coconut water is rich in potassium, sodium, and chloride. Drinking coconut water may help replace electrolytes that the body loses through sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Hot water with honey, lemon, and ginger: The ginger in this soothing drink may reduce nausea.
Foods to avoid
Certain foods and drinks may slow recovery from the flu, including:
- Alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates the body and reduces the function of the immune system.
- Processed foods: These can be high in salt, which can dehydrate the body, and sugar, which can increase inflammation.
- Greasy foods: These can slow down digestion.
- Dairy: Lactose, a compound in dairy, can be hard to digest. Anyone who is feeling nauseous or who experiences increased mucus production after eating dairy should avoid it until flu symptoms resolve.
- Food with rough edges: Crackers and other crispy foods can scratch the throat and worsen any soreness.
Other recovery tips
If a person has mild to moderate flu symptoms, staying home and resting is best.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:
- staying home until at least 24 hours have passed since a fever subsided
- that anyone younger than 18 refrain from taking aspirin for their symptoms
Taking aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare disorder, in people under 18.
Avoiding contact with other people can help keep the flu from spreading.
People who smoke should avoid it while they have the flu. Smoking can aggravate flu symptoms and delay recovery.
Taking medicine such as acetaminophen can help relieve a fever and ease aches and pains.
When to see a doctor
People with existing medical conditions should see their doctors if they experience flu symptoms.
Anyone with concerns about their flu symptoms should see a doctor.
The flu can have more severe effects for certain people, including:
- people aged 65 or over
- babies and young children
- pregnant women
- people with existing medical conditions
Anyone in these groups should seek treatment within 2 days of getting the flu to prevent complications. A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications.
Certain nourishing foods and drinks may aid recovery from the flu — by supporting the immune system or helping to fight inflammation, for example.
Other foods and drinks may slow recovery. Dairy and greasy foods may increase the risk of nausea and be difficult to digest, while alcohol can cause dehydration.
Anyone with severe flu symptoms should see a doctor.
Also, some people have a higher risk of more severe flu symptoms and complications. Anyone in a high-risk group should see a doctor about flu symptoms, even when they are mild.