8 of the Best Foods to Eat When You’re Sick

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Sick woman with medicine keeping warm and eating soup or broth with lemon
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Have you ever heard the saying, “starve a cold, feed a fever”?

When you’re feeling sick, eating a balanced meal is not exactly top priority. In some cases, you may not be able to stomach any solid foods at all. However, starving yourself — whether you have a cold, fever or something else — will only prolong the recovery process. Food gives your body the energy it needs to defend itself from attack.

Not to worry, though. The following is a list of food and drinks that offer the most benefit when you’re green around the gills. They are all easy to digest and even easier to prepare, so no excuses. Eat up and get well sooner.

Eating while sick

Sick and depressed woman
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First, it’s important to note you may not be ready to eat anything, including the following foods.

If you are having trouble keeping down solid food, sip on clear liquids (water, seltzer, tea, black coffee, juice without pulp, ginger ale, broth). Then, gradually introduce solids. If vomiting or diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, consult your physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you feel comfortable eating, keep reading for some of the best foods to try.

Bananas

A woman slices a banana
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While an apple a day may keep the doctor away, a banana will soothe your stomach. Bananas are easy to digest and have historically been used to help treat nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Bananas are high in soluble fiber, which soaks up liquid to bulk up stools. The sweet fruit is also a rich source of potassium, an electrolyte that is quickly depleted by dehydration.

Broths/soups

Tomato soup
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Chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich are a classic sick-day supper, but not just because they’re warm and gooey. Broths and broth-based soups are a great source of fluids.

Plus, if you choose a soup with beans, lentils or chicken, you’ll get the added benefit of zinc — an essential mineral for immune health. Just be mindful of the fat content in a creamy soup, as fat can exacerbate an upset stomach. Broth-based soups are your best bet.

Ginger

Fresh ginger
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Ginger is not only a nice spice for cooking, but a nice spice for nausea. Bioactive compounds known as gingerols and shogaols are credited with ginger’s health benefits. A systemic review consisting of 109 research trials concluded that “ginger has been effective in a majority of studies, including those that examined the alleviation of NVP [nausea and vomiting in pregnancy], digestive function, improvement in the level of expression markers for colorectal cancer risk, and anti-inflammatory functions.”

It’s worth noting that 43 of the clinical trials did not meet the criterion for “high quality of evidence” and more research is needed to fully understand ginger’s effects. In the meantime, sipping on some ginger ale or ginger tea certainly can’t hurt.

Hard candies

Hard candy
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Certain medications, including over-the-counter decongestants, can cause xerostomia (dry mouth). However, sucking on hard candies can bring natural relief by increasing saliva production. Also, the sugar in these candies acts as a demulcent, which means it forms a protective coating over mucous membranes. This protective mechanism is the same reason lozenges work to soothe a sore throat.

Bonus: Try hard candies made with ginger to ease throat and stomach discomfort in one.

Rice

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Plain rice is a nutritious comfort food, particularly when you’re under the weather. While preparing it plain may sound boring, it’s for your own good. Bland foods are better tolerated by an upset stomach.

Of course, brown rice is more nutrient-dense than white rice. Better yet, choose enriched rice to get a healthy dose of B vitamins for immune system health.

Water-rich fruits and vegetables

Oranges at a grocery store
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If you’re experiencing fever, vomiting or diarrhea, your body needs more fluids than normal to replenish the ones you’re losing. Fluids don’t have to be strictly water and electrolyte drinks, though. Oranges, melons, strawberries, peaches, cucumbers, celery and bell peppers all have high water content (80% and above).

Eating these water-rich fruits and vegetables helps ensure you get adequate hydration while you’re sick. They offer key vitamins and minerals, to boot.

Sourdough toast

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You can take a slice of any bread you like, toast it and spread a pat of butter on top, and you’ll almost instantly feel the healing effects. That said, if you haven’t tried sourdough bread, specifically, you’re missing out on the benefits of fermentation. The fermentation process partially breaks down carbohydrates and protein, thereby making the final sourdough product much easier to digest.

There is also evidence that sourdough fermentation can make the minerals naturally present in flour (magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc) more readily available for absorption in the gut. Easier digestion and more nutrients? Sounds like a win-win!

Yogurt

Greek yogurt
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Last but not least is yogurt. Yogurt is a rich source of probiotics, which have been proven to support immune function. In fact, one randomized controlled trial showed consumption of dairy yogurt containing specific probiotic strains enhanced natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells are the white blood cells that destroy and prevent proliferation of harmful cells — like those from viruses.

Low-fat or non-fat yogurt is easier to digest, making it the best option when you have an unsettled stomach.

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