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Best Foods to Eat When You're Sick

Photo: Getty / Anthony Rosenberg

Now that we're in the thick of cold and flu season, you’re bound to catch the sniffles or experience a runny nose, no matter how healthy your diet and immune system are. Besides getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids when you’re sick, be sure to fill your fridge and pantry with these healthy foods to help you get out of bed and back on your feet much faster.

Ever heard of the old wives' tale, "Feed a cold, starve a fever?" Even though the age-old adage has been passed down from generation to generation, it couldn't be further from the truth. To be fair, the first half of the popular maxim is pretty accurate, because your body actually needs more calories while you're sick.

The last thing you want to do when you have a nasty cold or the stomach flu is to eat, but not replenishing and staying hydrated is a big no-no for your recovery. In other words, skip mom's advice and don't starve yourself or a fever. It's not about how much you eat, but rather what you eat. If you're experiencing congestion, a sore throat, or stomach pains, try these foods and drinks—your immune system will gladly thank you.

For a Cold or Flu-like Symptoms

Hot Beverages- Hot drinks, such as tea, can ease sneezing, sore throats, and fatigue. Tea has natural bacteria-fighting compounds, which help to fight off infections when you're sick. Not to mention, freshly-brewed tea is a great way to stay hydrated and soothe a sore throat and congestion at the same time.

"Hot beverages such as chamomile tea, ginger tea, and decaf green tea can be soothing for the sinuses and may also help to reduce an upset stomach," says Jamie Vespa, RD, assistant nutrition editor for Cooking Light. "Add a drizzle of honey and spritz of lemon juice for an extra hit of vitamin C. Also, it's a great time to try Golden Milk or turmeric tea, as turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory properties."

Citrus- While glasses of OJ or citrus foods won't cure the common cold completely, foods high in vitamin C can reduce the severity of your symptoms and lessen the number of days you're sick. Grapefruit, lemons, oranges, and limes are immune-boosting fruits that contain flavonoids, which aid in improving the overall function of the immune system.

"Vitamin C is important for immune health and may even help clear up your cold faster," Vespa says. "Choose foods such as bell peppers, citrus, and strawberries, all of which are rich in this nutrient."

Leafy Greens and Vegetables- Cruciferous veggies, like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and collard greens, have powerful antioxidants to fight off infection. According to Vespa, foods that help reduce inflammation can be helpful when experiencing cold-like symptoms.

"I recommend mushrooms, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, nuts, oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel or tuna), and plenty of fruits," Vespa says. Mushrooms prolong the life of white blood cells, and white blood cells are the body's first line of defense when infection strikes.

Can't muster up the energy to cook or munch on veggies? Try sipping them instead. Fresh-pressed fruit or vegetable juices offer various nutrients and antioxidants to fortify your immune system and keep you from feeling weak if you're not eating as much.

Eggs - When you're under the weather, your stomach probably won't be up to the task of digesting a juicy burger or a big meal. Yet you need protein to maintain your strength, whether you're sick or perfectly healthy. No worries! Fulfilling your protein quota is made easier with eggs, which are much easier to digest and cook. Eggs have zinc, a mineral found in many cold medicines and remedies.

Yogurt and Kefir- The common cold's worst enemy? Probiotics. Both kefir (fermented milk) and yogurt are great sources of probiotics. Vespa says, "It helps to consume probiotics to replenish healthy bacteria in the gut and help reduce inflammation." Calcium-enriched Greek yogurt is even better, as some brands pack anywhere from 10 to 17 grams of protein per serving.

Sweet Potatoes - An excellent source of vitamin A, sweet potatoes help the body produce more white blood cells to keep cell membranes healthy and protect us against infection and yucky invaders.

Cauliflower - Eating these white stalks a day keeps the cold away. Cauliflower is rich in choline and glutathione, and we need both to fend off germs and viruses, as well as making sure healthy bacteria stays in our gut.

For a Stomach Bug or Nausea

The BRAT Diet - Sometimes the onslaught of a cold or the flu brings with it stomach aches, or even worse, stomach flu. Vespa suggests the BRAT diet might be your safest bet at settling your tummy.

"For stomach bugs, it's best to stick with bland foods that are low in both fat and insoluble fiber," says Vespa. "The BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, is a common go-to menu for the flu or other stomach viruses alike."

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Ginger - There's a reason why when you're feeling queasy you're often told to grab a ginger ale or ginger tea. Ginger is a natural anti-nauseant, preventing and alleviating gastric illnesses such as constipation, bloating, and vomiting.

For a Sore Throat

Broth-Based Soups - Fortunately for us, chicken noodle soup isn't a generational myth, and broth-based soups help to relieve a cold and sore throat. Hot broth eases chest congestion, opens up sinus passages, and keeps the nasal cavity moist. Just like hot beverages, warm soups restrict inflammation in the throat and thwart dehydration. Soups also offer bonus vitamins and nutrients when chicken and vegetables are mixed in the stock.

Photo: Daniel Mihailescu / Getty

Honey - Who says cough drops and warm salt water are the only cure for a scratchy throat? You know that honey is deliciously sweet and elevates the taste of food. But honey is also the perfect ailment for a sore throat. The microbial content of honey kills bacteria at the back of your throat, and when mixed with a warm drink like ginger tea, it becomes the ultimate sore throat and flu remedy.

Popsicles - Resist the urge to not drink liquids when you're sick. If your throat is too sore to gulp anything down, stave off dehydration with popsicles. These frozen treats will help numb your sore throat and provide the essential nutrients you need to stay energized. Just make sure you're eating popsicles that are naturally sweetened with fruit juices and not refined sugars.

For a Fever or Diarrhea

Fluids - "It's very important to stay hydrated, as dehydration can actually cause (or worsen) symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and constipation," Vespa says. "Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, which acts as a diuretic. If suffering from vomiting, diarrhea, fever or sweating, drink electrolyte replacement beverages such as coconut water or Gatorade."

It may be hard to keep food down when you're sick, but it's important to stay nourished and hydrated. And if you're not the one doing all the coughing and sneezing, cook these healing recipes for the loved ones who really are.