Best Foods to Eat for a Cold or the Flu

The right diet choices can make a huge difference when you are feeling under the weather. Healthy foods can increase your immunity and alleviate symptoms.

It’s vital to feed your body and immunity system the right foods in order to avoid illness and improve the way you fight it, says Kristen Gradney. She is a registered dietitian and nutritionist and the owner of Pure Nutrition, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She also serves as a spokesperson for national media on behalf of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Eggs and mangoes can be a great alternative to the classics like chicken soup or herbal tea. Find out what foods to eat to fight colds and flu and how to get back your energy.

Flu vs. Common Cold: Symptoms & Treatment. What to Eat If You Have The Flu

When you are sick, it can be tempting to grab an over-the-counter flu medicine and hope for the best. If you’re looking to accelerate your recovery after a cold or flu, look to your diet. These foods are packed with vitamins and minerals that will help you recover as quickly as possible.

Chicken soup

Your mom was right. This staple helps fight illness.

The chicken provides proteins, while the vegetables offer a variety of vitamins, such as vitamin A in the carrots. Garlic is a great addition to chicken soup. Garlic contains a trace element called selenium, which helps to protect your cells. The broth from chicken is also hydrating. This is important when you’re feeling rundown from illness and have little appetite.

Citrus fruits

Vitamin C is essential for the creation of antibodies that fight infections. Citrus Fruits are a great way to increase your vitamin C intake. One medium orange contains 70 milligrams, almost meeting the daily recommended allowance for women of 75 milligrams and men of 90 milligrams.

Citrus fruits are great as a snack, but they can also be added to salads or smoothies. Nicole Avena is an associate professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. She’s also a visiting professor of health-related psychology at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.


The eggs are rich in vitamin D, protein, and vitamin E. Each egg contains 0.65 mg of zinc. You can use eggs in many different dishes or prepare them in a variety of ways. Here are some egg preparation tips.

  • Add a scrambled egg on top of the smoked salmon.
  • Add eggs to a breakfast Burrito.
  • Make a frittata.

Fatty fish

Avena suggests adding fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or trout to your winter sick-day meals. These fish are rich in vitamin D, which is important during winter when the days are shorter and the nights longer. Vitamin D is a powerful antioxidant that can boost your mood and protect your immune system.


Honey is a natural cough suppressant that has been used by humans for centuries. It can also soothe a sore throat. Honey can be added to tea or water or taken as a spoonful for cough relief. Include the honey carbs as part of your daily carb intake if you suffer from diabetes. Honey should never be given to infants younger than a year because it can cause botulism.


Mango is a tropical fruit that contains vitamins A and C. One cup has 60 milligrams vitamin C, and 25 percent of the daily recommended allowance for vitamin A. You can include mango in your diet by adding it to a variety of dishes.

  • Add mango to a Smoothie.
  • Add it to oatmeal.
  • Make a Mango Salsa for Chicken or Fish.
  • Prepare a mango juice. Avena says that even though some fiber is lost when whole fruits are turned into juice, the vitamins in the fruit still benefit you. Juice is also easier to drink if you are sick and not hungry.
  • Add mango slices to a salad.


Nuts contain zinc, vitamin E, and protein. Avena states that a cup of roasted almonds contains 6.8 milligrams ( antioxidant ) of vitamin E. This antioxidant can protect cells against damage from viruses and bacteria. You may just have to choose the right nuts for your taste. You can use nuts in so many ways, such as:

  • Salads.
  • Almonds are great for smoothies.
  • Trail mix.


Pomegranates, pomegranate juice

Ehsani says, “Thank goodness fresh pomegranates can be found during the peak of cold and flu season.”

Fresh pomegranates are a great source of fiber and vitamin C.

You can drink 100% pomegranate fruit juice all year round, even when it’s not in season. It is rich in antioxidants. You can also add pomegranates to your diet by adding their juice:

  • Put the pomegranates onto a piece of toast and spread it with peanut butter.
  • Add them to oatmeal.
  • Add them to salads.
  • Use pomegranate in smoothies and mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktail).

Sweet potato

Ehsani says that sweet potatoes contain a lot of nutrients that support immunity.

Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and antioxidants such as beta-carotene. They also contain phytochemicals and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Here are some ways you can add sweet potatoes to meals during illness (or at any other time):

  • Add it to chicken noodle broth.
  • Add it to your grain bowl.
  • Blend into a soup.
  • Roast the roasted vegetables in the oven as a tasty side dish.


One medium tomato has 18.9 milligrams vitamin C, as well as vitamin A and lycopene antioxidants that help protect the heart. Gradney says that a tomato-based soup can be a great way to get better when you are sick. When you’re sick, tomato soup can boost your fluid intake.

Immunity Boosting vitamins

The body can fight colds and flu best by eating foods that are high in vitamins and minerals. These vitamins and minerals are:

  • Vitamin A. Our skin is the first line of defence for our bodies. This powerful vitamin benefits your skin, immune system, heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and lungs.
  • Vitamin C helps the body make antibodies. Antibodies fight illness.
  • Vitamin D helps maintain a healthy immune system.
  • Vitamine E , is an anti-oxidant that supports the immune system. A substance called an antioxidant can slow down or delay certain types of cell damage.
  • Zincwhich supports wound healing and the proper functioning of your immune system.

Caroline West Passerrello, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Pittsburgh and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that protein is essential to help your body recover and heal faster when you are sick.

What to drink to stay hydrated

When you are sick with the flu or cold, there are several good reasons for staying hydrated .

Ehsani advises that when you are sick, you can lose a lot of fluids through coughing and sneezing. You may also experience diarrhea, vomiting or runny eyes.

You may also be losing fluids if you are sweating. When you are sick with the flu or cold, it is important to drink plenty of fluids.

  • Water.
  • Herbal teas
  • 100% Fruit Juices (juices with no added sugar).
  • Low-sodium broth.

Ehsani recommends that you use the toilet every two to four hours. This can help you determine if you are hydrated. She explains that if it has been more than a week since you last visited the bathroom or if your urine is darker like apple juice in color, this could be a sign of dehydration and that needs to drink more.

Alcohol is a dehydrating drink that you should avoid when sick. Ehsani warns that it can weaken an already weak immune system and make it more difficult to recover.

You may also find it difficult to get a good sleep.

Bottom Line

In times of high cold and flu virus activity, it is important to support your immune system. Your body’s capacity to fight off illness is largely determined by the foods you eat. Vitamins A, C, and D are your best allies.

Other tips you can follow if you have a cold, flu or other illness:

  • Be sure to sleep enough. You may need to sleep more than eight hours per night if you are sick.
  • If you are sick, wash your hands often to reduce the spread of disease to others.
  • Avena recommends seeking medical attention if your symptoms are more severe, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. A painful cough, wheezing, breathing difficulties, and a persistent high fever are all signs of a serious illness. If you haven’t improved after treating your cold symptoms for a week, you should consult a doctor.


1. What is the difference between the flu and a cold?

Colds and flu have some similar symptoms like a cough and runny nasal passages, but are caused by two different viruses. Colds are usually milder than influenza, which is more severe. Influenza comes with a high fever, fatigue and body aches.

2. What foods should I avoid when I am sick?

Avoid sugary processed foods, excessive dairy and other food items that can cause inflammation and increase mucus. Choose easily digestible and nutrient-dense foods.

3. Can I rely solely on these foods to avoid sickness?

Maintaining overall health can prevent illness. Stress management, regular exercise, and enough sleep can all support your body in its ability to fight potential infections.


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