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What to Eat When You Are Sick

Diane May, Registered Dietitian

December 15, 2021

What to Eat When You Are Sick

These power-packed foods are a delicious way to feel better, faster.

Times being like they are, we all need to do everything at our disposal to safeguard our health. Hopefully, by wearing your mask and following good safety precautions, you can avoid COVID-19 or any of a number of nasty cold and flu viruses circulating this time of year. But if you do happen to fall ill, it's good to know that food is powerful medicine that can kick our immune systems into gear, both to fend off viruses as well as reduce the severity and duration of symptoms such as congestion, sore throat and fatigue.

I often prescribe these essentials:


Garlic has been studied for centuries for its anti-bacterial properties. When garlic is sliced, chewed or crushed, sulfur compounds such allicin, diallyl disulfide, vinyldithiins and s-allyl cycteine are activated (giving off that distinctive garlic smell). These have been shown to support the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells, helping them to fight viruses. Garlic can also be taken as a preventative supplement: I recommend 300 mg a day, or incorporating one to two fresh cloves daily into your diet, including in salad dressings, green juices, or simply rubbing it on whole grain bread for delicious flavored toast.

Chicken Soup

Good, old fashioned chicken soup has been used forever as a common cold aid and there are some real benefits. The warm broth can help alleviate congestion and the electrolytes (sodium) found in the broth can help keep you hydrated and soothe a sore throat. The added chicken and vegetables provide additional protein and nutrients, with carrots, celery, onion, turnip and fresh herbs supplying an even bigger nutritional boost.


When you aren’t feeling your best, warm fluids can soothe that scratchy throat and help to loosen mucus. Opt for decaffeinated tea as caffeine is dehydrating, which is the last thing you need when you are trying to flush a virus from your system. I always recommend ginger tea, as it can soothe a stomach that’s upset from loose mucus draining into the digestive system. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties that assist with immune function.

Non-Fat Greek Yogurt

Loaded with live cultures and probiotics, yogurt helps to keep your gut lining healthy. Approximately 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, so it is important to keep it in good fighting shape in case your body encounters a virus. Consuming probiotic rich foods can lower the risk of catching a cold and help to speed recovery if you have caught one. Another perk, non-fat Greek yogurt has triple the protein of regular yogurt (without the added sugar).

Red Bell Peppers

Vitamin C is essential for the function of immune cells, and during infections our bodies quickly become deficient of this vitamin. Eating foods rich in vitamin C during a cold or virus can speed the body’s recovery and reduce symptoms. Since vitamin C is water soluble, it’s more efficient to consume it through foods high in vitamin C, such as red bell peppers, rather than from solid supplements which require more work for the body to digest and absorb. One cup of chopped red bell pepper contains 190 mg of this important vitamin. Other foods high in vitamin C include kiwifruit, broccoli, dark leafy greens and citrus fruits.


Blueberries are a great source of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that gives the berry (and other colorful fruits and vegetables) its rich, deep color. Flavinoids have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties that can help reduce cell damage and boost immune function. A powerhouse berry that’s low in calories, you can snack on them, add to salads or treat yourself to a crumble.

Diane May

Diane May, MPH, MS, CDN, RD, CSOWM is a registered dietitian with Scarsdale Medical Group. To make an appointment, call (914) 723-8100.