Foods and drinks for cold and flu

Food and drink for cold and flu image

Cold and flu infections usually get better within a couple of weeks without treatment. However, continuing to eat healthy foods while the symptoms of a cold or flu resolve is important for ensuring you recover as quickly as possible. Some foods and drinks can also help relieve symptoms.

You may not feel like eating as much as you usually do if you have a common cold, and influenza infection may cause you to lose your appetite. So eating enough nutritious food can be challenging. Knowing about foods and drinks which help relieve symptoms while they give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight the cold or flu can make it easier.

Fluid intake during cold and flu infection

Drinking plenty of fluids is one of the most important things you can do when you have a cold or flu. Because cold and flu symptoms like runny noses and sweating, which often accompanies fever, increase the amount of water your body loses, dehydration might occur if your fluid intake is not increased to compensate.

Drinking plenty of fluid is important for ensuring a speedy recovery from cold and flu. It also helps to loosen mucus in your nose and relieve congestion. Staying hydrated ensures that the body can function properly and can defend itself more effectively against the cold or flu.

When you have a cold or flu, drink a minimum of eight 250 mL cups of fluid each day. Drink water or another healthy fluid (see below) whenever you are thirsty. But there’s no need to overdo it – too much can lead to hyponatreamia (a condition characterised by low levels of salt in the blood). If you are otherwise healthy, use your thirst as a guide to when and how much you should drink. If you are caring for a child who is over one year ensure they drink a minimum of 90–120 mL of fluid per hour. Babies under one year require at least 30–60 mL fluid per hour. Pregnant women should increase their fluid intake to up to ten 250 mL cups per day.

What to drink when you have cold or flu

Water is the best fluid to drink when you have a cold or flu as it helps lubricate the mucous membranes of the throat. Hot drinks are also a good choice as the hot steam they produce can relieve congestion. Other fluids which are good options during cold and flu infection include:

  • Food and drink for cold and flu imageJuice;
  • Ginger ale;
  • Herbal tea;
  • Honey and lemon tea – mix lemon and honey with a cup of hot water;
  • Broth;
  • Ginger tea.

Milk and dairy

Many people believe that milk and dairy products increase congestion and should be avoided when you have a cold or flu; however, this is not the case. There is no need to stop eating or drinking dairy.

What not to drink during cold and flu infection

Caffeinated drinks

Caffeinated drinks should be avoided as they are dehydrating. They include coffee, cola drinks, energy drinks and tea.


Alcohol is also dehydrating and should be avoided. In addition, it affects the functioning of the immune system and drinking too much alcohol makes you more likely to get an infection.

Alcohol For more information about the effects of alcohol, see Alcohol and Drinking



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Healthy eating

Eating enough healthy foods is an important component of managing cold and flu symptoms. Although your appetite will probably be reduced if you have a cold or flu, your body actually needs more energy and nutrients to help it fight the infection. Your body’s energy requirement will be highest if you have a fever. For example, in adults the amount of energy the body uses is estimated to increase by 13% for every 1oC increase in body temperature. Because your body is using more energy but you are probably not eating as much, you may lose weight temporarily during periods of cold and flu infection.

You do not need to follow a special diet or eat particular foods when you have cold and flu, but you should:

  • Eat nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables;
  • Consume foods which boost the immune system;
  • Eat foods which may help relieve cold and flu symptoms like congestion; and
  • Consume soft foods which are easier to swallow with a sore throat.

Immune boosting foods

Food and drink for cold and flu imageA healthy immune system not only helps prevent cold and flu infections, it also helps prevent serious complications and ensures rapid recovery when they do occur. Foods which have been shown to boost the immune system include:

  • Yoghurt;
  • Kefir;
  • Salmon and tuna;
  • Flaxseeds and walnuts;
  • Olive, canola and walnut oil.

Foods with vitamin C

Vitamin C rich foods also help boost the immune system. They include:

  • Oranges and grapefruits;
  • Peppers;
  • Strawberries;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Pineapples;
  • Broccoli;
  • Paw paw;
  • Guava.

Vitamin E foods

Vitamin E rich foods also play an important role in supporting the immune system. They include:

  • Leafy greens such as spinach, brussel sprouts and collards;
  • Almonds and sunflower seeds;
  • Broccoli;
  • Blueberries;
  • Whole grains.

Selenium rich foods

Food and drink for cold and flu image

Selenium is an important immune-related micronutrient. Selenium rich foods include:

  • Shrimp;
  • Tuna;
  • Turkey;
  • Lamb;
  • Beef;
  • Chicken;
  • Eggs;
  • Brazil nuts.

Food variety

Eating a colourful variety of food is a good way to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. For example, you should include different coloured fruits and vegetables (red, yellow, orange, green, purple) in your diet.

Chicken soup

Although eating chicken soup was once thought to be merely an old wives’ tale, it has been scientifically shown to help relieve cold and flu symptoms. It reduces inflammation, which in turn helps clear mucus and reduce congestion. In addition, the hot steam from chicken soup can help relieve congestion and this may be its chief advantage for relieving the symptoms of cold and flu.

Chicken soup recipe For a warming chicken and vegetable soup recipe, see Chicken and Vegetable Soup.


Spicy foods

Spicy foods may help relieve blocked sinuses. They include foods containing horseradish and hot peppers.

Beef curry recipe image For a spicy beef curry recipe, see Hot Beef and Potato Curry.


Appetite loss in children

Children with cold and flu often lose their appetites. There’s no need to worry if your child has a reduced appetite or no appetite for several days when they have a cold or flu – this is normal. Encourage your children to eat when they are hungry and give them soft foods which are easy to eat.

Foods for diarrhoea

If you experience diarrhoea during cold and flu infection, eating rice or chicken or drinking vegetable broth or tea is recommended.

More information

For more information on the common cold and influenza, types of influenza and treatments and tips for preventing influenza, see
Cold and Flu.


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