There's little as frustrating as huddling on your couch in a nest of blankets and used tissues, knowing there's nothing you can do to mitigate your misery — or is there? Relief may come from an unexpected corner. Oddly enough, some foods may make your flu symptoms worse without you ever realizing it. So put down the macaroni and cheese, folks, because it might have betrayed you in your time of need.
Let's get something out of the way first: The old adage "feed a cold, starve a fever" doesn't hold up under modern medical thought. According to Scientific American, the idea back in the day was that eating will warm you up during a "cold," while fasting cools down a fever. Eating healthy foods, though, is useful no matter what kind of sickness you've caught. In fact, it's especially important when you have a fever. As your temperature rises, so does your metabolism and, by extension, your demand for calories. There's no need to overeat, but fasting doesn't actually help you get better, even if your appetite is totally shot.
But not all food is created equal. When you have the flu, you may want to stick to a steady diet of ice cream, toast, and chocolate milk, but comfort foods aren't necessarily going to help you get better. If you're one of the thousands of unfortunate Americans who caught the flu in the 2017-18 season, here are 7 foods to avoid and what you should eat instead.
1. Refined Grains
The flu occasionally causes stomach upset, leading to nausea and diarrhea, so you may be tempted to stick to bland foods like pasta and rice. That's not a bad idea, but be careful of how many refined grains you're eating. As Reader's Digest points out, these foods are digested quickly, and their high glycemic index leads to blood sugar spikes after meals. Most importantly, simple carbs are linked to inflammation, which isn't what you need when you're already fighting a virus.
Instead, try whole wheat versions of your favorite foods, like wheat toast.
2. Sugary Drinks & Food
Sugar is a refined carbohydrate, and for the reasons described above, it's a no-go for the inflammation factor. Stay away from sugary drinks like soda or sports drinks, and put down the pint of ice cream.
Instead, snack on popsicles and drink tea with honey in it, which with soothe your sore throat.
3. Caffeinated Drinks
Between your elevated temperature and increased sweating, dehydration is something to be wary of when you have a fever. Stay away from diuretics like caffeinated coffee, which can contribute to dehydration. Don't you want to be sleeping anyway?
Instead, drink decaffeinated tea and tons of water.
Put down the hot toddy. Alcohol is a diuretic just like caffeine, and you don't want to play with dehydration when you have the flu. "Dehydration... makes mucus in the nose, throat and lungs dry up, which can then clog sinuses and respiratory tubes," explained Scientific American. In turn, this can make coughing difficult. As much as you may want to spend your week home with the flu slightly buzzed, alcohol won't do you any favors in the long run. In fact, alcohol abuse may make you more prone to lung infections over time.
Instead, eat chicken soup. The broth will hydrate you, and while it's not as fun as alcohol, it's super comforting.
Certain supplements like echinacea and zinc are touted as cure-alls, but there's little research to actually support these claims. Consumer Reports recently looked into the science behind popular supplements, and their conclusion wasn't very flattering. Don't bother with expensive supplements unless instructed by a doctor.
6. Greasy Foods
Highly fatty foods — processed meat, stuff that contains vegetable oil or trans fats, and so on — can cause inflammation and suppress your immune system. By now, you know the drill: Until you start feeling better, minimize your consumption of foods that add to your inflamed state. Besides, greasy foods are more difficult to digest, so they tend to be hard on an upset stomach.
Instead, fill up on lean proteins like turkey or eggs.
Dairy may not prolong your cold, but it might make you uncomfortable. Although it doesn't actually promote mucus production, there's evidence that dairy makes your phlegm feel thicker and more irritating. "Milk is an emulsion, so after it’s mixed with saliva, droplets cluster together in what’s known as flocculation," explains the BBC.
Basically, if you're already struggling to deal with the mucus dripping from every facial orifice and the thought of thicker phlegm makes you want to shuffle off this mortal coil, avoid dairy until you feel better.
Instead, drink a smoothie, adding a banana for a creamy texture. Most importantly, remember that all this shall pass, and in a week or two, you'll be back to your burger-eating, dairy-drinking ways.