With the pandemic lockdowns lifting all over the world, we’re starting to come back into contact with larger groups of people, and that means we’re more likely to get sick. Not necessarily only with COVID, but also with our not-so-good old friend, the common cold.
What you put into your body is more important than ever when you’re sick – no matter what ails you. You literally give your body the tools to fight what’s wrong. If you give your body the wrong tools, you will hinder your body’s ability to fight infection.
Your doctor may simply tell you to rest and take over-the-counter medication, but your dietician would also tell you to eat right and avoid certain foods. Some foods can actually slow your recovery, so let’s take a closer look at the foods you need to look out for.
6 Things You Shouldn’t Eat When You’re Sick
Your dietician would skip their morning coffee or reach for the decaf, even if they’re feeling run down and tired. They wouldn’t grab a sports drink in the afternoon to get through the rest of the day, either. It can be tempting to rely on caffeine to get you through the day when you’re sick, but drinking an excessive amount of caffeine has a diuretic action, which means it will dehydrate you. On a normal day, that may not affect you, but your body needs more hydration to fight the infection. Become dehydrated, and your body will have a much harder time winning the battle against the intruder.
Trying to fall asleep at night when you can’t breathe out of your nose sucks – there are no two ways about it. But you should resist the urge to drink anything to help you get off to sleep at night, beyond some cough syrup, because alcohol is also a diuretic. When you wake up the morning after drinking one too many glasses of wine, that rocking headache comes primarily from dehydration.
Compounding that issue, is alcoholic drinks are often full of sugar, which will also make your recovery that little bit harder. Read on to #4 to find out why!
#3 Processed Foods
You can think of processed foods as any food you don’t find in the grocery or wholefoods aisle – if it’s been through a factory, it’s been processed. These foods have been made to last, and so they contain ingredients you wouldn’t add if you were making that same food in your own kitchen.
It’s important to eat nutrient-dense foods, such as superfoods, which give your body the right nutrients (those tools we were talking about at the beginning) to fight the infection. Processed foods are usually devoid of nutrients and contain sugar and salt, which won’t help your body get better.
Sugar can feed an infection. Here’s how: when a virus (such as common cold or COVID-19) infects a cell, it steals the cell’s resources so it can duplicate. To combat this, the cells have to boost their metabolism to get replacement resources, and cells that have not yet been infected have to boost the metabolism to fight the virus. Infections increase your body’s metabolism of glucose, AKA sugar, which fuels cellular activity. When we eat over 75 grams of sugar, our immune system is weakened, and studies believe our white blood cells (the cells that fight infection) can be affected for up to 5 hours.
Don’t forget how easy it is to eat 75 grams of sugar – one can of full-sugar Coca-Cola has around 40 grams, and pair that with a cupcake as a treat at 46 grams of sugar, and you’re well into the zone where you hinder your immune system. Hold off the sugar whenever possible, and stick to natural sugar sources (such as a bowl of strawberries) if your sweet tooth comes calling.
#5 Fruit Juice
Do you normally reach for a glass of orange juice when you’re sick to up your vitamin C? It’s not the worst thing you can do for your health, certainly better than drinking sugary soda, but drinking fruit juice without the fiber of the whole fruit can prompt an inflammatory response in the body.
While milk has been a staple in the American diet for hundreds of years, that old ad campaign “Got Milk?” may have prompted a habit that can be more harmful than helpful, especially when we’re sick. The truth is, most adults are lactose intolerant and do not digest cow’s milk easily. This inflammatory response can make nasal congestion worse, which will only make breathing easily (one of those things we take for granted until we have a cold!) all the more difficult, not to mention distract your immune system from the true enemy – the infection.
When you avoid these foods and fill your diet with beneficial superfoods, you’ll be able to conquer the cold or infection that much more quickly. Fill your diet with leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and berries to give your body quality nutrition it can use to get you back to your normal self as soon as possible.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.