Eat These Foods When You’re Sick, According To A Nutritionist

‘Tis the season for (the inevitable) summer cold.

By Edie Horstman
Camille Styles wearing loungewear drinking glass of water in bed.

Every summer, come Colorado rain or shine, our entire household gets sick. It’s as if the back-to-school season plays a preemptive trick, reminding us to nourish a healthy immune system—year-round. Universe, I see you. But when illness strikes during the warmer months, what are the best foods to eat when sick? Spoiler alert: a few scoops of mint chip ice cream may soothe your soul (and temporarily, a sore throat), but slices of fresh citrus, a mug of bone broth, or an anti-inflammatory smoothie will actually provide the relief you’re seeking. With a swift comeback to backyard BBQs and pool parties in mind, let’s get you feeling better ASAP.

Edie Horstman
Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

Potential Causes of a Summertime Cold

While we often associate colds with the chilly winter months, it may come as a surprise that catching a cold during the summer is not uncommon. There are several reasons why we’re susceptible to colds— even when the weather is warm.

Summer brings people together

Inevitably, vacations, parties, and outdoor gatherings increase the likelihood of exposure to germs. If we learned anything in 2020, it’s to wash your hands (and sanitize your phone!) frequently.

Fluctuations in temperature

From hours in air conditioning to spending time in hot, stuffy, and crowded places (hello, airports and public transportation), our immune system takes a hit. In turn, this makes us more vulnerable to viral infections. Rapid changes in weather conditions do this, too!

High humidity

Depending on where you live, humidity comes knocking at the earliest signs of summer. Unfortunately, high humidity levels create an ideal environment for viruses to thrive and spread.

Seasonal allergies

Moreover, seasonal allergies can weaken the respiratory system, making it easier for cold viruses to take hold.

6 Things To Do As Soon As You Start Feeling Sick

Feeling an illness coming on? Time is of the essence. Remember, the earlier you take action, the better chance you have of combating the illness effectively. Not only will this support your body’s natural healing process, but it can minimize the severity of your symptoms. Along with the best foods to eat when sick, here are a few essential steps to take as soon as you start feeling sick.

  • Rest and prioritize sleep. Your body needs ample rest to fight off the illness effectively. Be sure to get plenty of sleep. Put an OOO reply in your inbox and to the degree you can, take it easy.
  • Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is vital for supporting your immune system and maintaining overall well-being. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water with lemon, herbal tea, and nourishing broths, to keep your body hydrated and to help flush out toxins.
  • Incorporate aromatherapy. Essential oils can provide soothing effects and respiratory support. Diffuse oils like eucalyptus, lavender, or peppermint in your living space or add a few drops to a warm bath for relaxation and relief.
  • Consider herbal remedies. Sipping ginger tea can help alleviate nausea and support digestion. Echinacea or elderberry supplements may boost the immune system.
  • Steam inhalation. Ease congestion by creating a steam inhalation session. Boil water, pour it into a bowl, and add a few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus or tea tree oil. Place a towel over your head, lean over the bowl, and inhale the steam deeply, allowing it to clear your nasal passages.
  • Practice good hygiene. Prevent the spread of illness by practicing proper hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating or touching your face. And once you’re on the mend, make sure to wash your linens!
Woman journaling in bed,.
Image by Teal Thomsen

10 Foods to Eat When Sick

This goes without saying, but food is both important fuel and powerful medicine. What we eat greatly enhances our recovery process! While there is no magic, universal ingredient for every ailment, there are certain foods that can provide a much-needed boost to the immune system. Below are 10 foods to add to your grocery delivery. (Let someone else do the shopping for you!).

Woman pouring water into glass with lemon.
Image by Riley Reed

1. Lemon

Lemons (citrus, in general) are packed with vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function and helps fight off infections. Consuming lemon—in the form of freshly squeezed lemon juice or added to a tea—can help soothe a sore throat and provide relief from coughing. The acidic nature of lemon juice can also help break up mucus and congestion, making it easier to breathe. Additionally, lemon contains natural antibacterial and antiviral properties that may aid in combating the illness. Furthermore, the refreshing and tangy taste of lemon can help stimulate your appetite, making it easier to consume nourishing foods and stay hydrated.

Fig smoothie
Image by Michelle Nash

2. Ginger

Here at Camille Styles, we love a ginger moment. Along with its robust flavor, eating ginger when you’re sick can offer multiple health benefits. Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help reduce inflammation, soothe an upset stomach, and alleviate nausea and vomiting. It also acts as a natural relief for congestion, helping clear the respiratory passages. Last but not least, ginger provides warmth and inner-fire, making it a comforting choice to promote overall well-being.

Turmeric chicken immunity soup.
Image by Ashleigh Amoroso

3. Turmeric

All hail the mighty turmeric root. Whether you’re craving sweet or spicy, we have turmeric recipes for all. Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound with immune-boosting effects. This may help reduce symptoms of inflammation and pain. By reducing inflammation, curcumin can alleviate symptoms such as pain, swelling, and discomfort associated with illness, promoting a faster healing process. It’s truly a miracle worker.

Mug of bone broth

4. Bone Broth

There’s a reason why chicken soup has been a go-to remedy for generations. Its comforting warmth, combined with essential nutrients like collagen, makes it a perfect choice when sick. Chicken soup contains amino acids that reduce inflammation, alleviate congestion, and promote respiratory health. The broth keeps you hydrated while providing essential electrolytes, and the added vegetables contribute vital vitamins and minerals.

Green smoothie
Image by Michelle Nash

5. Leafy Greens

Even when you’re feeling under the weather, don’t skimp on your greens! Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support immune function and aid in recovery. Rich in fiber, they also help maintain healthy digestion, which is essential for nutrient absorption, detoxification, and overall well-being. When you’re feeling ill, there’s no need to eat your greens in a salad! Add them to soups, stews, or smoothies.

Yogurt and banana toast.
Image by Michelle Nash

6. Probiotic-Rich Foods

More and more research shows that the gut plays a crucial role in our immune system. What’s one of the best ways to support your digestive health? Consume probiotic-rich foods. These can help restore the balance of healthy bacteria, particularly after a round of antibiotics. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are excellent sources of probiotics that promote a healthy gut microbiome, aiding in digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall immune function.

Hot honey glazed salmon.
Image by Michelle Nash

7. Bee Propolis

Have you heard of bee propolis? Bee propolis is a resin-like substance produced by bees! It has antimicrobial and immune-supporting properties, making it beneficial when fighting off infections. Bee propolis can be found in supplement form (we love this throat spray from Beekeeper’s Naturals) or as a tincture. Otherwise, add a drizzle of raw, local honey to your favorite tea or savory recipe.

Wildflower citrus olive oil muffins.
Image by Suruchi Avasthi

8. Echinacea

A flowering plant with immune-boosting properties, echinacea is often used to reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms. It’s widely known for its immune-boosting properties, as it can stimulate the production of white blood cells and enhance the activity of immune cells. Echinacea tea—or supplements—are widely available.

Creamy tomato pasta with miso and roasted tomatoes.
Image by Suruchi Avasthi

9. Miso

Love miso soup? Now’s the time to drink it! Consuming miso when you’re sick can be beneficial, thanks to its nourishing and immune-supportive properties. If you haven’t tried miso, it’s a fermented soybean paste. It contains natural probiotics, which promote a healthy gut microbiome and support immune function. It’s also rich in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that can help boost energy and aid in the recovery process. The warm and savory nature of miso soup can provide comfort and hydration, making it a soothing choice when you’re feeling sickly.

Tropical smoothie.
Image by Michelle Nash

10. Camu Camu

Camu camu is a small fruit native to the Amazon rainforest. And when we talk about vitamin C, this fruit hits the jackpot. It’s known for its extraordinarily high vitamin C content, making it one of the richest natural sources of this essential nutrient. Camu camu is typically red or purplish in color and has a tart, tangy flavor. You’ll likely eat it in powdered form (add it to your favorite tropical smoothie!). Rich in antioxidants, camu camu is worth the shelf space.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, any illness is simply an invitation to slow down—to give your body the nourishment it needs. Hopefully, you’ll recover in no time! From incorporating the best foods to eat when sick, to taking the rest you deserve (without guilt!), you can bolster your immune system and enhance your overall well-being.

The next time you find yourself under the weather, turn to citrus fruits, chicken soup, ginger, leafy greens, and probiotic-rich foods to fuel your body with the healing power of nutrition. Here’s to staying healthy, balanced, and resilient for the rest of the year.