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Foods to eat when you’re sick

The 15 best foods to eat when you're feeling sick

Eating the right foods can have major benefits when you're sick. Here are the 15 best foods to eat when sick with the cold, flu, nausea, or anything else.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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The 15 best foods to eat when you’re sick
Last updated on February 24, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on December 13, 2021.

When you’re under the weather, eating may be one of the last things on your mind.

The 15 best foods to eat when you’re sick

However, eating the right foods while you’re sick can do so much more than just providing energy.

Certain foods may help you feel better, recover more quickly, or stay hydrated as you recover.

Here are 15 of the best foods to eat when you’re sick.

1. Chicken soup

Chicken soup has been a go-to for sickness for generations — and for good reason. It’s an easy-to-eat source of vitamins, minerals, calories, and protein, which are nutrients your body may need in larger quantities while you’re recovering from an illness.

Chicken soup is also a rich source of fluid and electrolytes, which are helpful if you’re at risk of dehydration due to diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, or fever.

The soup’s warmth may help reduce congestion, as hot or spicy liquids can be helpful for this.

The chicken in the chicken soup also contains the amino acid cysteine. N-acetyl-cysteine, a form of cysteine, breaks apart mucus and has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.

Homemade chicken soup made from bone broth is also rich in collagen and nutrients that may help promote recovery — although there’s not enough research on bone broth’s effects on immune health to back up these claims.

2. Broths

Like chicken soup, broths are excellent sources of fluid and electrolytes that can be helpful when you’re sick. When hot, they may also help relieve sinus congestion.

They’re full of flavor and rich in a variety of nutrients while still being easy on your digestive system.

Additionally, bone broths are rich in collagen and amino acids (building blocks of protein) from animal bones, which may help promote a faster recovery, although research is still lacking.

If you need to follow a salt-restricted diet, make sure you choose low sodium or no-salt-added broths if buying premade broths from the grocery store.

3. Garlic

Garlic provides many health benefits and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries.

In test-tube and animal studies, it’s been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.

One study in 146 people found that participants who took a garlic-based supplement had about 70% fewer sick days than the placebo group. However, the authors noted that this isn’t enough evidence to conclude that garlic can help prevent illness, and more research is needed.

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Additionally, aged garlic extract supplements may enhance immune function and decrease the severity of colds and the flu.

Adding garlic to food when you’re sick can both add flavor and make your food even more effective at fighting off cold or flu symptoms.

4. Coconut water

Coconut water is an ideal beverage to sip on when you’re sick. It’s rich in electrolytes, which need to be replenished along with fluids when you’re vomiting, sweating, having diarrhea, or running a fever.

It also contains a little bit of natural sugar from the fruit itself, which can serve as a quick, easy-to-use source of energy for your body.

However, one study found that it causes more bloating than other electrolyte beverages. It might be a good idea to start slowly if you’ve never tried it.

5. Hot tea

Tea is a favorite remedy for many symptoms associated with colds and the flu.

Just like chicken soup, hot tea acts as a natural decongestant. The tea needs to be hot to help relieve congestion, but it shouldn’t be so hot that it further irritates your throat.

Although some teas do contain caffeine, tea doesn’t appear to contribute to dehydration or cause any increased water loss.

This means sipping on tea throughout the day is a great way to stay hydrated while relieving congestion.

Tea also contains polyphenols. These natural substances found in plants may have a large number of possible health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and even potential anticancer effects.

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6. Honey

Honey has some antibacterial properties and is often used as an antiseptic wound dressing for cuts or burns.

Honey may also stimulate the immune system. Many people use local raw honey to relieve seasonal allergies, but there’s currently no research to support this use for honey.

Additionally, honey may help suppress cough in children. However, it shouldn’t be given to children under 12 months old due to the risk of contamination with botulism-causing bacteria.

7. Ginger

Ginger is widely used in food, in herbal medicine, and as a home remedy, and it’s probably best known for its anti-nausea effects. It’s been shown to effectively relieve nausea related to pregnancy and cancer treatment.

So if you’re feeling nauseous or throwing up, ginger is one of the best natural remedies available to relieve these symptoms.

Use fresh ginger in cooking, brew some ginger tea, or pick up some ginger ale from the store to get these benefits. Just make sure that whatever you’re using contains real ginger or ginger extract, not just ginger flavor.

8. Spicy foods

Spicy foods like chili peppers contain capsaicin, which causes a hot, burning sensation when touched.

In high enough concentrations, capsaicin can have a desensitizing effect. It’s often used in pain-relieving gels and patches.

Many people report that eating spicy foods causes a runny nose, breaking up mucus and clearing out the sinus passages.

While few studies have tested this effect, capsaicin does seem to thin out mucus, making it easier to expel. Nasal capsaicin sprays have been used with good results to relieve congestion and itching.

However, you should avoid spicy foods if you already have an upset stomach. Spicy food can cause bloating, pain, and nausea in some people.

9. Bananas

Bananas are a great food to eat when you’re sick. They’re soft and bland but rich in nutrients and fast-acting carbs. The potassium in bananas can help replenish your electrolyte stores as well since potassium is one of the key electrolytes your body needs.

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Another big benefit of bananas is the soluble fiber they contain. Soluble fiber becomes a gel in the presence of liquid, so it can help reverse diarrhea by reducing the amount of free water in your digestive tract.

10. Oatmeal

Like bananas, oatmeal is bland and easy to eat but also provides calories, vitamins, and minerals you need when you’re sick.

One study in rats found that beta-glucan, a type of fiber in oats, helped decrease inflammation in the gut. But more research is needed to determine whether it could have a similar effect in humans and be useful for relieving digestive symptoms.

Instead of buying artificially flavored oatmeal with lots of added sugar, consider adding a small amount of honey or fruit to rolled or steel-cut oats for even more health benefits.

11. Yogurt

Yogurt contains beneficial probiotics, which are strains of bacteria that can colonize in your gut and provide health benefits.

According to a handful of studies, probiotics can help both children and adults get colds less often, heal faster when sick, and take fewer antibiotics.

One study found that sick children taking probiotics felt better an average of 2 days faster, and their symptoms were about 55% less severe.

However, some people have reported that dairy intake thickens their mucus secretions, which can be compounded when you’re sick.

If you feel that dairy products make your congestion worse, try other fermented foods containing probiotics (like kombucha) or a probiotic supplement instead.

12. Certain fruits

Fruits are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which can support your overall health and immune function.

Many fruits are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that helps the immune system function properly.

Additionally, some fruits contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give certain fruits — like strawberries and blueberries — their red and blue colors.

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Anthocyanins make berries excellent foods to eat when sick because they have strong anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting effects.

Several animal and test-tube studies have shown that fruit extracts high in anthocyanins can prevent common viruses and bacteria from attaching to cells. They also stimulate your body’s immune response.

Additionally, one review of 14 studies noted that flavonoid supplements, which are made from a type of antioxidants found in fruit, decreased the number of days people were sick with a cold by 40%.

Add some fruit to a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt for more health benefits or blend frozen fruit into a cold smoothie that soothes your throat.

13. Avocados

Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

They’re a great food to eat when sick because they provide calories, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs. They’re also soft, relatively bland, and easy to eat.

Because of the healthy fats avocados contain, especially oleic acid (the same beneficial fatty acid found in olive oil), they may help decrease inflammation while playing a role in immune function.

14. Green leafy vegetables

Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re especially good sources of plant-based iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.

Dark green vegetables are also loaded with beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. These act as antioxidants to protect cells from damage and help fight inflammation.

Add spinach to an omelet for a quick, nutrient-packed, protein-rich meal. You can also try tossing a handful of kale into a fruit smoothie. Most leafy greens also make excellent additions to soup, which is another great choice when you’re sick.

15. Salmon

Salmon is one of the best protein sources to eat when you’re sick. It’s soft, easy to eat, and full of the high-quality protein your body needs for recovery.

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Salmon is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects that may help your immune system work more effectively.

Salmon is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, which many people don’t get enough of. Vitamin D also plays a critical role in immune function.


Resting, staying hydrated, and getting proper nutrition are some of the most important things you can do to feel better and recover faster when sick.

Fortunately, many foods have benefits that go beyond providing your body with nutrients.

While no food alone can cure sickness, eating the right foods may help support your immune system and offer relief from certain symptoms.

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