What Should I Eat When I Have the Flu?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on January 26, 2022
3 min read

If you have the flu, you may be wondering if there's a special diet to help you feel better. After all, you've heard the old saying, "Feed a cold, starve a fever." But what do you eat when you have both a fever and cold-like symptoms that come with the flu?

Of course, good nutrition is a must to help your immune system fight this virus. But when your body battles flu symptoms for days or even weeks, maintaining a healthy diet becomes even more important in helping you get better.

Even when you aren’t sick, you need protein to keep your body strong. Your body uses it to build strength and keep what you already have. Lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy, eggs, nuts, and seeds are good sources.

The FDA says adults should eat 50 grams of protein a day (but can vary depending on an individual's caloric needs). Pregnant and nursing women need more. Foods that have it provide nutrients like vitamins B6 and B12, both of which keep your immune system working like it should.

Vitamin B6 comes in protein-rich foods like turkey and beans, as well as potatoes, spinach, and enriched cereal grains. Meats, milk, and fish also contain vitamin B12, a powerful immune booster.

Minerals like selenium and zinc also keep your immune system going strong. These minerals are found in protein-rich foods like beans, nuts, meat, and poultry.

Flavonoids include about 4,000 compounds that are responsible for the colors of fruits and flowers. Research shows that flavonoids found in the soft white skin of citrus fruits -- like grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes -- may boost your immune system. Many other fruits have anti-inflammatory properties, too.

Glutathione may strengthen your immune system so it can fight off infections. You’ll find this powerful antioxidant in the red, pulpy area of a watermelon near the rind. It’s also in kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage.

Any food or beverage is fine if you're hungry or thirsty. Dairy products make some people produce more mucus. If this happens to you, avoid dairy for a few days. They may also make nausea and vomiting worse.

Orange juice, especially with the pulp, is packed with vitamin C and folic acid, which may give your immune system a boost and help you feel better faster.

If your tummy is upset or if you have diarrhea, stick with bland foods. Sip clear drinks to keep your fluids up. You can try chipped ice, juices, sports drinks, ginger ale, clear broths, gelatin, and ice pops.

Start with small amounts, like 4 to 8 ounces at a time for adults and 1 ounce or less at a time for children. Only use clear liquids (clear broth, juice, lemon-lime soda). If you're not sure if it's clear, pour it in a clear glass bowl and try to read something through it. If you can't see the letters, it isn’t clear.

Warm decaf tea with honey can coat and soothe your throat. Warm drinks are better than cold ones for opening congested airways.

Bland foods -- like toast, rice, bananas, and applesauce -- are good. Experts say you can go back to a normal diet within 24 hours if you feel like it.

It’s a must for cold-like symptoms. One lab study suggested that chicken soup has properties that can ease flu symptoms in your chest and head.

A well-nourished immune system is better able to fight infections. Once you recover from flu, fill your diet with a variety of food, colorful fruits and vegetables, and legumes. These are high in phytochemicals -- natural compounds in food can boost your health.