What to Eat When You Have the Flu

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Eating chicken noodle soup when sick

Having the flu means changing your diet to optimize recovery and get the nutrition your body needs when eating is the last thing you might feel like doing. Knowing which foods to choose (and which to avoid) will help you survive this serious (sometimes life-threatening) condition.

Foods to Eat

Whether you experience vomiting or not, the flu can make you nauseated and kill your appetite when you need proper nutrition the most. Likewise, you may not feel like eating when you can barely make it out of bed. Start slowly with foods and drinks you can tolerate.

Bland Foods

Bland foods tend to be easier to tolerate when you're feeling nauseated. Choose from the following list of bland foods provided by MedlinePlus when you have the flu:

  • Bananas
  • Saltine crackers
  • Toast
  • Cream of wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Applesauce
  • Rice
  • White pasta
  • Pudding
  • Cooked fruits and vegetables (as tolerated)
  • Potatoes
  • Avocado
  • Ginger (for nausea)

Protein Foods

Protein is a key ingredient when your body is healing but hold off if you're vomiting. Choose the following protein foods (as tolerated):

  • Grilled chicken
  • White fish or salmon
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Cooked legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters (peanut butter)
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat kefir
  • Protein bars
  • Protein smoothies (as tolerated)
  • Nutrition shakes
  • Hummus
  • Soy milk
  • Protein-enriched almond milk
  • Veggie burger

Clear Liquids

Most clear liquid foods are generally well-tolerated for people with the flu (even when you're nauseated) and help keep you hydrated:

  • Clear chicken broths
  • Fruit juices
  • Clear sodas
  • Vegetable juices (not tomato juice)
  • Sports drinks
  • Decaffeinated tea
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Gelatin
  • Popsicles
  • Coconut water

Immune-Boosting Foods

yogurt fruit smoothies

If you can tolerate immune boosting foods without feeling queasy, do so as these foods help your body recover as quickly as possible.

  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Leafy greens
  • Orange and red veggies
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Foods with probiotics (yogurt and kefir)
  • Legumes
  • Garlic
  • Protein and fruit/veggie smoothies (use protein almond milk, soy milk or yogurt)

Foods to Avoid

When you're not feeling up to par, avoid foods that can make nausea worse, and steer clear of those with low nutrition content, as this can delay healing.

  • Spicy foods
  • Greasy foods
  • Fried foods
  • Milk (some people tolerate milk better than others)
  • Cheese
  • Caffeinated beverages (sodas, regular coffees, and teas)
  • Alcohol
  • Sweets (ice cream, candy, doughnuts, chocolate, etc.)
  • Syrups, gravies, and salad dressings
  • Fatty meats (bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, etc.)
  • Greasy hamburgers
  • French fries
  • Pizza
  • Fast food

Nutrition Tips for Flu

Flu symptoms vary from person to person, so the type of foods you'll be able to tolerate might be different from other flu sufferers. Listen to your body to determine which foods will work best for you.

The most important thing you can do when you have the flu is drink lots of fluids, especially water and electrolyte-containing beverages like juices, broths, and sports drinks. Sip on fluids (cold beverages can increase palatability) throughout the day and be sure you're urinating often; your urine should be light yellow or clear in color, not dark yellow.

As you begin feeling better, you'll likely be able to tolerate more foods from the lists above. Get plenty of protein foods when you're up to it, as protein needs are higher when your body is healing. A multivitamin is usually a good idea. It provides healing nutrients when eating a well-balanced diet is difficult.

If you have diarrhea and/or are severely nauseated, you may want to follow the BRAT diet. If you've been vomiting, start with just water, ice chips, and clear liquids. Once you can keep these items down, slowly add in plain crackers, dry toast, full liquids (such as pudding, nutrition shakes, applesauce, and yogurt) and other bland foods like bananas and cream of wheat. As you begin to feel better and can tolerate additional nutritious foods, add in more protein foods, fruits, veggies, grains, and healthy fats, such as avocado, nut butters, nuts and hummus.

How Much Food to Eat?

There's no official guideline as to the amount of food you should eat when you have the flu. It depends on your usual calorie needs and how you're feeling. You may require slightly more calories when you're trying to heal and fight illness so listen to your body. If you've been vomiting, sometimes just a few sips of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes is a good place to start. As you begin feeling better, you'll likely notice your appetite increase. At that time, slowly add additional foods. Over time, work up to getting in your body's recommended daily calorie intake.

Eating When Sick

It might be trial and error to figure out which foods you're able to tolerate when you have the flu. Getting plenty of fluids and slowly adding in additional healthy foods is crucial to optimize recovery.

What to Eat When You Have the Flu