The #1 Food to Eat When You're Sick, According to a Dietitian
As the weather gets colder and we enter peak cold and flu season—amidst the coronavirus pandemic—you may be wondering what you should eat if you start to feel sick with the sniffles or a sore throat (here's what to eat if you get COVID-19). Overall, the best things for a healthy immune system are a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, limiting alcohol and added sugar, and keeping stress to a minimum. Key nutrients, like vitamins D and C and zinc are also helpful. In addition, washing your hands and following preventive guidelines from the CDC and your local health department to reduce exposure to illness, especially COVID-19, is important.
Everyone will have slightly different symptoms when they're sick, which can impact our digestive system and appetite, but the number one food I recommend if you're feeling under the weather is soup. For most minor illnesses, getting enough calories and staying hydrated is important and soup can help with both. Plus, you can load up soup with extra-nourishing ingredients (or really, whatever you like) to help keep you healthy. Here's why a bowl of soup tops the list of foods to eat when you're sick.
There are so many reasons it's important to stay hydrated when you're sick. Soup is a great choice because it's fluid-based and mostly water, so you'll hydrate as you eat. If you have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea you will lose fluids from your body. Medicine may cause you to be more dehydrated and taking in plenty of fluids can help loosen up mucous and help you clear it out. Making sure you are well hydrated can also help your body fight an infection.
For all these reasons, make sure you're drinking fluids if you're sick (this mint chamomile tea with honey is a favorite of mine) and enjoy a broth-based soup for a meal. Warm liquids, like tea and soup, can be especially beneficial when you're sick because they can help break up congestion.
Your grandma (or mom, dad, grandpa, etc.) was onto something when they made soup for your ailments. Who doesn't want a little extra comfort when they're sick? Foods we typically think of as comfort foods—hearty casseroles and cheesy pastas—may not sound that good when you're not feeling well. Whether slurping chicken noodle soup gives you a warm fuzzy feeling or you love another kind, soup is warm and evokes cozy feelings. When you're a little down, soup can help you feel better from the inside out.
Related: 8 Foods to Help Soothe a Sore Throat
Soup is a pretty good canvas to take on lots of different ingredients, depending on how you're feeling. Ginger may help with nausea, which can be a symptom of the flu. Garlic may also be beneficial, plus it adds lots of flavor. Including protein, whether it's chicken, beans or tofu, is also important when you're sick. Zinc-rich foods like meat and beans, deliver another key immune-supporting nutrient. Adding some vitamin C-rich vegetables, like broccoli and bell peppers, can help you get another key nutrient when you're sick (although orange juice or fruit may sound better to you than broccoli soup). Sometimes, just heating up broth is all you can stomach and that's a good option to help you hydrate.
Of course, soup may not sound great to you and that's OK. Do your best to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that sound good to you (these easy to digest foods are a good place to start if you caught a stomach bug). When you're sick, it's also a good idea to limit too much sugar and alcohol, which can inhibit your immune system, try to rest and call your doctor to talk through any questions you have and see if you should get checked up.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.