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5 Best Meals to Eat When Sick

You saw it coming from across the hallway. First your officemate succumbed to it, then another co-worker called in sick. It’s being passed around on doorknobs and coffee pot handles, and from children to parents. The flu. Or maybe it’s the common cold. Whichever one it is, there are certain foods that can make or break your time under the weather. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 best foods to eat when you are sick.

5 Best Meals to Eat When Sick

Broth Soups

Bone marrow broth seems to have become a frontrunner in the health craze. Believed to be able to revive the dead and considered a great healer in South American cultures, it’s a staple of the LA Laker’s official team diet for rehydration. Bone broth is usually rich in gelatin, a protein that can help repair your GI tract, and glucosamine – which helps protect your joints. Bone broth also contains copious amounts of collagen, which contains the building blocks for synthesizing proteins that helps keep your skin tight and youthful in appearance. Bone broth also contains a goodly amount of glycine, which may help some people sleep better – a must when you are sick and trying to get back on your feet.

Not to mention broth soups help you stay hydrated, a very important feature when you are unwell. It’s possible that these are the mystery ingredients that make chicken soup the perfect remedy for just about any illness, and one of the best foods to eat when you are sick.

Don’t be fooled, the broth soup that’s found in canned chicken noodle soup at your local grocery store is likely not the same thing. To make your own quick and easy bone broth, use the ‘leftovers’ from a whole rotisserie chicken carcass. Place in boiling water, with skin, bones, cartilage, all of it – and add some herbs like fresh thyme and sage, and simmer for about 32 hours. Add some salt and pepper at the end for additional flavor. Pour off the broth over a strainer to remove bits and particles. This will keep in the fridge for about 3 days, and in the freezer for about 6 weeks. Happy brothing!

Hot Tea and Hot Toddies

Whether you choose decaf or caffeinated tea – hot teas made from the leaves of green, black, white or oolong tea leaves can be your best ally and made our list of the foods to eat when you are sick. These teas contain a variety of antioxidants that can help fight free radicals that arise when your body is fighting off a virus or bacteria. Warm tea with honey can be very soothing for a sore throat. Add a cinnamon stick, lemon slice, and dollop of whiskey or bourbon to make a ‘hot toddy’ which Highlanders hailing from Scotland have sworn by for their various ills as early as the beginning of the 19th century, you ken.

Spicy Foods

Think Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Latin foods next time you feel unwell with a cold or flu-like symptoms. These cuisines usually contain natural decongestants – even when you are not sick they can make your eyes water and your nose run. Think wasabi, horseradish, cayenne, chili, habanero, or jalapeno peppers, and red pepper flakes. These can help with clogged sinuses and a stuffy nose, though you wouldn’t want to try these if you are having tummy troubles. Spicy foods contain capsaicin, which may be helpful for pain relief. Try something spicy the next time you have a headache, it just might help. Spicy foods like salsa, buffalo sauce, hot sauce, creole seasoning, Caribbean jerk-style foods, and spicy curry all top the list of foods to eat when you are sick.

Apple Cider Vinegar

An antifungal used to kill candida species with mouth gargle, apple cider vinegar is definitely one of the foods to eat when you are sick with a sore throat, or if you have mouth sores that caused by Candida albicans. Don’t swish this stuff straight, but rather dilute it with plenty of water. Studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can work better than nystatin, which is typically prescribed to treat microbial issues within the oral cavity. Gargling with apple cider vinegar when you have a sore throat can help reduce the microbial counts on the surface of your throat tissues. Salt water appears to have a similar benefit. Try gargling for at least 20 seconds.


A great number of studies have pointed to elderberry extract providing protection from the cold and flu, making it an important food to eat when you are sick or when you begin to feel sick. A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial revealed that people who took elderberry extract and then traveled economy class on airplanes had fewer episodes of the upper respiratory symptoms as well as a shorter duration and decreased severity of cold symptoms. Shorten your sickness, and pick up an extract of this dark, usually sweetened liquid. For best results, hold it under your tongue for a bit before swallowing.

Things to keep in mind when choosing foods to eat when you are sick.

It’s important to keep in mind that if you have a fever, for every degree your body temperature is elevated, your calorie needs increase by about 7%, which means if you require about 2000kcals per day to maintain your weight, you’d need an additional 140 calories to sustain the fever. Problem is, most people lose their appetite when they are sick. Try a little ginger to help with digestion even when you are not feeling hungry. Try eating food more frequently, but just in smaller portions to help you stay hydrated and keep your body safe from digestive overload from a large meal.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on September 03, 2017. Updated on October 22, 2019.


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