Here’s What To Eat When You Have A Cold: The 10 Best Choices


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No one likes to be under the weather dealing with a cold. Between nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, sneezing, and coughing, the last thing you often feel like doing when you have a cold is to eat.

However, it’s important to make sure that you are still trying to fuel your body with the nutrients necessary to support your immune system and get better.

Deciding what to eat when you have a cold can be tricky. You might not have much of an appetite, or you might be too stuffed up to even taste and enjoy the food that you are eating.

So, what are the best foods to eat when you have a cold? What should you eat when you have a cold to get better faster?

In this article, we will discuss what to eat when you have a cold.

Let’s jump in!

A person blowing their nose.

What Are the 10 Best Foods to Eat When You Have a Cold?

In many ways, what to eat when you have a cold doesn’t necessarily need to deviate significantly from your everyday diet as long as you have the appetite to follow your normal eating plan.

However, depending on the quality of your typical diet, the best foods for a cold may vary slightly because you want to ensure that you are choosing foods that support your immune system, hydrate your body, are easy to digest, and don’t present much of an inflammatory response in your body.

For example, if your diet typically includes a lot of processed foods, refined grains, excessive sugar and fat, caffeine, and alcohol, reduce your intake of these foods when you have a cold, and focus on nourishing, hydrating foods such as fruits, vegetables, and soups that will serve you well and may help you feel better and recover faster.

Here are 10 of the best foods to eat when you have a cold:

A bowl of chicken vegetable soup which is what to eat if you have a cold.

#1: Chicken Soup

The classic home remedy for what to eat when you are sick proves to have withstood the test of time. Chicken soup, or chicken noodle soup, can be one of the best foods for a cold.

It is easily digestible because the constituent vegetables and proteins have been stewed and boiled down for so long that the broth itself is rich with vitamins and minerals, and the remaining pieces of vegetables and chicken are already partially degraded.

The protein in the chicken will aid in illness recovery and repairing cells.

Soups are also extremely hydrating, and the added salt and natural minerals that have leached out of the vegetables make chicken soup high in electrolytes, which will further aid your hydration and can help prevent electrolyte imbalances if you are not eating as much as you normally would.

Another benefit of eating chicken soup when you have a cold is that the warmth or steam that arises from the bowl can help loosen nasal congestion to help you breathe easier.

Finally, one other check in the box that makes chicken soup one of the best foods to eat when you have a cold is that chicken contains an amino acid known as cysteine. 

Studies have found that one of the chemical forms of this amino acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, helps reduce congestion by breaking down mucus. Plus, it has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects, all of which can be helpful in helping you recover from a cold.

A jar of bone broth.

#2: Broths

Any broth-based soup, or even plain vegetable broth, chicken broth, beef broth, or bone broth, can be one of the best foods to eat when you have a cold.

Although the caloric content of broth will be less than that of chicken soup or a hearty soup that has broth and additional ingredients, broth provides fluid and electrolytes to help you rehydrate.

Again, it also has the benefit of decreasing congestion because it is consumed hot.

Bone broth, in particular, is rich in collagen, the most abundant protein in the body.

It can be difficult to stomach other good proteins sources when you have a cold if you don’t feel like eating, so bone broth is a great way to provide your body with the amino acids it needs to not only support everyday functions and processes but also help you recover from your cold in an easily digestible way.

Most soups and broths are very salty. If you are eating soup for every meal while you are sick, the sodium content can really add up.

Sodium is an important electrolyte, and if you are sweating a lot or have diarrhea and vomiting, you will need extra sodium to help replace the electrolytes you are losing. 

However, if you have high blood pressure or otherwise need to watch your sodium intake, be sure to choose low-sodium soups or make your own homemade broth or bone broth using just a bit of salt.

A variety of sliced fruit.

#3: Fruit

It can be helpful to eat almost any type of fruit when you have a cold. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and oranges, are notoriously recommended because they are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports your immune system.

Because they have a prominent tart and sour flavor, eating citrus fruits when you have a cold can be more appealing because you can actually taste something, whereas mildly flavored foods often taste especially bland when you are sick because nasal congestion makes it difficult to smell, and therefore taste your food.

With that said, there are other fruits that contain even more vitamin C than oranges and grapefruit. Examples include kiwi fruit, papaya, strawberries, and raspberries.

All types of fruit help hydrate your body and provide key vitamins and minerals, sugars, calories, and fiber.

Some fruits, such as dark berries like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. These beneficial compounds have potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects. 

For example, studies have found that consuming fruit extracts high in anthocyanins can enhance your body‘s immune response and also reduce the likelihood of certain bacteria and viruses from attaching to and infecting your cells.

Cranberries have also been shown to decrease symptoms of the common cold.

Finally, there’s also evidence to suggest that the beneficial flavonoids found in fruit can decrease the frequency of colds.

Salmon on a cutting board.

​​#4: Salmon

Most people who have a bad cold do not feel like eating rich meat or other animal-based protein sources, and dairy, such as yogurt and milk, can sometimes increase congestion.

Therefore, one of the best proteins to eat when you have a cold is fish. Salmon, in particular, is extremely high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, vitamin D, and protein, all of which can reduce inflammation and improve the function of your immune system.

You can even increase the cold-fighting benefits of eating salmon by seasoning it with a ginger marinade. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits as well.

#5: Avocados

Avocados are one of the best foods to eat when you have a cold because they are high in calories, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and fiber.

We often lose our appetite when we have a cold, but it’s still important to get enough calories for your body to fight your illness.

Therefore, calorically dense, nutritionally-rich foods like avocados are a great option.

Avocados are also relatively bland, which can be appealing when you don’t have an appetite, and because they are soft, you can even mush them or purée them to make them easier to eat.

Avocados are also considered an anti-inflammatory food because they contain oleic acid, which is also present in olive oil. This healthy fat can decrease inflammation and may support the immune system, two excellent benefits for anyone with a cold.

A variety of green vegetables.

#6: Green Vegetables 

We have all heard how nutritious green vegetables are, including leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, along with green cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts.

All of these veggies are rich in vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, calcium, and other essential minerals.

They also contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which supports the immune system and may help fight the common cold.

Consider steaming, sautéing, or boiling your vegetables before eating them when you have a cold because cooking them will help break down some of the fiber, release some of the nutrients, and ease the digestive process.

#7: Garlic

It might not be palatable to eat raw garlic plain when you have a cold, but garlic has been used in traditional medicinal remedies for centuries.

Studies have shown that garlic has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal effects.

There is also some evidence to suggest that people who consume more garlic get sick less often.

Finally, garlic has been shown to improve the immune system, and there is even evidence to suggest that it does indeed reduce the severity of colds and the flu.

If you don’t want to eat garlic plain, consider adding it to your soups and broth to impart flavor and potentially help you recover from your cold even faster!

A mug of herbal tea with honey.

#8: Spicy Foods

Any type of spicy food that contains hot peppers will have a compound called capsaicin, which can help clear your sinuses by loosening mucus.

#9: Herbal Tea With Honey

Although not necessarily a food, drinking herbal tea with honey is one of the best things you can do when you have a cold, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The fluids in the tea will help hydrate your body, the hot liquid will decrease congestion, and honey has antibacterial properties.

Raw, unpasteurized, local honey has also been believed to reduce the severity of seasonal allergies; though there is little scientific evidence to necessarily support this notion, honey may support the immune system.

It can be difficult to decide what to eat when you have a cold, particularly when you have a really sore throat.

Almost any type of food can irritate your throat when you swallow, but warm tea with honey can help coat your mucous membranes and soothe your throat and reduce coughing.

There are even certain herbal teas designed for sore throats or “cold rescue remedies.” 

These herbal teas for colds have specific ingredients that are thought to reduce irritation in the throat.

Coconut water and coconuts.

#10: Coconut Water

There are certain stages when you have a cold where it can be difficult to stomach eating anything.

When you are looking for what to eat when you have a cold and have zero appetite, you can start with coconut water. It’s rich in electrolytes and will help hydrate the body. 

Perhaps if you get your fluid levels back up, your nasal secretions will start to flow, and you will develop an appetite for something more substantial to eat.

Feel better!

For some other ideas of what to eat when you have zero appetite, check out our article, What To Eat When You Don’t Feel Like Eating.

A person eating soup.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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