Foods You Should—and Shouldn't—Eat When Sick, According to Experts

Learn which foods are better for your symptoms.

stuffed-up-golden-milk
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When you're under the weather, the last thing you want is to eat something that makes you feel worse. But what if you're not interested in chicken soup or crackers, and you're craving ice cream or a glass of wine? What you should eat depends on your condition, experts say. Here are common symptoms and expert suggestions on foods that help—and hinder—relief.

01 of 10

You Have Diarrhea

For diarrhea caused by a stomach virus or a meal that didn't agree with you, try bland foods, suggested James Lee, MD, gastroenterologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.

"Many different things can cause diarrhea, such as Crohn's disease or colitis," so see your healthcare provider if symptoms continue for longer than two weeks or sooner if signs of dehydration appear, or if diarrhea is accompanied by fever, blood, severe pain, or severe nausea and vomiting.

Best foods: Eat bland foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Also, oatmeal, baked potatoes, pretzels, and baked chicken or turkey without skin are safe bets. Eat vegetables such as carrots and green beans, but be sure to cook them first.

Worst foods: Sugarless candy, gum, and other products containing sorbitol or other sugar alcohols can trigger diarrhea in some people. Foods that cause gas and bloating include peppers, peas, broccoli, corn, and beans. Dairy, alcohol, caffeine, greasy and fried foods may also aggravate diarrhea.

02 of 10

You're Constipated

Factors like medications, lack of exercise, and not eating enough fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and veggies may cause constipation. "Adults need between 25 and 30 grams of fiber a day," said Dr. Lee.

Best foods: High-fiber whole grain bread, nuts, beans, prunes, oatmeal, flaxseed, broccoli, pears, and apples. Drinking six to eight glasses of water daily also helps get things moving, said Dr. Lee.

Worst foods: Sugary sweets, dairy products, iron supplements, high-fat meats, and processed foods may worsen constipation.

03 of 10

You Have an Upset Stomach

Feeling queasy makes all foods sound unappealing, but the right ones can ease symptoms by calming stomach acids, said Dr. Lee. "In general, keep food portions small and odors to a minimum," Dr. Lee added.

Best foods: Saltine crackers or pretzels can help, said Dr. Lee, as could small quantities of dry toast or cereal. Opt for bland foods, like noodles, English muffins, or foods that contain a lot of water, such as popsicles or clear soup.

Worst foods: Greasy, spicy, salty, or processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks can worsen nausea.

04 of 10

You Have a Sore Throat

Certain foods can coat your throat and soothe the pain when you have a sore throat, said Lauren Slayton, RD, founder of Foodtrainers.com.

Best foods: Try keeping your throat moist with hard candies or lozenges and drinking plenty of fluids. Soft, creamy foods such as cream soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, scrambled eggs, and custards may be more tolerable to eat with a sore throat.

Worst foods: Avoid hard, scratchy foods such as potato chips, nuts, and granola. The acidic juices from many fruits and vegetables, as well as orange juice, grape juice, and lemonade, can also irritate a sore throat.

05 of 10

Your Entire Body Aches

Foods that ease muscle aches depend on the specific reason for the body aches, said Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. "For general muscle aches, food containing magnesium or calcium may help ease soreness," Dr. Arthur said.

Best foods: Good magnesium sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and whole grains. Meanwhile, foods high in calcium include canned salmon, yogurt, leafy greens, and orange juice fortified with calcium.

Worst foods: Anything that dehydrates you can worsen muscle aches, said Dr. Arthur, particularly alcohol and caffeine.

06 of 10

You Have a Killer Headache

Dehydration is one of the leading causes of headaches, said Dr. Arthur, so it's best to treat that cause first and see if it relieves your pain.

Best foods: Water and other fluids are your best bet. "Drink a bottle of water and wait 20 minutes to see if you feel better," said Dr. Arthur. Caffeine is known for drying you out, but ironically, small doses may occasionally help relieve migraines in some people. "But for each cup of tea or coffee, drink an equal amount of water to avoid dehydration," Dr. Arthur said.

Worst foods: People who experience headaches on a daily basis are advised against consuming caffeine. While more research is needed, other foods believed to trigger headaches include artificial sweeteners, MSG (found in sauces and soy sauce), and aged cheeses (blue, stilton) that contain tyramine, plus red wine and processed meats. MSG is metabolized to glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, said Dr. Arthur. Tyramine links to increased blood pressure, which might trigger headaches.

07 of 10

You Have an Earache

Earaches typically accompany other symptoms, said Dr. Arthur. "So they're not correlated with any food in general." Since they often occur with upper respiratory infections, earaches might also benefit from foods that clear up congestion.

Best foods: Clear fluids and chicken soup may ease congestion by loosening up mucous in nasal passages. Omega-3s in salmon and nuts decrease inflammation, and vitamin C in dark leafy greens, berries, and citrus boosts the immune system, said Dr. Arthur.

Worst foods: Some people find that dairy can make phlegm feel thicker, except yogurt, which contains probiotics, said Dr. Arthur. "Stay away from processed and packaged foods, too, which increase inflammation and lengthen the recovery process."

08 of 10

You Just Can't Stop Itching

This could be a symptom of an allergy, said Dr. Arthur, who suggested maintaining a detailed food journal to pinpoint possible triggers. Call your healthcare provider if symptoms are severe or last longer than a few weeks.

Best foods: Omega-3-containing foods such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines), walnut and flax seed oils, and foods high in protein, are all important for skin health, said Dr. Arthur. "Skin is made up of proteins, so a diet adequate in protein is necessary for skin protein synthesis."

Worst foods: The most common foods that cause itching are nuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs, berries, soy, wheat, and milk, said Debra Jaliman, MD, dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.

09 of 10

You Have a Runny Nose

When you have a cold, the worst symptom might be a nose that just won't stop running. Aside from taking a steamy shower, Slayton suggested drinking warm tea—it may not slow down the drip, but a soothing tea might help you feel a bit better.

Best foods: Try Wakaya ginger tea, suggested Slayton. Ginger contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help clear up a cold faster than just waiting it out. "Apple cider and lemon in water works well, too," Slayton added.

Worst foods: Spicy foods can cause an immediate runny nose, as may alcohol.

10 of 10

You're Stuffed Up

A cold, flu, or sinus infection can irritate and inflame your nose's blood vessels, making breathing hard. Aside from inhaling steam from a hot shower or using a humidifier, if you're stopped up, some foods can help.

Best foods: Slayton recommended "golden milk," which includes turmeric, a spice known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Worst foods: Skip spicy foods and sugar, which can aggravate symptoms, said Slayton.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & Causes of Diarrhea.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Constipation.

  4. National Institute on Aging. Concerned About Constipation?

  5. MedlinePlus. When you have nausea and vomiting.

  6. National Institutes of Health. Soothing a Sore Throat.

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