This article was medically reviewed by Marjorie Cohn, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board, on October 7, 2019.
With cold and flu season in full swing, it’s time to stock your pantry with the comfort foods and immune-boosting nutrients your body needs to stay strong (and bounce back when you’re under the weather).
“Though we all eat differently when we’re ill, the last thing we want is to make our body work hard to break down our food, so keeping it simple is king,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
Of course, you want to load up on plenty of nutrients, but Taub-Dix also recommends leaning on easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Luckily, these comforting, carb-filled foods are often what we crave when we’re feeling sick anyway.
So, how do doctors and dietitians nourish themselves when they’re sick? They turn to the following 15 foods, which will help you feel better ASAP.
“Oatmeal is my ultimate comfort food when I don’t feel well,” says Taub-Dix. “If I feel achy and have a cold incoming on but still have my appetite, I add a heaping spoonful of almond butter, ricotta, or cottage cheese to boost the protein, which supports healing and adds to its creamy texture.”
2. Topped baked potato
Another easy-to-digest carbohydrate, baked potatoes (whether white or sweet) are another great base for an under-the-weather meal. “Most people don’t realize that potatoes provide vitamin C, an important nutrient for healing, and fiber, a gut-supporting nutrient that can be hard to get your fill of when you’re putting your salads on hold,” says Taub-Dix.
If you have the appetite, add some protein to your potato by topping it with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
3. Green tea
“Tea is an absolute must when I’m not feeling well,” says Taub-Dix. “Nothing provides as much comfort as a steamy mug.” Soothing quality aside, tea also helps you get in all of the fluids you need—especially if you have a fever or any stomach upset, she says. The warmth also does wonders for an achy, sore throat.
Plus, “green tea, in particular, contains all sorts of beneficial compounds,” explains Ryan D. Andrews, RD, CSCS, author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating. “One, called quercetin, may help boost immune function.” An all-around win when you don’t feel well.
Whether in your tea, mixed into oatmeal or yogurt, or straight out of the spoon, honey is another helpful food when you don’t feel well. “Honey’s antibacterial properties can have a variety of positive effects in fighting a cold or flu,” explains holistic health practitioner, Elena Villanueva, DC, founder of Modern Holistic Health. “It also acts as a cough suppressant and helps heal a sore throat.”
Villanueva likes to add honey to tea or hot lemon water—and recommends choosing unfiltered local wildflower honey or Manuka honey, which are best-known for their antimicrobial properties.
When you just need something simple, comforting, and easy on your system, Taub-Dix suggests a good ol’ bowl of cereal. “If I’ve had any stomach trouble, I choose almond milk over dairy milk for easy digestion,” she says.
If you want to curl up on the couch with a bowl of cereal, Taub-Dix recommends looking for a brand with at least 5 grams of fiber—and as little sugar as possible—per serving. These healthy cereal options are a good place to start.
To up her liquid intake—and sneak in some fruits and veggies without having to chew them—Taub-Dix blends up a smoothie. Her usual smoothie starts with an almond milk base, plus frozen spinach and banana, and a scoop of almond butter for protein.
Alex Caspero, RD, also turns to smoothies when she doesn’t feel so hot. “My go-to combination is one cup of pomegranate juice, 6 ounces of yogurt, and 1 cup of strawberries,” she says. Pomegranate juice contains more antioxidants—which protect cells from damage—than red wine, grape juice, or greet tea, she explains. Plus, the yogurt adds protein and fat, transforming the blend into a meal when you don’t really feel like eating.
7. Nuts and seeds
When he’s sick but has the appetite to munch, Andrews turns to nuts and seeds—of all kinds. “Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E and zinc, two nutrients that are necessary for optimal immune function,” he says. Pine nuts, cashews, hemp seeds, almonds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great choices.
8. Elderberry syrup
Elderberries, which have long been used in traditional medicine to support immune health, contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. That’s why Andrews incorporates elderberry syrup daily when he feels sick. “Elderberries have antiviral properties and may help to shorten the length of a cold,” he says. You can sip elderberry syrup straight or add it to yogurt or oatmeal.
9. Chicken soup
You better believe chicken soup is as good for the body as it is for the soul! That’s why it’s a go-to for Villanueva. “Soups not only have high nutritional value but also help keep you hydrated,” she says. “Just stick with a homemade version to to avoid harmful chemicals and inflammatory additives that are often found in pre-made canned soups.”
Villanueva loads up her soups with onions and garlic, which both offer unique health perks. Garlic, for example, has an antimicrobial compound that may help combat viruses and bacteria, research shows.
“One of the best holistic flu remedies out there, the benefits of ginger for cold and flu can be traced back to the pages of ancient philosophies,” says Villanueva. Now we know that ginger contains a number of active compounds (like gingerol) that support our overall health and well-being. One perk in particular: Ginger can ease nausea, a common woe associated with the flu, Villanueva says.
She likes to boil slices of fresh ginger root and sip on the resulting tea when she feels sick to her stomach, has a cough, or feels a sore throat coming on. You can also opt for a quality packaged ginger tea.
11. Cinnamon raisin bagel
Caspero relies on simple, digestible foods—like bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast—when she’s sick. One meal she craves: “A Dave’s Killer Bread Cinnamon Raisin bagel with a little non-dairy butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon.” With 11 grams of protein per serving, she feels good knowing she can enjoy a comforting, easy-to-eat food and still reap some nutritional benefits.
12. Citrus fruits
Perhaps an obvious—but still worthwhile—choice, citrus fruits like lime, lemon, and oranges are rich in vitamin C, a powerhouse antioxidant many of us load up on when we’re sick (or even feel something coming on). One review of research found that vitamin C didn’t really prevent colds, but it did reduce the number of days people experienced cold symptoms by 8 to 9 percent.
Villanueva likes to add fresh citrus juice (or even the essential oils of citrus fruits) to hot tea when she doesn’t feel well—especially if she’s dealing with lots of phlegm.
Legumes are packed with the mineral zinc, which plays an important role in immune function—and can even help relieve cold and flu symptoms, says Villanueva. She incorporates chickpeas, lentils, and beans into her meals daily when feeling sick. Plus, they’re packed with fiber to keep you feeling full.
14. Scottish oatmeal with honey
“Maybe it’s because they remind me of childhood, or maybe it’s because they settle easier than other foods, but I crave breakfast foods when I’m sick,” says Caspero. “One of my favorite sick-day meals is a big bowl of oatmeal with freshly grated ginger and a drizzle of honey.”
Caspero recommends Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal, which has a smooth, creamy texture. Every cup contains about 4 grams of beta-glucan fiber, which has been linked to benefits like healthy gut bacteria, reduced cancer risk and lower LDL cholesterol. The fresh ginger on tip will also help soothe any nausea.
15. Cinnamon tea
Not only is cinnamon incredibly warming, but it also possesses cold-fighting properties that make it more useful than a simple seasoning, says Villanueva. In fact, it’s antifungal and analgesic properties can support upper-respiratory health. She suggests sipping on a cup of cinnamon tea two or three times a day when you have a cold.
Like what you just read? You’ll love our magazine! Go here to subscribe. Don’t miss a thing by downloading Apple News here and following Prevention. Oh, and we’re on Instagram too.
For more information please see the list of Best food when you have a cold