Jan. 22, 2013 at 11:48 AM ET
You got the flu shot. You've been washing your hands. But, despite your best efforts, you've been knocked out by the flu. You may not feel like eating at all, but there are some foods that will help during your illness and on your way to recovery. They work for colds, as well.
When you have a fever, drink fluids to avoid dehydration
With a fever, appetite is low (or gone), and most important is to remain hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to check your urine, which is pale yellow in the adequately hydrated state. If you are getting dehydrated, it will be deep yellow in color. This visible test is the easiest way to make sure you get enough fluids, even when you don't feel like eating.
While water is optimal, many people don't like the plain taste when sick. If so, mix with 100 percent fruit juices, or add chunks of oranges, lemons, or limes to flavor. Juice alone is fine, and orange juice is a great choice (buy low-acid if preferred), along with grapefruit or cranberry juice, all rich in vitamin C. If you're not a fruit lover, try a glass of V8 or tomato juice. To keep your salt and water balance even, you can lose salt with sweating/fever, choose Gatorade, Powerade or other sports drinks for both fluids and salt.If it tastes too strong, just water it down.
Because symptoms vary, you need to pay attention to how you feel and eat, accordingly. Much is based on personal preference. For example, with hot or cold foods/fluids. This is personal choice: Cold can refresh (like popsicles); Hot can soothe (and help a stuffy nose, with steam from the cup of tea or soup).
Going the hot route, clear broths -- chicken, beef, vegetable -- are all great. And in this case, the higher sodium content of these boxed or canned items is a plus. Drink tea and other low-caffeine drinks, if preferred. Limit caffeine, as caffeine causes fluid loss.
Soothe nausea, upset stomach, vomiting
Try flat ginger ale, Coke, Saltines.
Avoid fizzy drinks. Ginger can soothe can upset stomach and flat ginger ale can be helpful. Look for "natural" ginger sodas, which have more real ginger in them. For a hot drink, ginger tea is a winner - slice some ginger in hot water and soak for a few minutes. Flat coke can settle an upset stomach. Bland, low-spice foods are easiest on the digestive track. For when there's no appetite, plain crackers (saltines), and toast can help with stomach acid.
Boost protein with eggs, yogurt
Many people temporarily lose their taste for protein, but if you can tolerate it, protein is important for repair and growth of body tissues. The most easily digestible protein is an egg (scrambled is easy to eat). Yogurt is a double-duty food - and is a good source of protein, as well as probiotics. (While some people can consume other lean proteins, like turkey, most people don't prefer them when ill.)
For the short-term recovery phase (after you are fever-free), it is important to boost protein intake to repair and rebuild body systems. If your appetite is low - which it often is for up to several weeks after the flu -- try a protein drink once a day as a supplement until your normal appetite is restored. A typical ready-to-drink shake has the protein of about a 6-ounce chicken breast.
And while it's always important to consume a well-balanced diet with plenty of colorful fruits and veggies, lean protein, fiber-rich grains, and some low-fat dairy foods, it's particularly important to support recovery from illness. Also, eating this way helps support ALL body systems - including our immune system, and helps reduce your risk of flu and other viruses in the first place!
Try The BRAT Diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast)
They're bland, hydrating, and easy-to-digest. Not all have to be eaten at once, or together. One or two are fine -- and always include toast. The bananas are also rich in potassium, which is being lost during illness. The probiotics in yogurt can help an irritated digestive tract. Plain, low-fat yogurt, or Greek-style yogurt may be preferred.