Saturday 3 December 2022

Sick? Here's What to Eat When You Have the Flu, According to Doctors

 If you've had the flu in past years and are worried about getting it this year on top of everything else going on, you likely want to be prepared. A good place to start? Knowing which foods to eat.

“More than 35 million Americans will come down with influenza this year and for many of them, eating is the last thing they’ll feel like doing,” says Steve Hertzler, PhD, RD, a nutrition scientist and registered dietitian with Abbott. It’s common to feel this way, and your symptoms can drive down your appetite, making it hard to figure out what to eat when you have the stomach flu.

Congestion, says Hertzler, can also accompany the flu and this can limit your sense of smell, which is linked to your taste buds, which can make food pretty uninspiring. When thinking about what to eat when you have the flu, know that it’s okay to consume a little less during this time. But loading up on certain nutrients while battling the flu is essential. Here are 25 foods to eat when you have the flu.

25 Foods to Eat When You Have the Flu

1. Anything spicy

Oftentimes when we're sick, we're not interested in eating because sometimes food just doesn't taste as good,” says Eric Ascher, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital. He explains that when you're looking for what to eat when you have the flu, spicy foods may be the answer, as foods with a kick to them can help break up some of that nasal congestion and allow us to breathe easier, which in turn allows us to taste our food.

2. Shellfish

Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA,” says Dr. Mehmet Oz. And shellfish, he says, is one of the highest forms of natural zinc. “Oyster and mussels in particular have a lot,” he explains.

3. Citrus fruits

According to Dr. Oz, vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells, which are important for helping protect the body against infection. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits can be a great source of this nutrient.

4. Vitamin C-rich vegetables

Other great sources of vitamin C, says Dr. Oz, include red peppers, kale, tomato juice, strawberries.

5. Blueberries

These, per Ascher, who adds that elderberry extract also falls into this category, are high in anthocyanins. “Not only does this give these fruits a shiny blue tint, but also hold antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting potential.”

6. Pomegranates

Snacking on a pomegranate provides a hearty dose of antioxidants and fiber. “Full of vitamin C and vitamin E, research shows they may hold antiviral and antibacterial properties,” says Ascher.

7. An electrolyte drink

If you don’t have much of an appetite and are looking for what to eat when you have the stomach flu, Dr. Michael Crupain, co-author of What to Eat When, recommends rehydrating with the following: “In a liter of water, you would put six teaspoons of sugar and a half a teaspoon of salt.” He describes this as being similar to Gatorade and notes “usually we wouldn’t recommend sugar, but when you’re sick it’s okay. You need it.”

8. Trail mix

Nuts and seeds are high in zinc, especially cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. “I like the idea of mixing those three together and eating them like a trail mix,” Crupain says. You can also sprinkle them into oatmeal or add a handful to yogurt.

9. Mushrooms

Mushrooms, says Crupain, contain properties called beta glucans, “which may also be something that helps stimulate our immune system.” They also contain Vitamin D. “A lot of people don’t eat that many mushrooms. They really should become standard in what you eat because the vitamin D and the beta glucans activates your immune system, especially mushrooms like shiitake,” says Dr. Oz. Dr. Anna Cabeca, author of The Hormone Fix and soon to be released Keto-Green 16, says it’s important to check your Vitamin D levels. “The average dose of needed daily for adults is 2,500 - 10,000.”

10. Easy-to-digest winter vegetables

If you are trying to figure out what to eat when you have the flu and don’t have much of an appetite, consider some easy-to-digest vegetables. Since the flu often strikes in the winter, Dr. Oz suggests easy-to-digest winter vegetables like winter squash, sweet potatoes, and spinach. “One rule of thumb is to eat cooked vegetables instead of raw,” he explains. “By cooking vegetables, you break down some of the fiber so your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard. You can make many (if not most) vegetables easier to digest by steaming them.”

11. Fruits with high water content

Staying hydrated is key when you are under the weather and battling the flu. Thus, Dr. Oz recommends water-heavy fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe or any other melon. “Any GI distress or fever is going to cause dehydration. Melons are also a good source of vitamin C,” he says.

12. Eggs

Hertzler notes that just one egg provides about 7 grams of high-quality protein, along with 5 grams of fat and iron, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids to support your health. “And, with options for scrambled, poached, and sunny-side up, they may be easier on the stomach along with a piece of toast compared with other foods,” he adds.

13. Non Caffeinated beverages

Oz says to stay away from caffeinated beverages when you are trying to figure out what to eat when you have the stomach flu. Instead, opt for hydrating alternatives like hot herbal teas, especially ginger, peppermint, and chamomile.

14. Avocado

Not only trendy, but a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, calories, healthy fats, and a blander taste which makes it easier to eat,” says Ascher. He notes that these fruits contain polyphenolic flavonoids, which is a form of antioxidants.

15. Popsicles

When you have the flu, Dr. Oz suggests sucking on a cold pop that is made with fresh and natural fruit. “These will have the vitamin C that you need and the coldness will also soothe your throat and will therefore be be therapeutic for you,” he says.

16. Coconut water

Oz deems this “nature’s sports drink,” as it’s loaded with electrolytes, which you need to replenish when you become dehydrated from diarrhea or fever. “But make sure it’s just coconuts,” he warns. “Some of them have added sugar.”

17. Garlic

“Garlic is not only anti-viral, but it keeps people away from you,” says Dr. Oz. Thus, it can help you to heal from the flu and the bad breath it gives off will also prevent people from wanting to get too close and catch what you have. “Many cultures make tea with raw garlic at the first signs of flu,” says Ascher.

18. Ginger

This, says wellness/nutrition expert Dr. Olivia Audrey, helps with nausea as well as powerful phytochemicals that reduce inflammation. Rebecca Shenkman, director of the MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education at Villanova University says to “try putting a few slices of raw ginger root in boiling water if you experience nausea or vomiting when you have the flu.”

19. Honey

“Honey is the oldest anti microbial that we have,” explains Dr. Oz. “It coats your throat and reduces coughing. It soothes your sore throat and it has anti viral properties in it.”

20. Oatmeal

Bland foods are a good way to ease into eating if you have the flu, especially after you’re past any bouts of nausea and vomiting, and oatmeal should be at the top of your list,” says Hertzler. Certain types of oatmeal are fortified with vitamin D, which helps activate immune cells. Adding milk also provides some vitamin D, and if you top off your oatmeal with your favorite berries, you will add antioxidants. Crupain notes that as oatmeal is prepared with water, it will also provide some hydration benefits. 

21. Soup

Your mother had it right when she insisted on serving you a cup of chicken noodle soup when you were coming down with something. “The warmth from the soup will help soothe your throat, the chicken is a great source of protein and iron, and the veggies are packed with nutrients to help combat your flu,” says Ascher. It’s certainly a staple in the Oz household. 

22. Water

“While this may seem like a no brainer, many individuals experience in onset of severity of symptoms simply caused from dehydration,” explains Audrey. Thus, drinking the appropriate amount of water also helps to flush viruses and toxins out of our body and hydrates our organs to properly heal.

23. Bland foods

Registered dietician Krista Gast, who works at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, suggests the follows as far as what to eat when you have the stomach flu and don’t feel like eating much: “Start by eating small amounts of bland soft foods, as you want to eat foods that are easy to digest. Remember this acronym when recovering from a bout of stomach flu: BRAT: banana, rice, applesauce, toast. Plain pasta noodles and plain potatoes are excellent options as well. These are very easy to digest foods that will provide you with some electrolytes like potassium, easy to digest carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. Avoid foods that are spicy, fatty, fibrous (such as raw vegetables, coarse grains and meats), and avoid dairy products.” 

24. Omega-3s

“Omega-3 fat reduce inflammation in the body and viruses cause inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Oz. So Omega-3’s, he explains, counteract the side effect of the virus, which is produced as your body responds to fight it off. “These come from fish and oily fish in particular, cold water fish. Vegetarian sources include flaxseed, olive oil, and walnuts,” he says.

25. Protein shakes

Protein is an important building block for antibodies and immune cells, but lean meats probably aren’t on the menu when you’re sick because chewing food can feel like a big challenge when you’re nauseous and drained,” says Hertzler. So when you are trying to figure out what to eat when you have the flu, drinking a protein shake can allow you to slowly sip on the nutrients and vitamins you need to recover. “And, no worries if you don’t have the energy to make your own shake. There are great ready-to-go options like Ensure Max Protein that you can grab right from the fridge with 30 grams of protein and 25 essential vitamins and minerals to support immune health, including vitamin A, antioxidant vitamins C and E, zinc and vitamin D,” he explains.

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