7 Foods That May Be Making Your Flu Symptoms Even Worse — And What To Eat Instead

Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

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.

"The flu often makes consuming food difficult as flu symptoms can either cause nausea or GI symptoms," Kacie Vavrek, RD at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Nausea can decrease the desire to eat and GI symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea can be triggered if food is consumed too soon."

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 nutritionally-dense foods, though, is useful no matter what kind of sickness you've caught. In fact, it's especially important when you have a fever.

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. In fact, as Vavrek tells Bustle, you probably should avoid your favorite comfort foods, "as you might develop a dislike for these foods if consuming them when nauseated." The more you know.

Here are seven foods to avoid if you have the flu, and what to eat instead to feel better, faster.

Hard To Digest Grains
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

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. This is a good idea, but be mindful of how your tum handles it.

"You want to stick to easy to digest foods like simple/refined carbohydrates," Vavrek says. "Foods like dry saltine crackers, toast and pretzels are easy on your stomach and are most likely to be tolerated when you have the flu." That being said, Vavrek also notes that "Foods higher in fiber are also harder to digest so should be avoided at first." Wait until you're keeping food down before adding oatmeal into the mix.

Sugary Food Or Drinks

You might think a Vitamin-C rich fruit juice or an electrolyte-packed sports drink are the best things to drink while sick, but these options aren't terribly nutritionally dense, and can even inflame your system.

Dr. David Kahana, board-certified Gastroenterologist with 1MD recommends "fruits that are rich in vitamin C and water and boost the immune system while providing essential electrolytes and antioxidants that are in great need to protect the body from the infection spreading."

Caffeinated Drinks
Hannah Burton/Bustle

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.

"Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can often make symptoms worse," Vavrek says. "You may also want to sip on water or other clear liquids throughout the day to stay hydrated."


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.

"The most important thing to do when sick with the flu is drink plenty of liquids, since it can be very dehydrating to have the flu and that makes things worse," Dr. Kahana says. "Drinking soup is one common food that people turn to, as it is rehydrating, comforting, and easy to digest."

Lightfield Studios/Shutterstock

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 found that most supplements aren't really necessary. One supplement not to miss, though? Probiotics, says Dr. Kahana, "can help boost the immune system and stimulate digestion." Further, since the flu can take a toll on your gut biome, keeping it healthy with probiotics can make your overall digestion feel better.

Greasy Foods

Both Dr. Kahana and Vavrek say that greasy food is hard on the digestion and should be avoided while you're dealing with flu symptoms. "Avoid fried, greasy and oily foods as they are harder on your GI system," Vavrek says.

Graeme Robertson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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. "One common food to avoid is dairy, since it can disrupt the immune system," Dr. Kahana says.

This post was originally published on January 30, 2018. It was updated on June 7, 2019.