Food and Drink to Help You Fight the Flu

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Fantastic — you have the flu. Whether influenza A, B or C, Richard Hodge, MD, UnityPoint Health, shares what you should eat and how to stay hydrated to help your body heal as quickly as possible.

Why the Flu Changes Appetite

When viruses enter the body, the immune system’s natural response is inflammation. It happens while the virus replicates and disrupts normal functions. This process can cause a fever, runny nose, congestion, muscle aches, headache, fatigue and upset stomach when you have 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 a 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 of dehydration:

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

Fluid intake for children is based on several factors, so contact your child’s doctor for guidance. Loss of tears, lack of wet diapers and lack of energy are red flags 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 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’s tempting to munch on your favorite comfort foods to feel better when you’re sick with the flu, but Dr. Hodge recommends these foods and drinks for faster healing.

Food & Drink to Help With the Flu

Dr. Hodge says stomachache and nausea are common flu symptoms while vomiting and diarrhea are not.

“There’s nothing wrong with just pushing fluids and not forcing food for a few days. 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 options. Ice pops made from 100% 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% 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’s 100% juice is OK.
  • Vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are a good option.
  • Black or Green Tea. Tea is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Popsicles. Focus on 100% fruit juice options for energy and hydration. This option could be particularly helpful for kids.
  • Crackers. While good for snacking, they might irritate a sore throat. Avoid seasoned crackers and stick with Saltines or simple Ritz Crackers.
  • Eggs. Don’t smother eggs in cheese or serve with sausage. High fats are hard to digest.
  • Bananas. These are great for the flu and loaded with nutrients and energy. They’re easy on the stomach, too.
  • Apples. They’re beneficial because they’re 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 hydration.

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 the stomach.
  • Alcohol/Coffee. It increases fluid loss in the body leading to dehydration and interferes with immune function.
  • Kombucha. There‘s 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 for some additional relief.

  • Garlic. It can boost the immune system and provide relief in head congestion. Ginger increases your interferon level, a key component of your immune system that fights viral infections. Ginger has also been shown to decrease stomachache and nausea in many people.
  • Cinnamon. This spice can help a sore throat and increase immunity to illness.
  • Peppermint. It helps with congestion, kind of like a menthol effect and can soothe a sore throat.
  • Thyme. Put it in tea or add it to a stream treatment to help decrease congestion.

For more suggestions on how to fight the flu with items you may already have in your pantry, or, if symptoms worsen, contact your doctor.