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Have the Flu? Get the Nourishment You Need
Do you have the flu? What you put in your body can either help - or hurt - your road to recovery.

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Picture of bowl of nourishing chicken soup Have the Flu? Get the Nourishment You Need

If you have the flu, you want to get well as soon as possible. Along with getting plenty of rest, it's important to pay attention to what you eat and drink. What you put in your body can either help (or hurt) your road to recovery.

Good nutrition will not prevent you from getting the flu. But even marginal nutrient deficiencies in your diet can weaken your immune system. When your body is well nourished with a wide range of wholesome foods, it:

  • Has a better chance of attacking the virus once you get it
  • Can help build up your strength
  • Can provide "reserves" that can be used when you are too ill to eat

Foods that can boost recovery
First, it's important to focus more on healthy food versus supplements. Vitamins from foods are better absorbed. You need less of the vitamin through food than through supplements.

Also, a healthy, wholesome diet will give you needed amounts of protein as well as important vitamins and minerals including zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A and selenium.

The problem is that the flu can often dampen your appetite. That's even more reason to maximize your nutrition and make every calorie count. Here are some suggestions for when you are up to eating:

  • Fruits and veggies deliver on antioxidants and vitamins C and A. Try vegetable and bean soups, baked sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, fruit smoothies or sautéed veggies with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.
  • Whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, zinc and selenium. Try some whole-wheat toast, oatmeal with banana slices or barley soup with mushrooms or veggies.
  • Lean proteins provide essential amino acids that help your body maintain and build strength. Go for scrambled eggs, simple baked chicken or fish, bean or chicken soup or half a turkey sandwich.
  • Healthy fats give you essential fats your body needs for all major functions. Spread some avocado or natural peanut butter on your whole-wheat toast, add walnuts to your oatmeal or drizzle some olive oil or trans-fat-free margarine on your veggies, pasta or potatoes.

Some people find that dairy products increase mucus production, though there is no research to support this. If this happens to you, avoid dairy for a few days.

What about fluids?
is the best fluid. It helps lubricate the mucous membranes. You are also safe with juices, such as orange, grape and cranberry.

  • Chicken soup may make you feel better. Though warm steam from the soup may be the main reason, some small studies have reported that ingredients in the soup may have anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Other warm beverages may have similar soothing effects. Warm drinks work better than cold drinks for opening congested airways. Ginger tea, warm tea with honey and lemon or just warm water and lemon may all be helpful. Decaffeinated tea with honey may help coat your throat and soothe it.

What to avoid
A nutrient-poor diet can weaken your immune system. Though you may be tempted to lie in bed and eat junk, this won't help get you back on your feet.

  • Limit junk foods and trans-fatty acids. These are found in commercially baked goods like cookies, crackers, cakes, donuts, margarine and chips. They offer little in terms of protein, vitamins or minerals and lots of calories from sugar or fat.
  • Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. This would include candy, cakes, soda, ice cream and products with white flour.

Nausea and/or diarrhea
If you are nauseous or have diarrhea, try to just sip clear fluids to keep your system well hydrated. These include water, broths, sports drinks, tea with lemon, diluted grape or cranberry juices and gelatin.

Start with small amounts, such as 4 to 8 ounces at a time for adults and 1 ounce or less at a time for children. As tolerated, increase other foods slowly.

Contact your doctor right away if you have any signs that you are becoming dehydrated.

Finally, don't wait to get sick to realize the importance of eating well. Along with regular exercise, good sleep practices and stress reduction, a wholesome eating plan can help you get healthy and stay healthy.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Created on 05/01/2009
Updated on 10/14/2012
  • National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplement fact sheet: Zinc.
  • University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Build your immune system with good nutrition.
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Flu (influenza): How foods can affect your immunity to the flu.
  • Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest. 2000;118(4):1150-1157.
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