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Best foods to eat when you’re sick (and what to avoid)

wellbeing Dec 02, 2019
Do you remember being given special foods when you were not well? I certainly do! And although foods would vary, depending on the reason I was feeling unwell, I was definitely fed for comfort, as well as health and nourishment.
There are many theories, ideas and old wives tales of what is the best food and method to help when you’re feeling sick and whether you should eat at all or skip meals. The easiest way to work this out in fact comes from the body itself- your body WILL tell you what it needs most and when. And if you are not great at discerning when you’re hungry or full and often eat for other reasons (it tastes good), keep reading as this will give you more clarity on what the body needs and when. 

When to eat and when to wait

If your body is fighting a fever or an acute infection, it’s very likely that it needs all the resources of the body focused on that one job, without distractions. Digestion itself also takes up a lot of body’s resources and is a big job, if something else is going on in the body. This is also when you may not feel at all hungry for an entire day in some situations and it is good to honour and respect it, helping your body focus on the key areas of healing. In that case, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to support toxin clearout and help immune cells restore. 
However, don’t be surprised if after a few days of eating very little you will be faced with a huge hunger spike and your body asking for more and more to restore and replenish. This is just part of the process and make sure you give your body the best nutrition available- lots of complete proteins for cell renewal (chicken, fish, eggs, tofu and etc), rainbow colours of fresh vegetables on the plate to refill vitamin and mineral stores, quality fats for lowering inflammation and recovery and of course complex carbohydrates for energy. 
But what are the best foods to eat and avoid if you are in the midst of a nasty cold and just need to wait it out? 

Foods to eat when not feeling great:

Chicken soup and broths

It’s not just a myth that chicken soup will help you feel better quicker. Broths and stocks are generally great as they are liquid-based and help the body restore quicker, without burdening the digestive tract before it’s ready. 

Additionally, chicken soup in particular is packed with protein, electrolytes and vitamins and minerals and supports the immune system. This is particularly true as it helps make the body’s most abundant antioxidant glutathione. 


One of my “sick foods” when growing up was a rye bread open sandwich with tomato and heaps of raw onion and garlic. Garlic is one of nature’s most potent antibacterial and antiviral and if you like it, don’t be stingy with it if you don’t feel well. And if you’re worried about bad breath, have a couple of cloves with a little snack just before bed. 

Fluids and herbal teas

No doubt that your body is working hard to fight bacteria/ viruses and it needs plenty of fluids to support immunity and flush the toxins and by-products. Aim to get most fluids from herbal teas, as some have particularly beneficial qualities that may support healing. 
Fresh ginger and turmeric may contribute towards reducing inflammation, thyme and oregano work as antibacterial and antiviral agents and chamomile can help reduce a sore throat. 
My ultimate go-to “feeling unwell” recipe contains: 
  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemon
  • Thyme sprigs
  • Honey (once it’s cooled).
You can also sip coconut water, as it’s an efficient way to replenish body with electrolytes and vitamins and minerals that the body may be low in when recovering.  


Another top food to have for its antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities, that’s particularly useful when not feeling well due to a cold. Especially effective if you’re suffering from a sore throat. Be cautious of adding honey in hot water, as it may become toxic. Instead, add it when the tea is slightly cooled down or simply have it on a spoon separately. 

Citrus fruit and berries

Although certain vegetables contain way more vitamin C and antioxidants than citrus fruit, when you’re not feeling well fruit and berries are much easier to digest and absorb. So choose some citrus fruit or berries to add antioxidants back into your diet to support recovery. 


Oats are packed with slow- release carbohydrates that can support the body with the much- needed energy. Additionally, oats contain beta-glucans that support the digestive tract and therefore help soothe digestive issues when not feeling great. 

Salmon or mackerel

If you’re not a big fan of fish, this option may not be for you. However, if you can stomach it, a bit of baked salmon or mackerel may be beneficial to soothe inflammation due to its high content of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Additionally, it’s a great source of complete protein, which is also highly absorbable so may aid swift recovery. 

Foods to avoid when not feeling great:

Although you may not always be able to avoid these when feeling unwell, make a conscious effort to support your body and give it the care it deserves to recover quicker. 


Although sugar is often perceived to give the comfort when you’re not feeling great, it does no favours to the body when you already feel vulnerable. Sugar is pro-inflammatory and suppress the immune system, which you want to be working fully during times of physical distress. Steer away from fizzy drinks and sweets and find suitable alternatives in the meantime


Caffeine is dehydrating and although it may give you a sense of having more energy, it also boosts cortisol levels in the body and may enable the “fight or flight” response. This is tightly linked to your sympathetic nervous system, which is not healing, therefore suppressing the immune system and prolonging the healing process. 


Alcohol is not only inflammatory, it may also cause dehydration so aim to have a break before your immune system is in top shape. Although alcohol is said to relax you and help you sleep better, research shows that in fact it disturbs sleep due to its toxic qualities. 


If you have a runny nose, aim to avoid dairy for a few days as it may stimulate mucus production and contribute towards congested sinuses. Dairy can also trigger inflammatory response and not so beneficial when your body is already fighting inflammation. 

Fried foods

Fried foods are extremely tough for your body to break down and digest and frying in high temperatures often means oils get oxidised and toxic. This makes it even less beneficial, when your body is fighting an infection, so avoid fried foods at least until you feel better. 

Spicy foods

Although some spicy foods may alleviate some irritation in the throat and help with the congested nose (even temporarily), if you’re feeling quite sensitive and unwell, spicy foods may also cause unnecessary digestive irritation. So use your judgement on this one. 
Medical disclaimer
I am not a doctor, medical professional or a dietician. The information I provide is based on my professional experience as a Nutritional Therapist, studies provided and on my personal experience. Any recommendations I may make about diet changes, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you on this website should be discussed between you and a medical or healthcare professional. The information you receive in these blogs does not take the place of professional medical advice.

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