Don’t let a cold or flu get the best of you. Plenty of rest and fluids may be what the doctor ordered, but it’s just as important to boost the nutrients in your diet to return to good health quickly. Here are the top 10 foods to eat when you’re sick and how to add them to your diet.
1. Raw Garlic
The thought of chomping on raw garlic may give you the shivers, but it’s one of the most powerful foods for clearing up colds and flus quickly. In fact, garlic has been used as a “natural antibiotic” for bacterial, fungal and viral infections dating back thousands of years (1).
Raw garlic’s healing properties against illness and infections are attributed to a compound it contains called allicin (2). It’s said that cooking garlic destroys and inactivates allicin, which is why eating it raw is the best way to go when you’ve got a cold or flu.
How To Take It:
You can take half of a raw garlic clove as a “pseudo supplement” and wash it down with a swig of water. Raw garlic can be tough on the tummy, so always start with half a clove and wait a few hours before going back for seconds (depending on how your stomach feels).
If the raw garlic remedy isn’t your thing, there’s a way to help preserve some of the health benefits of allicin before cooking it. Simply crush a few cloves of garlic to allow allicin to become activated before it’s cooked and let it stand for 15 minutes. Add it to your dish toward the end of cooking time so it’s exposed to as little heat as possible.
Although it’s been touted as a superfood spice for clear, glowing skin and cognitive function, turmeric root can also help boost your immune system when you’re sick, thanks to its high antioxidant content (3). Turmeric root also has anti-microbial properties, which may be helpful for clearing up coughs and respiratory infections.
Some studies suggest the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric may be as effective as ibuprofen and other OTC medications for treating the pain of inflammatory health conditions (4).
How To Take It:
Turmeric has a bit of spicy kick to it, but small amounts blend well in juice and smoothie recipes. One popular turmeric cold and flu remedy is called golden milk, which combines several anti-inflammatory ingredients such as coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, fresh ginger, honey, black pepper and coconut oil. Together, the health benefits of these ingredients make a warm, soothing natural remedy for colds, flus and good health in general.
You can use fresh turmeric root (which looks just like ginger, except it’s orange) or turmeric powder in several meal recipes. If you need some recipe inspiration, turmeric goes well with curries, scrambled eggs, curried sweet potatoes, green juices, sautéed greens, rice, quinoa, soups and roasted vegetables.
3. Bone Broth (Bonus Points for Chicken Bone Broth)
Bone broth is considered one of nature’s best healing foods because of its wide range of highly bioavailable (i.e. easily absorbed) immune-boosting nutrients, such as gelatin, collagen, proline and glutamine, as well as detoxifying minerals such as sulfur.
The reason why bone broth is superior to regular stock or broths is because bone broth recipes call for bones to be simmered in water for long periods of time (we’re talking anywhere between 24-72 hours).
The long simmer time helps to efficiently draw out all of the beneficial nutrients from the bones, resulting in a nutrient-rich stock (yes, bone broth is actually more of a stock based on how it’s made). In comparison, a regular broth or stock may only be simmered for 3-4 hours, which isn’t enough time for the nutrients from the bones to be fully released.
How To Eat It:
Bone broth can be eaten the same way as the comforting bowl of chicken soup your granny used to make, or you can use it as a base for other soup and stew recipes. You can also drink your bone broth on the go from a coffee cup or mug (which became somewhat of a trend in NYC a few years ago).
You can make your own bone broth at home using any kind of bones from chicken, beef, fish or ox — wings, feet, necks, knuckles, tails, any type of bone will do. We recommend choosing a chicken bone broth if you have a cough or cold because chicken is higher in the amino acid cysteine, which helps clear and expel mucous from your lungs (5).
Or better yet, you can order some and save yourself the hassle!
Oregano and oil of oregano are the top two natural remedies recommended for cold and flu season. This is because oregano has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal properties, which help with a wide range of conditions (6).
Oil of oregano has been shown to be useful for clearing up symptoms of the common cold, respiratory tract infections, yeast infections, intestinal parasites, warts and inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and acne (7).
How To Take It:
The Italians were onto something when they created their heavenly oregano-infused recipes. Why not have a “healthy” Italian feast night and make a homemade tomato sauce with fresh garlic, tomato and oregano? Talk about an easy and delicious way to get three immune-boosting foods on one plate. (May we also suggest using a wholegrain brown rice pasta or pizza crust for extra nutrients.)
Aside from cooking with oregano, you can take oil of oregano as a nutritional supplement in a tincture, oil or in capsules. Oil of oregano comes in many different forms (some are strictly for topical use), so be sure to find a variety of oil of oregano that is safe for internal use. You can also use oil of oregano in your recipes if you don’t have fresh oregano on hand.
5. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper has been used traditionally for thousands of years to help relieve pain and inflammation. A compound cayenne contains, called capsaicin, is said to help improve digestive conditions, upset stomach and reduce the pain associated with inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis (8). Some research suggests it may also be effective for ear infections, while the “heat” from eating it can help clear the sinuses.
How To Eat It:
Since cayenne has a hot and spicy taste, you can add it to any recipe you want to give a bit of a “kick” to. Curries, soups, stews and homemade hot sauces are the most common recipes that call for cayenne, but you can also blend it with smoothies, guacamole, add it to freshly pressed juices and use it to make homemade cajun sweet potato fries.
You can also find cayenne pepper capsules as a nutritional supplement at most health food stores, which is usually available under the name “capsaicin.”
6. Herbal Tea: Echinacea, Ginger, Licorice
A sore throat or cough could always use a soothing cup of tea, so why not choose a herbal variety that may help heal your symptoms faster?
Many clinical trials have shown that those with the common cold who drank echinacea tea for at least five days had relief from their symptoms (cough, cold, runny nose) faster than those who didn’t (9). Licorice root tea is commonly recommended to soothe a cough and sore throat (10).
If you have more of a flu bug, ginger tea may be helpful for reducing cold sweats and vomiting (11).
How To Drink It:
You can find these herbs in bulk at most natural health food stores. Steep the herbs in hot water with other herbs of your choice, such as lemon balm or chamomile. You can also find a blend of these herbs in pre-packaged tea bags.
Sauerkraut (lacto-fermented cabbage) can help boost your immune system because of the beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, it contains. These probiotics help improve your gut health by preventing the overgrowth of bad bacteria, such as yeast, and keep your GI tract clean. Since approximately 80 percent of your immune system cells are located in your gut, eating nutrients to improve digestive health directly benefits your immune system (12).
How To Eat It:
You can eat sauerkraut plain or use it as a side dish. It goes well with salads, on sandwiches, baked potatoes, soups and stews.
You can make sauerkraut at home using only a few simple ingredients: green cabbage, water and salt (a quick Google search will bring up a plethora of easy step-by-step recipes). You can also find organic sauerkraut at any health food store — just be sure the only ingredients are cabbage, salt and water so you can avoid harmful additives and preservatives that actually destroy gut health.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
Is ACV Mother Nature’s cough syrup?
There are few things apple cider vinegar can’t do, especially when it comes to clearing up a cold or flu. As one of the best natural remedies for boosting your immune system, taking a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar each day may also be a good preventative measure for staying healthy during cold and flu season.
The reason why apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties is because of a compound called acetic acid, which is produced by healthy bacteria during the fermentation process of apples to vinegar. Acetic acid has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce the body’s inflammatory response when it encounters a cold or other bacterial infection (13).
How To Take It:
One of the easiest ways to add ACV to your diet is by adding a tablespoon to a cup of water (250ml) each day with a squeeze of lemon, cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of honey for sweetness. All of these ingredients help boost immunity, so it’s definitely worth drinking each day to improve your overall health.
Important note: Just be sure to sip on this ACV drink through a straw to protect your tooth enamel from the acidity of the lemon and vinegar. You can also add apple cider vinegar to your homemade salad dressing recipes.
Second important note: When choosing a variety of apple cider vinegar, always be sure to go with “raw and unpasteurized,” which is the variety that contains all of ACV’s beneficial nutrients and healing properties. Unfortunately, pasteurization depletes all of the enzymes that make ACV a health tonic (14).
9. Coconut Oil
If you love coconuts, you’ll be happy to learn that both coconuts and their oil are powerful natural antibiotics and should be eaten frequently to heal and prevent colds and flus.
Coconut contains an essential fatty acid called lauric acid, which is known for having antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties (15). While coconut and coconut oil are commonly recommended in yeast and parasite protocols, they’re also effective for clearing up colds, coughs and other inflammatory conditions. Coconut oil has also been shown to improve digestive function and prevent pathogens, such as salmonella, from entering your GI tract (16).
How To Eat It:
You can eat coconut meat as a snack (perhaps sprinkled with some immune-boosting cayenne pepper and vitamin C-rich lime juice, like they serve it in Mexico) or add unsweetened shredded coconut to your dessert recipes, such as energy balls or raw key lime pie.
Coconut oil can be used for cooking on medium-high temperatures and works well as a replacement to butter or vegetable oil in baking recipes. Or, you can do what I do and choose the easiest option: Eat a tablespoon straight out of the jar each morning. It blends well in coffee and tea, too.
When you’re sick, any green food will be good for you (we’re talking leafy greens and vegetables here) — especially the single-celled green algae, chlorella. Chlorella is rich in antioxidant vitamins that boost the immune system, such as beta-carotene and a unique nutrient called Chlorella Growth Factor, or CGF.
CGF can only be found in chlorella, and it contains the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, which help the body with cellular repair and regeneration, including immune system cells (20). That being said, chlorella is a beneficial food not only to eat when you’re sick but each day to prevent colds and flus.
How To Eat It:
The most common way to add chlorella to your diet is by taking it as a nutritional supplement in tablets or capsules. You can also find chlorella powder and granules, which can be added to smoothies, juices and raw food recipes to instantly enhance the nutritional value.
Most health food stores carry chlorella. Just be sure to choose a cracked cell wall variety, otherwise, it will be poorly digested.
As you can see, the best foods to eat when you’re sick are the whole, nutrient-dense foods found in nature. By replacing nutrient-void processed foods (such as white bread, deep fried foods, and refined sugar) with any — or all — of the 10 foods listed above, you’ll be on the road to recovery in no time.
In fact, with this extra boost of nutrition in your diet, we wouldn’t be surprised if you recovered and felt your best yet.