Eating and Drinking while you are Sick

Melissa Baker is the Manager of Nutrition & Wellbeing at UBC Food Services.

Oh, great. You’re sick. Just what you needed during a pandemic. Not to mention the pile of school work you have to do. Whether you have COVID-19, the flu or a cold, certain foods can comfort you and support your bodies healing process.

Note: stay home when you are sick! Ask someone to grocery shop for you or order groceries online and have them delivered.

Stay hydrated.

The best thing you can do for yourself when you are sick is stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, herbal tea, smoothies and soups. Hot tea can help soothe a sore throat and relieve congestion.

My favourite soothing beverage when I am sick is homemade lemon, ginger, honey tea. Just wash some fresh ginger (don’t worry about removing the skin) cut it into thin slices, and throw it into a medium pot full of water. Add a few lemon slices. Simmer for 10 minutes and then take it off the heat and let the mixture steep for another 15 min. Add about 1 tsp of honey per cup of water. Warm a mug back up if it has cooled too much and enjoy. Add more or less ginger and lemon to suit your tastes.

Focus on enjoyable, comforting foods.

Ensuring you get enough calories and nutrients is important when you are sick. Focus on well tolerated foods that you enjoy.

Chicken soup is often recommended. While it doesn’t have super healing powers, it can be very comforting and is a good source of fluids, calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. Plus, the steam can help with congestion.

Warm oatmeal or congee is a good choice as well but skip the flavoured options loaded with added sugars or salt. Buy regular rolled oats and heat them up in the microwave with some plant-based or regular milk and some dried or fresh fruit and cinnamon.

Over all, try to eat nutrient rich foods that feel good on your throat and stomach.

Trying to boost your immunity and prevent getting sick in the first place?

We all know that dreaded feeling of waking up with a scratchy, dry throat. You know a cold is coming, and have no way to stop it. This is especially troublesome during midterms and final exams! On average, you are likely to get 2.5 colds per year and miss about nine hours of school or work per cold.

Pills, supplements and herbal remedies touting their remarkable ability to boost your resistance to viruses shouldn’t be your first choice. There are other ways to ward off viruses that are easier on your wallet and better for your body.

Research shows that getting enough of a few micronutrients may help protect you from illness, and opting to get these micronutrients from food is superior to supplements because they provide more nourishment than a supplement alone.

Here are some key foods to include in your diet this cold and flu season:

Oranges and Bell Peppers

Oranges and bell peppers are packed with vitamin C, as are tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes. While vitamin C will not prevent you from catching a cold, there is some evidence (e.g. here and here) that it can reduce the duration of a cold. Despite the effect not being dramatic, vitamin C rich foods are great for your health either way. So skip the supplement and add more citrus fruits and crunchy peppers to your shopping cart instead.


I always get two pumpkins at Halloween: One to carve and one to eat! Pumpkin is packed with vitamin A, which can help support your immune system. Cold season is in full swing by Halloween, when pumpkins are plentiful and affordable. Other yellow squashes and leafy greens are also a good source of vitamin A.

Oats and Barley

Multiple studies (herehere, and here, for example) have shown that a special little polysaccharide called beta glucan can help prevent and/or reduce the duration of the common cold. Whole grains oats and barley are especially high in beta-glucan. It is important to note that most studies used a concentrated preparation of beta glucan and/or used fungi and yeast as the source. Beta glucans from different sources may have different effects. But, oats and barley have many other known benefits, such as helping to lower blood cholesterol, so it is worth consuming them nonetheless.

What else can you do to avoid catching a winter bug?

Aim to eat lots of colourful fruits and vegetables every day. Eating a well-balanced plant-based diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy and productive during cold and flu season – in addition to controlling stress, sleeping 7-9 hours per night, washing your hands and moving your body. It is worth it to make these things a priority, even when you are busy – your productivity and mental performance are best when your body is healthy! If you are looking for more tips to support your overall health, enroll in UBC’s Online Wellness Centre Course.