Sick Day Foods: Best Healthy Foods to Eat When You're Not Feeling Well
As the cold weather starts setting in, so does cold and flu season. And while eating the right foods can help with your immunity health, eating healthy comfort food will also make you feel better. Being prepared by having these foods (or recipes) when that pesky illness sets in always makes life just a little easier.
Below you'll find 6 of the best healthy foods to grab when you're sick.
"Ginger contains antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds that help support your immune system," says Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, M.P.H., founder of Fad Free Nutrition Blog. According to a 2021 study published in Food Chemistry, this spice also appears to improve the production of white blood cells that destroy pathogens in the body. So next time you're not feeling well, Nieves recommends sipping on a cup of ginger tea, some ginger ale or a bit of ginger root blended into your smoothie, which may help to soothe you.
Pomegranate is rich in phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, with potential anti-inflammatory effects, per a 2019 review published in Current Pharmaceutical Design. According to Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., RD, LD, owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, "Research suggests that foods (or juices) containing polyphenols have been observed to reduce inflammation in animal models and may be helpful in respiratory illnesses." Andrews also notes that pomegranate juice provides "energy, fluid and electrolytes during illness."
On those sick days, enjoy 100% pomegranate juice in smoothies, teas or just to sip on. It also makes a delicious warming cider when combined with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.
The small but mighty kiwi is a go-to food on sick days for Cheryl Mussatto, M.S., RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at Eat Well to Be Well. A kiwi "provides more vitamin C than an orange," says Mussatto. One serving of kiwi (two pieces) contains around 112 mg of Vitamin C, per the USDA. In contrast, one medium-sized navel orange has 83 mg of Vitamin C. Though eating a kiwi if you have a cold won't make it disappear, Mussatto explains that "Vitamin C may not prevent catching a cold, but it might shorten the duration and possibly the severity of symptoms."
Some of Mussatto's favorite ways to enjoy kiwi's sweet and tangy combo are tossing it into a smoothie, dicing and adding it to a grain bowl, or eating it plain. To boost your mood when you're not feeling well, try this Chocolate-Pistachio Kiwi. If kiwi isn't your thing, you can always opt for other vitamin-C-rich foods like papaya, bell peppers, strawberries and citrus fruit.
Many folks turn to chicken noodle soup when they're feeling under the weather, and Amy Goodson, M.S., RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian based in Dallas, TX, is no different. "For most people, chicken noodle soup is soothing to the soul and to the body, but from a nutrition standpoint, it actually gives you the nutrients you need!" Goodson exclaims. The broth in soup is typically higher in sodium, which can help with hydration when feeling sick. Plus, other ingredients, like noodles, chicken and veggies, provide energy and additional nutrients to make you feel better. To amp up the protein in your chicken noodle soup, Goodson says to "consider adding more rotisserie chicken, and yes, it can be the premade type from the store! All in all, it's a bowl of good-for-you, good-feeling nutrition."
Virginia-based Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, CDCES, CHWC, FAND, creator of The Prediabetes Meal Planning Crash Course, agrees that while chicken soup is good for the soul (and mucus flow), other warm liquids, like tea, can also do the trick. "Many people find honey in tea to soothe a cough or sore throat, and some research suggests that honey has antimicrobial properties," says Weisenberger. In fact, a 2021 article published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences notes that honey is widely used in the treatment of wounds due to its antibacterial effects. Plus, honey provides fuel on those pesky days.
Whole Grain Toast
Feeling unwell can quickly make you lose interest in lots of foods, but typically protein foods are the first thing to go. "Many times we reach for salty crackers or another bland carbohydrate, but the truth is your body needs nutrients," explains Goodson, whose mom always gave her toast, "but if you want the toast to do you some good when sick, choose a higher protein, higher fiber bread and layer it with your favorite nut butter." Although it's a simple recommendation and easy to make, Goodson explains that it provides carbohydrates, fiber, protein and healthy fat; plus, it will help stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels until you feel better. If you want to take your nut butter toast to the next level and add some antioxidants, try our Peanut Butter & Pomegranate Toast.
The Bottom Line
Foods like kiwi, pomegranate juice, ginger and chicken soup provide anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and hydrating benefits to your body on those sick days. And while no magic foods will cure you, eating cozy, nutritious foods, getting some rest and staying hydrated are essential things to do to feel better.