The Kitchen While Conquering Illness: A Guide to What to Eat When Sick

Feeling Sick? A scratchy throat, a rumbling stomach, or a general lack of energy – these are all signs your body is battling a sickness. While rest is crucial for recovery, what you put into your body also plays a significant role. This guide explores the best foods and drinks to help you fight off illness and get back on your feet faster.

Hydration is King (or Queen)

Dehydration can worsen any illness. When you’re sick, your body loses fluids through sweating, fever, and other bodily functions. Here’s what to keep yourself hydrated:

  • Water: This is the simplest and most essential choice. Aim for small sips throughout the day, even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty.
  • Electrolyte-rich beverages: If you’ve been vomiting or have diarrhoea, you may lose electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Opt for sports drinks diluted with water or homemade electrolyte drinks made with a pinch of salt, honey, and lemon juice in water.
  • Clear broths: Chicken broth or vegetable broth are soothing and hydrating options. They can also provide some essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Herbal teas: Ginger tea is a great choice for nausea and upset stomach. Peppermint tea can soothe a sore throat and ease congestion. Opt for decaf teas to avoid interfering with sleep.

Foods to Soothe Your Symptoms

Certain foods can target specific symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.

  • For a sore throat: Opt for soft, bland foods that are easy to swallow. Examples include mashed potatoes, applesauce, yoghurt, or well-cooked oatmeal. You can also try sucking on lozenges or popsicles to numb the throat.
  • For congestion: Warm liquids like broth, clear soups, or herbal teas can help loosen mucus and clear congestion. Spicy foods, while tempting, can irritate sinuses for some people.
  • For nausea and vomiting: Bland, easily digestible foods like crackers, toast, or rice are ideal. Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea. You can try ginger tea, ginger chews, or even adding grated ginger to broth.
  • For diarrhea: The BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) has been a traditional recommendation, but recent research suggests it may not be the most effective option. Focus on bland, starchy foods like toast, crackers, or cooked potatoes. Avoid greasy or spicy foods, dairy products, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables which can worsen diarrhoea.

Foods to Boost Your Immune System

While there’s no magical “cure-all” food, certain nutrients can support your immune system’s fight against illness.

  • Vitamin C: This vitamin is a well-known immune booster. Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and grapefruits are excellent sources. You can also find vitamin C in bell peppers, broccoli, and kiwi fruit.
  • Vitamin D: Studies suggest vitamin D deficiency can increase susceptibility to infections. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods like milk and cereals or from controlled sun exposure.
  • Zinc: This mineral plays a role in immune function. Oysters are the richest source of zinc, but it’s also found in red meat, poultry, beans, and nuts.
  • Probiotics: These “good” bacteria can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which is linked to a strong immune system. Yogurt with live and active cultures, kefir, and kimchi are all good sources of probiotics.

What to Avoid When Sick

While some foods can be comforting when you’re sick, others can hinder your recovery:

  • Greasy or fried foods: These are difficult to digest and can put a strain on your digestive system when you’re already feeling unwell.
  • Sugary foods and drinks: While a little honey might be soothing for a sore throat, sugary treats can weaken your immune system. Opt for natural sugars from fruits instead.
  • Spicy foods: Spicy foods can irritate your stomach and worsen heartburn, especially if you’re experiencing nausea.
  • Dairy products: Dairy can be difficult to digest for some people, especially those with a sore throat or congestion. If you tolerate dairy well, yoghurt with live cultures can actually be beneficial.
  • Alcohol and caffeine: These substances can dehydrate you and interfere with sleep, both of which are crucial for recovery.


Q: I can’t even stomach the thought of food! What can I start with?

A: Hydration is key! If you can’t keep anything down, sip on clear liquids like water, broths, or even popsicles. These will help prevent dehydration, which can worsen your illness.

Q: Okay, I’m feeling a little braver. What’s good for an upset stomach?

A: Bland, easily digestible foods are your friend. Think crackers, toast, bananas, or cooked rice. These are gentle on your digestive system and may help settle nausea. Ginger tea is another great option, as ginger has natural anti-nausea properties.

Q: I have a sore throat. What can I soothe it with?

A: Warm liquids are magic for a scratchy throat. Soups, broths, or warm herbal teas can be very soothing. Honey (for adults, not children) can also provide some relief.

Q: Chicken soup really does help, doesn’t it?

A: Grandma knew what she was talking about! Chicken soup is not only comforting, but the warm broth helps with congestion and keeps you hydrated. The chicken itself provides protein to help your body fight off infection.

Q: I keep hacking up a cough. What should I eat?

A: Focus on foods rich in vitamin C and fluids to loosen mucus. Citrus fruits, leafy greens, and broths are all excellent choices. Honey (again, for adults only) can also help soothe a cough and feeling sick.

Q: What about foods that boost my immune system?

A: While there’s no magical “cure-all” food, certain nutrients can support your immune system. Look for foods rich in vitamins C, D, and zinc, like citrus fruits, fatty fish, and leafy greens.

Q: Should I avoid certain foods when I’m sick?

A: Generally, yes. Greasy, sugary, or spicy foods can irritate your stomach and make you feel worse. Hold off on dairy products too, as they can increase mucus production.

Q: Is the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) still recommended?

A: There’s not a lot of recent research supporting the BRAT diet. While these bland foods are easy to digest, they may not provide all the nutrients your body needs to recover.

Q: What if I have dietary restrictions?

A: No worries! There are plenty of delicious and nutritious options for most dietary needs. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are easy to digest and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Remember: These are general guidelines. Always listen to your body and if your symptoms are severe or don’t improve, consult a healthcare professional.

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