On average about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many of them, eating is the last thing they’ll feel like doing. It’s common to feel this way, and your symptoms can drive down your appetite. Congestion can also accompany the flu and this can limit your sense of smell, which is linked to your taste buds, so a decrease in appetite may also be caused by your inability to taste foods. It’s okay to eat a little less when you’re fighting the flu, but you'll still need small amounts of the right foods and drinks to make sure you’re fueling your body with the energy and nutrients you need to recover and regain your strength. So even if you don’t want to eat, it’s important that you at least try to eat some of these immune-supporting foods.
Bland foods are a good way to ease into eating if you have the flu (especially after you’re past any bouts of nausea and vomiting), and oatmeal should be at the top of your list. Certain types of oatmeal are fortified with vitamin D, which helps activate immune cells. Adding milk also provides some vitamin D, and if you top off your oatmeal with your favorite berries you will add antioxidants.
2. Broth-based soups
Chicken soup is a go-to comfort food when you’re sick and the salt in this soup or other broth-based alternatives can help replace sodium, an important electrolyte lost during diarrhea or vomiting. Fever can also increase sweating, which causes electrolyte loss.
3. Sweet Potatoes
Not often found at the top of most people’s recovery routine, but sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, which keeps our skin and the linings of our respiratory and digestive tracts healthy. Vitamin A also helps regulate the function of immune cells that are hard at work when you have an illness. Enjoy them baked, roasted or if you can’t stomach a full side of this colorful veggie, try a sweet potato-based soup instead.
Related: Preparing for Virus Season
Just one egg provides about 7 grams of high-quality protein, along with 5 grams of fat and iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids to support your health. And, with options for scrambled, poached, sunny side up, they may be easier on the stomach along with a piece of toast compared with other foods.
5. Protein shakes
Protein is an important building block for antibodies and immune cells, but lean meats probably aren’t on the menu when you’re sick because chewing food can feel like a big challenge when you’re nauseous and drained. That’s why drinking a protein shake can make a big difference, allowing you to slowly sip on the nutrients and vitamins you need to recover. And, no worries if you don’t have the energy to make your own shake. There are great ready-to-go options like Ensure Max Protein that you can grab right from the fridge with 30 grams of protein and 25 essential vitamins and minerals to support immune health, including vitamin A, antioxidant vitamins C and E, zinc and vitamin D.
Don’t forget Hydration
If your appetite is especially low and eating is off the table (literally), liquids are a great place to start when you’re sick. Bodily fluids carry your immune cells throughout your body and staying hydrated helps them get where they need to go to fight off infections. Also, with influenza or other viruses, common symptoms like fever, coughing, and vomiting can lead to dehydration. That’s why in addition to drinking lots of water, it’s important to reach for electrolyte-rich options to rehydrate, like Pedialyte – which contains an optimal balance of electrolytes and sugar for combatting mild to moderate dehydration. Try to avoid juices, sports drinks, or other high sugar beverages because too much sugar can pull excess water into the gut and make diarrhea worse.
If you any concerns about any illness, always talk to your healthcare provider.
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