Food and Drink to Help You Fight the Flu

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Great. You have the flu. Whether it’s influenza A, B or C, we are here to get you through it as easily as possible. Richard Hodge, MD helps us understand what we should eat and how we should hydrate to help our bodies heal as quickly as possible.

Why the Flu Changes Appetite

When viruses enter the body, the immune system’s natural response is inflammation. The inflammation occurs while the virus replicates and disrupts normal functions. This process is what causes the fever, runny nose, congestion, muscle aches, headache, fatigue and upset stomach during the flu. 

“Your body uses all its energy, including the energy needed to digest food, to fight the infection. That’s why you often feel a loss of appetite during the flu. Loss of your sense of taste and smell due to runny nose and congestion also lowers your appetite,” Dr. Hodge says.

How to Stay Hydrated with the Flu

For adults, it’s recommended to get a minimum of 64 ounces of fluids daily. If you aren’t getting enough fluids, you’ll notice these symptoms:

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Fast pulse
  • Lightheadedness

Fluid intake for children is based on several factors, so contact your doctor for guidance. Loss of tears, lack of wet diapers and lack of energy are a red flag that children aren’t getting enough fluids.

“Water is the gold standard. However, non-sugar drinks such as Pedialyte, green or black tea or non-sugar sports drinks will work for adults, too. The key with fluid intake is to avoid dehydration. Fluids support your immune system function, thin mucus and lessen congestion. Ginger ale allowed to go flat may also help settle stomachs. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. They increase fluid loss leading to dehydration and interfere with immune function,” Dr. Hodge says.

It may be tempting to munch on your favorite comfort food to feel better, but Dr. Hodge says to first consider these tips about some specific foods you might be considering. 

Food & Drink to Help With the Flu

Dr. Hodge says stomach ache and nausea are frequent flu symptoms, but usually there is very little, or no, vomiting or diarrhea.   

“For a few days, there is nothing wrong with just pushing fluids and not forcing food. If you do want to eat, avoid greasy, fried foods, because foods higher in fat are harder to digest and can cause more nausea. You should also avoid processed foods high in sodium or sugars. Things that are easy to digest are best. Simple items like lean turkey or chicken in a simple sandwich, chicken soup, bananas, toast and non-flavored crackers are good. Ice pops of 100 percent fruit are good as well. Not only for nutrition, but again, to help with fluid balance,” Dr. Hodge says.

  • Orange Juice. Make sure it’s 100 percent juice with no added sugars so it’s immunity-boosting. High-sugar varieties can hinder the immune system.
  • Sports Drinks. The low sugar variety can be beneficial.
  • Vegetables Juice. Anything that is 100 percent juice is OK.
  • Vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are a good option.
  • Black or Green Tea. Tea is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This is a good option when you’re feeling under the weather.
  • Popsicles. Focus on 100 percent fruit juice options for energy and rehydration. This option could be particularly helpful in kids.
  • Crackers. If you need something to snack on but beware, they might irritate a sore throat. Avoid seasoned crackers and stick with Saltines or simple Ritz Crackers.
  • Eggs. But, do not smother eggs in cheese or serve with sausage. High fats are hard to digest.
  • Bananas. These are great for the flu and are loaded with nutrients and energy. They’re easy on the stomach.
  • Apples. These fruits are beneficial because they are a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C and they provide energy.
  • Turkey/Chicken Sandwich. Lean proteins are easy to digest and provide energy.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup. Grandma was right – the chicken provides energy in an easy to digest protein and the broth helps with rehydration.

Food & Drink to Avoid With the Flu

  • Milk. Milk is hard for the body to metabolize. In some people, it can thicken mucous and increase nausea.
  • Soda/Pop. Avoid items high in sugar. Ginger ale allowed to go flat may help settle stomachs.
  • Alcohol/Coffee. It increases fluid loss in the body leading to dehydration and interferes with immune function.
  • Kombucha.  There is no medical evidence this is beneficial. Several studies suggest significant side effects. 
  • Yogurt. Well, not at first. Dairy is hard to digest and can aggravate nausea. Later in the illness it’s OK.
  • Ice Cream. Dairy is hard to digest and can aggravate nausea.
  • Spicy Food. It can upset the stomach as can overly greasy foods.

Spices That Help with Flu Recovery

If you have the food and drink part down, here’s an extra suggestion from Dr. Hodge. Try spicing it up to feel a little relief. 

“Garlic can bolster the immune system and provide relief in head congestion. Ginger increases your interferon level. Interferon is a key component of your immune system that fights viral infections. Ginger also has been shown to decrease stomach ache and nausea in many people. Cinnamon can help a sore throat and has been shown to increase immunity to illness. Peppermint helps congestion, kind of like the menthol effect and can soothe a sore throat. Thyme, used in tea or added to a stream treatment, helps decrease congestion, Dr. Hodge says.”