We’ve all heard it … “Starve a fever, feed a cold.” But is it true? And what do you do when you have both a fever and a cold?
Food has healing power
More than ever, we’re realizing the healing powers of the food we eat. Or, in many cases, how our food can actually make us sicker. In the end, we’re learning this one important lesson: What you eat matters.
When you are sick, whether it’s with a cold, the flu, or even something more serious like cancer, it’s more important than ever to get the crucial and necessary vitamins and minerals your body craves for good health. Nutrients are vital compounds your body needs for growth, wellness and repair. Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and even fats need to be a part of your regular diet. Many nutrients are naturally made by your body; but others must come from your diet. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can lead to illness or decreased function within the body’s systems.
So …what should I eat when I’m sick?
1. Protein. Whether it’s the flu or a cold, or something else, there is one thing your body needs to stay healthy: Protein. Proteins give your body the strength you need and will help you get back on track quicker. Proteins like eggs, nuts, poultry and lean meats are good options if your stomach will cooperate with you. See? Mom’s chicken soup isn’t such a bad idea after all…
2. Vitamins B6 and B12. These vitamins boost and build your immune system, so it would be a wise idea to have a diet rich in these before you get sick. You might just miss out on the flu to start with! Vitamin B6 is found in many foods like turkey, beans, spinach and potatoes. Proteins also contain Vitamins B6 and B12, so that’s another reason to include them in your diet. A diet rich in minerals like zinc and selenium will also boost your immune system. Find these infection-fighters in foods like beans, nuts, meat and poultry.
3. Flavonoids. Odds are your mom told you to drink a bunch of orange juice when you started to feel sick. Well, mom was on to something. However, the orange juice recommendation isn’t as much for the Vitamin C as it is for the flavonoids.
Flavonoids are compounds that give color to fruits like oranges. (They also give color to flowers, too.) These flavanoids will increase immune system function and may indeed help ward off sickness when you’re feeling run down. You don’t have to stick to just orange juice, though – flavonoids are also found in grapefruits, lemons and limes. Drinking lots of lemon water when you feel sick or run down is a great idea.
4. Glutathione. One nutrient that boosts your immune system we don’t hear much about is glutathione. This powerful antioxidant gets little respect, but it is a real powerhouse! It is found in the red, pulpy area of the watermelon, near the rind. Glutathione is also found in cruciferous vegetables. So eat up your kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage for immune support!
An important note
A well-balanced diet should contain a wide variety of foods that give your body all the vitamins and minerals it needs and craves. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re already sick. Start eating healthy by eating a balanced diet now. Don’t rely on a single food or nutrient to “patch things up” when you’re sick. Be proactive. Also, don’t just take a vitamin supplement and think that’s good enough to allow you to eat whatever you want. There’s nothing wrong with most vitamin supplements, but they are not meant to be a substitute for a healthy diet rich in nutritional compounds.
What NOT to eat…
For some people, eating dairy foods will increase their mucous production. This makes things extra-difficult when you are already congested. So it might be a smart idea to avoid dairy for a few days. Coincidentally, dairy foods can also aggravate nausea and even worsen digestive upset, so that may give you another reason to steer clear for a few days. If you are nauseated or have stomach upset, avoid eating heavy foods. Stick with clear beverages and stay hydrated until you feel like you can eat again.
In all seriousness, listening to your body when you are sick is a good idea. If you feel like eating something, try it in small amounts first. Your body may indeed be craving it for a purpose. If you feel like you shouldn’t eat, then don’t! Just stick with clear fluids. If you get tired of water, try broth or a bit of tea. In fact, warm decaffeinated tea can help you with a sore throat and respiratory discomfort. Add a small amount of honey if you can tolerate it.