Your throat starts to feel a little scratchy, your nose starts running and you can feel a fever coming on. Uh-oh. This is definitely an SOS from your immune system. Surely some rest and a cup of hot tea are in order. But what exactly should you eat for a speedy recovery?
We reached out to six nutritionists to find out what foods help them battle illnesses. Here’s what they had to say.
When Kerri Axelrod, a certified Integrative Nutrition health coach, is feeling sick, her go-to is turmeric. That’s because the herb contains curcumin, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. “This herb is a great way to boost your immune system and fight colds and congestion,” she says, “as it inhibits cells from producing inflammatory proteins and is known to cleanse the whole body.”
While you might not be in the mood for spicy curry when you’re sick, you can also use turmeric in a latte. Axelrod shares this recipe for her Golden Milk Turmeric Latte.
2. Yogurt, Kefir, Kombucha And Beer!
Foods that are rich in probiotic bacteria and prebiotic fiber—yogurt, kefir and kombucha all fall into this category—are great when you’re sick, explains nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, Ph.D. The reason? The gut microbiome is what controls the immune system, Talbott explains.
“If the immune system is the orchestra, the microbiome is the conductor, and getting a wide range of beneficial gut bacteria can help the immune system to better identify and fight bacteria and viruses.”
Talbott also says you can prime the immune system cells with complex polysaccharides from foods like onions, garlic, mushrooms and yeast. “So, if I’m sick, I’m eating yogurt for breakfast, drinking kombucha at lunch and eating garlic, onion, mushroom soup and drinking beer at dinner,” he says.
Not only does it fend off vampires, but it can fend off sickness, too. “The moment I start feeling under the weather, I start eating a lot more garlic, and drinking a lot more green tea,” says Emily Cooper, RDN.
“Garlic has potent antibacterial properties, especially when it’s raw, but chopping and letting it sit for 15 minutes before cooking keeps most of those health benefits intact.”
Cooper calls in green tea for reinforcement, too. “Green tea is not only soothing for a sore throat, but contains a high amount of antioxidants that can help speed up recovery time as soon as the cold or flu hits,” she says.
Holistic nutritionist Miriam Amselem considers ginger a natural elixir because it’s loaded with nutrients and has been used for medicinal purposes for years. “I have used ginger for flu and cold relief,” she says.
“It helps bring down fevers because it promotes sweating. It’s also excellent for soothing a sore throat, cough or cold.” Ginger, Amselem explains, is loaded with illness-zapping nutrients like Vitamin C, Potassium, B6, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.
Her tip: Take an organic ginger root, peel it and cut off a piece, chop it up and drink it with hot water.
“Mine is hands down saltines!” says Amy Goodson, an RD in Dallas, when asked what her go-to sickness-busting food was. “Though maybe not the most nutrient-rich food of choice, the carbohydrates help revitalize my energy and are easy to digest,” she says.
Plus, the salt helps with dehydration, which is ideal if you have had a stomach bug and can still help if you have a cold. “I typically recommend people to basic foods they are familiar with and that are easy to digest when sick.”
6. Chicken Soup
Chicken soup isn’t just a comfort food when you’re sick. It also comes with nutritional benefits, says Julie Harrington, R.D., the Culinary Communications Consultant of RDelicious Kitchen. “When your body is sick, it becomes depleted of important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium,” she explains. “The body needs to recover. A hearty chicken soup can replenish those nutrients along with adding protein.”
Proper hydration also plays a role in recovering from an illness, she says. “Your body will need even more fluids if you have a fever,” she says. “Chicken soup is a great source of fluids and electrolytes to help prevent dehydration.”
Want to avoid getting sick altogether? Here are the nine brilliant strategies of people who never get sick.