The sniffles, sneezes and coughs that provide the soundtrack of the sick season are unavoidable. Even health care professionals get sick too. When they do, they use the health properties of certain foods to nourish the body and support recovery.
Barbara Bauer, RDN, program manager of clinical nutrition at Sharp Coronado Hospital
Even when you have a respiratory illness, you should eat the same healthy food you normally eat. But sometimes when you don't feel well, comfort foods may be what sounds good to you. Chicken soup can be helpful — just like your mother gave you when you were not feeling well.
If the illness results in vomiting or diarrhea, then fluids are especially important to stay hydrated. Start with clear liquids such as tea, broth, gelatin dessert, juice (non-citrus) or ice pops. Eat a little at a time, but frequently throughout the day. Remember to call your doctor if you continue to have problems.
When to add back solid foods
As you improve, gradually increase solid food choices that don't irritate your stomach or bowels. Choose foods that provide protein, but are not spicy like baked chicken, cottage cheese, eggs or your favorite smoothie. Other foods such as toast, rice, cooked vegetables and bananas are often tolerated. Bland is best — avoid the hot sauce.
Melissa Hughes, RDN, certified wellness and health coach and program manager for the Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management
Prioritizing nutrient-dense foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats) is a great way to make sure that the body has the nutrients it needs to stay healthy all year long. However, when I feel like I am fighting something, I focus on increasing my intake of foods that have immune-boosting power:
Because your body cannot make vitamin C, it must come from the foods you eat every day. The vitamin C content of fruits and vegetables may be reduced by prolonged storage and by cooking. It's best to eat them as soon as possible after shopping, and also consider steaming or microwaving vegetables for short periods of time to limit nutrient loss. In addition to citrus fruits, vitamin C is also found in tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kiwi.
Zinc is needed for the growth and function of immune cells so increasing your zinc intake will help to strengthen your immune system. Sources of zinc include lean meat, fish, oysters, poultry, eggs, whole grains, spinach, beans, seeds and nuts.
Carotenoids are the pigments in plants that are responsible for bright-colored fruits and vegetables. They act as antioxidants and help to improve immune response. They can be found in red, orange and green fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, cooked tomatoes, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apricots, cantaloupe, oranges and watermelon.
Other tips for getting and staying well
With a respiratory illness, drinking clear liquids is important to help thin mucus secretions. Stay away from beverages with caffeine, which provide less hydration. Be sure to up what you normally drink if you are sneezing, having a productive cough or blowing your nose frequently.
One often-overlooked key to staying healthy is getting enough sleep. Aim for eight hours per night. To get close to eight hours, use these tips support a healthy sleep routine.
Hand washing on a regular basis — and especially before preparing or eating food — is necessary to keep you healthy.