What’s the best food to eat while sick? If you follow the advice of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, “Let food by the medicine, and medicine be they food.” Isn’t that what comfort food is all about?
We’ve gathered up ten essential ingredients that are scientifically proven to help you feel better. You’ll find delicious comfort food recipes to match—many which use more than one of these recommended ingredients.
Ready to feel better? Let’s find out what is good to eat when you are sick.
10. Hot Tea
Some of the best comfort food when sick is the simplest kind of food. The first few items in our list fit that category perfectly, including tried-and-true hot tea.
Used for millennia as a soothing drink, tea acts as a natural decongestant. Its steam helps clear the sinuses and it has excellent hydrating qualities. Even caffeinated varieties include such a small amount, that stimulant doesn’t cause increased water loss.
Tea is a natural source of polyphenols which offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Tannins are one type of polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. In one study, tannic acid in black tea helped decrease bacteria in the throat. Hibiscus and Echinacea teas also have been shown to shorten the length of cold and flu symptoms.
Tea is a soothing drink on a hectic day or a cozy treat to curl up with near a fire—and hot tea starts off our list of what is good to eat when you are sick.
Hot Tea Comfort Foods When Sick
This sweetener is a perfect complement to hot tea. But honey stands its own ground as something good to eat when you are sick.
Full of antimicrobial compounds, honey was used anciently to dress wounds. It’s sometimes used for that purpose still today. More commonly, honey helps suppress coughing and stimulates the immune system. You can take it in warm milk or hot tea. Even a spoonful straight up provides comfort and health benefits.
Honey Comfort Foods When Sick
Maybe one of the more surprising foods on our list, bananas are feel-good foods for many symptoms. You may have heard a healthcare provider (or maybe even Mom) talk about the BRAT diet. That’s short for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast – all carbohydrate-rich, easy-to-stomach, and easy-to-digest foods.
Bananas pack a lot of nutrients and healthy calories into a not-too-sweet package. An extra bonus is the soluble fiber contained in these peelable prizes. Bananas are easy to digest like white toast or white rice, but the extra fiber helps settle GI irritation.
Banana Comfort Foods When Sick
Before you read the word oatmeal and immediately think “mush,” stay with us. Yes, hot oatmeal simply prepared in water or milk can be a nicely digestible, bland food that’s a godsend to upset stomachs. But oatmeal is one food that can be enjoyed in so many ways!
First, its benefits. In addition to being a cousin to the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) diet, oatmeal offers some protein. Its fiber (specifically beta-glucan) helps improve blood sugar control and reduces inflammation in the gut.
You can get the benefits of oatmeal cooked traditionally, as well as an ingredient in other recipes. To keep your focus on health benefits, replace sugary sweeteners with honey or fruit. But comfort food can have a few exceptions, too.
Oatmeal Comfort Foods When Sick
6. Coconut Water
Coconut water may be the latest health food craze. But it will stick around as a comfort food to eat while sick. By itself, coconut water works harder than regular H2O to help you stay hydrated—in part because it’s able to replenish electrolytes.
Natural coconut water can be related to less stomach discomfort than some commercial electrolyte drinks. Plus, it contains antioxidants that help healing and may improve blood sugar control.
Coconut Water Comfort Foods When Sick
Ginger is a natural treatment for upset stomachs. So comfort foods featuring ginger can provide extra solace for women suffering morning sickness or for people going through cancer treatments.
Ginger acts like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals, but it does it all by its natural self. When choosing ginger comfort food when sick, look for ingredients with real ginger or ginger extract—artificial ginger flavor won’t cut it. Some basics include ginger tea or grandma’s standby, ginger ale. Or, try some of these new takes on a stomach-settling spice.
Ginger Comfort Foods When Sick
4. Spicy Foods
Capsaicin is found in spicy foods like cayenne or chili peppers. It’s the plant component that causes a hot, burning sensation when eaten (or even touched!). When highly concentrated, capsaicin has a desensitizing effect, making it useful in natural pain-relieving patches and salves.
When it comes to eating spicy foods, capsaicin helps you feel better by relieving congestion. It breaks down stuffiness making it easier to swallow and breathe. In some people, capsaicin can relieve chronic coughing over long periods of time by making their throats less sensitive to irritation.
Spicy Comfort Foods When Sick
A medicinal herb, garlic is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal (dare we say with anti-vampire properties, too?). This wonder bulb stimulates the immune system and has been proven to help fight sick days and ward them off, too.
A 2014 National Institutes of Health study gave garlic and a placebo to study participants. The people taking garlic supplements had 70% fewer sick days than the placebo group. In a different study, people taking garlic got better 3.5 days earlier than people who took a placebo. Now that’s a powerful food to eat while sick!
Garlic Comfort Foods When Sick
Yogurt is an excellent feel-better food—ironically for reasons that seem in opposition to other recommended food to eat while sick. For example, unlike hot tea, the cooling nature of yogurt can soothe a sore throat. And while you might think that yogurt might make congestion worse, several studies show that dairy intake causes no change in cough or congestion. Some people feel yogurt relieves throat irritations that make them cough.
There’s no shortage of nutrients in yogurt, either. High in calcium, vitamins, minerals, and protein, yogurt is also a unique source of probiotics. Studies from the National Institutes of Health show these beneficial bacteria actually help both children and adults get colds less often, heal faster, and experience symptoms that were about 55% less severe.
Yogurt Comfort Foods When Sick
1. Chicken Soup
And the number one comfort food for when you’re sick? No surprise from us: it’s chicken soup. You can read all about why chicken noodle soup is the ultimate comfort food when sick. But we’ll stick with the summary here.
Chicken soup is a good source of fluids, calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also a natural decongestant and may block cells that cause coughing and a stuffy nose. Plus, when you can’t be there to make chicken soup yourself, we’ll deliver it for you with the same kind of care.
Chicken Soup Comfort Foods When Sick
Spoonful of Comfort got its start making comfort foods and sending them across the country in care packages. Chicken soup is part of our origin story. We help send the kind of care and comfort you’d bring if you could deliver it yourself. Learn more about our care packages and see our original Get Well gift basket here.
You are reading a post from our Get Well Gifts Guide. Read on for more great ideas to help those you love (including yourself!) get well soon!
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