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Exactly What NOT to Eat When Sick

Feeling under the weather? Like knowing what to eat, recognizing what not to eat when sick is equally as important. Learn which foods to avoid when sick here!

Exactly What NOT to Eat When Sick

The coughing, sniffling, body aches, and stuffy nose have arrived. For most people, eating well is not high on the priority list of ways to get better when they are sick. The emphasis is on getting enough sleep, potentially medication, and rest to heal the body. While these aspects are important for recovery, eating the right foods when sick should not be overlooked.

When you cannot rely on appetite or taste to determine what to eat when sick, it can be easy to turn to any foods or drinks that are easily accessible. However, focusing on what you consume when sick can significantly impact optimal health.

Discover why and what foods to avoid when sick to get health back on track as quickly as possible.

The 6 Worst Foods (and Drinks) to Avoid When Sick

Research suggests that somewhere between 60% and 80% of immune function is isolated within your digestive tract. This little-known fact makes watching what you eat when you are sick is a must, and taking steps to support your gut health a necessity, even when you are not sick.

1. Too Much Alcohol

Along with hot tea, a hot toddy (tea, lemon, honey, and a dash of whiskey) can be one of the best foods to eat when sick. However, drinking too much alcohol definitely makes the list of foods to avoid when you are sick. 

According to a 2015 review, alcohol intake, specifically over the moderation recommendation, can actually change the number of T-cells that make up a vital part of your immune system. This in turn can lower the body's ability to fight off infections. So, when sick, skip overdoing your alcohol drink of choice and turn to water, hot tea, or an occasional hot toddy instead.

2. Caffeine

Whether with common cold symptoms, a fever, or an upset stomach, the body needs extra fluids when sick. Taking in caffeine from coffee, energy drinks, and soda may sound appealing when sick to boost energy levels and sip on through the day, but those caffeinated drinks will not help your body fight off illness.

Caffeine can act as a diuretic promoting fluid loss from the body. This is the exact opposite effect you want when sick; you need extra fluids to stay in the body. 

While a cup of coffee will not derail your healing time, do not overdue consuming caffeine. Instead, stick to primarily drinking (hot) water or tea, like ginger tea, when feeling under the weather to stay hydrated.

3. Juice

In addition to other sugary beverages, it is a good idea to hold off on super sweet drinks like juice- even orange juice. Sugar can actually affects white blood cell function, by decreasing their ability to fight off infection. Bacteria also like to feed on excess sugars, and this includes the harmful bacteria that can be partially responsible for making you unwell. 

Another reason to avoid juice when feeling sick is the acid content. When sick with stomach discomfort, the acid component of juice can be extra irritating to the stomach and may exacerbate sick symptoms.

4. Sugary Foods

Similar to juice, any sugary foods such as baked goods, candy, and sweets are best avoided when sick. Besides hampering immune health, sugary foods can further spike blood sugar even higher than when not feeling sick. 

Hormones released when sick can cause blood sugar levels to be higher than normal. Eating and drinking high sugar foods can make it even harder for the body to regulate blood sugar levels when sick especially for those with diabetes, according to the University of Michigan Health.

5. Fried Foods

Fried foods are definitely among the worst foods to eat when you are sick. Fried foods are taxing to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract which is the last thing needed with a stomach illness.

Additionally, fried foods can cause an increase in the production of inflammatory responses. Too much inflammation can aggravate and overstimulate your immune response, resulting in an immune system that is overworked. 

6. Penicillin-Containing Foods

This one is for those folks that have an allergy to penicillin. Certain foods contain mold, the starting point of penicillin production which can make them a top food to avoid when sick. 

Antibiotic foods like blue cheese, camembert, Spanish fermented sausage, and brie contain a derivative of penicillin which could cause an allergic response following consumption of these foods. 

If you have an allergy to penicillin, consult with your doctor for best practices to protect yourself, sick or not, from exposing yourself to penicillin.

What NOT to Eat When Sick In Summary

When sick, it can be confusing to know what to eat or even if you should work out. While focusing on food and drink choices when sick may not seem important, making healthy food choices when sick can greatly impact the road to recovery.

When sick, try to avoid too much alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fried foods. These foods and drinks can negatively impact immune function, gut health, and further dehydrate the body when sick.


Pasala S, Barr T, Messaoudi I. Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Adaptive Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):185-197.

Redfearn S. 10 tips for getting through your day with a cough or cold. WebMD. Published June 5, 2016. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/getting-through-day-while-sick.

Sick-day guidelines for people with diabetes. Sick-Day Guidelines for People With Diabetes | Michigan Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uq2659spec

Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x

Ząbczyńska M, Pocheć E. Rola glikozylacji białek układu odpornościowego [The role of protein glycosylation in immune system]. Postepy Biochem. 2015;61(2):129-137.