- Avoid fatty, sugary, and raw foods when you’re sick with the flu.
- Similarly, avoid sugary drinks and fluids that could dehydrate you more, like alcohol and caffeinated tea.
- When you’re sick with the flu, staying hydrated is the most important factor for recovery.
- This article was reviewed by Rod Oskouian, MD, at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.
When you have the flu, you want to do everything you can to get better as soon as possible. A key part of recovery is knowing what to eat and drink — and what to avoid.
What not to eat when you have the flu
In general, the foods you want to avoid are:
- Junk food
- Certain uncooked foods
You should avoid junk food because it’s hard to digest.
“You do not want to eat something that’s going to take a long time for your body to digest, such as fatty foods,” says Armand Dorian, MD, the chief medical officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. That’s because “the act of digesting is actually taxing on the body. So if you’re fighting the flu, your body is already taxed.”
You don’t want your body to spend its limited energy on digestion; you want it to be working on fighting the virus. So avoid fatty foods, especially if it’s the unhealthy type of fat like what you’ll find in pizza, burgers, fries, and other fast food.
Dorian also says that you should be wary of uncooked foods such as raw fish or certain dairy products like milk and cheese because they “have a higher potential of having a bacterial load or different types of organisms that your body has to break down.”
Sweets should be avoided as well. “Candy, chocolate, sodas — those are things that, again, are heavy loads on the body,” Dorian says. Not to mention that ingesting too much sugar can suppress the immune system, which you need to fight off the virus.
What not to drink when you have the flu
Overall, water is the best fluid you can drink when you’re sick with the flu.
You should try to avoid:
- Sweetened beverages, like sports drinks
- Caffeine drinks like coffee and certain teas
If you must have a sweetened beverage, Dorian recommends taking some of it and diluting it with water.
And since hydration is key to healing, you should avoid drinking anything that will inhibit your body’s ability to retain water. That includes caffeine and alcohol, which can make any preexisting dehydration even worse and may delay your recovery.
For similar reasons, you should also avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and caffeinated teas like black and green tea. But if you’re an avid coffee drinker and dread the idea of skipping your morning pick-me-up, Dorian says that one cup in the morning is OK.
As for other popular drinks like seltzer, kombucha, and sparkling water, check the labels for sugar and caffeine. Usually, these drinks are all right as long as you stick to brands low in sugar and caffeine.
How to speed up flu recovery
When it comes down to it, when you have the flu, you should be more worried about the fluid you’re lacking rather than nutrients. That’s because water is necessary for virtually all body functions, including transporting nutrients, regulating body temperature, flushing out waste and toxins, and cellular function of your immune cells.
“What ends up happening is you get dehydrated and your body starts being unable to access your own [nutrient] reserves,” Dorian says. “So it’s all about fluids.”
Avoid these foods and drinks, and stay hydrated, and you’ll be on the fast track to feeling better soon.