Best Under the Weather Foods
Coughs, colds, and flu are rife at this time of year, thanks to the sharing of germs at school, more time spent in close quarters indoors, and on packed public transit. When we’re sick it can be a real challenge to eat anything at all, but sticking to regular meal times and even increasing your intake of calories can be helpful in fighting off an infection. This is because your body uses up more energy when you’re unwell, especially if you have a fever.
Skipping meals could leave you more susceptible to infections and increase the duration of sickness, so if you’re feeling under the weather, make sure you have plenty of the following foods on hand to help you get back to feeling like yourself in no time:
Crackers and Toast
Plain, unsalted, or lightly-salted crackers and toast are an easily-digested, bland snack that can offer much needed energy without upsetting digestion. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a little humus or nut butter to ensure you’re getting some protein and healthy fats.
In addition to helping warm and soothe the throat, lubricate mucous membranes and provide comfort, soup is perfect for when you’re sick because it is easy to sip and usually easy to digest. While chicken soup is often considered the go-to recipe when you have a cold or flu, research has shown the key benefits of chicken soup may be linked to the amino acid cystine, which is found in chicken flesh. Cystine is converted in the body to cysteine, which is needed to produce the powerful antioxidant glutathione. When you’re sick, you are less able to produce cysteine, which could leave you vulnerable to oxidative damage.
Other great sources of cysteine include soy, spelt, durum wheat, oats and oat bran, triticale and barley, which can all be included in a tasty vegetable soup. Be sure to include plenty of lean protein, from soy, chickpeas, beans or pulses as we need protein to build the immune system cells that fight infection.
Pumpkin is packed with vitamins C and A (as beta-carotene), as well as zinc, all of which helps support immune function. Skip the pumpkin spice latte and opt for a hearty curried pumpkin soup with turmeric to further boost antioxidant levels.
Garlic contains a sulfur compound called allicin that has significant antioxidant activity and can help relieve the symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections and catarrhal conditions. Garlic is often used in herbal medicine to help maintain cardiovascular health and to help reduce elevated blood lipid levels/ hyperlipidaemia in adults.
To get the most out of garlic, crush a clove and leave it exposed to the air for 15 minutes or so before cooking with it. The allicin reacts with oxygen to form more stable compounds that are more resistant to heat damage. Or, eat it raw!
Traditionally used to relieve nausea and support a healthy appetite, ginger pairs well with pumpkin. Try adding freshly grated ginger into a vegetable and tofu stir fry, or making fresh ginger tea by steeping slices of fresh ginger in hot water. Steer clear of carbonated ginger beverages, especially those high in sugar, as these can exacerbate digestive problems.
Spices with an extra kick are a great way to help clear congestion if you have a head cold, but best avoided if you have an upset stomach. Try adding chili peppers, wasabi, and horseradish to soups to help clear your sinuses!
Another great option when you’re feeling under the weather is Chai Tea as just like soup, the warm liquid can help thin mucus and increase moisture to soothe a sore throat.
Finally, if you’ve been laid low by a bout of diarrhea, sickness or fever, green bananas can help get you back up to speed. Easy to digest, a great source of electrolytes (potassium in particular), and a rapid source of energy, green bananas are an ideal food for anyone getting over stomach flu or other sickness. They’re also great for kids!
Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA. (1978). Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest. Oct;74(4):408-10.
Ohry, A, Tsafrir, J. (1999). Is chicken soup an essential drug? CMAJ, 161:1532-3.