No Appetite During the Flu? Here’s What to Eat When You’re Sick

When you have the flu, it's important to drink fluids and eat even if you have no appetite.
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If you're sick at home with the flu, eating a nutritious meal may be the last thing on your mind. Loss of appetite with cold or flu is a common complaint, but you shouldn't starve the flu. Knowing what to eat when you have the flu and no appetite can help you support your immune system and recover.

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"What people call stomach flu is a virus that directly attacks your digestive system, so it is not surprising that it affects your appetite," says Janet Morgan, MD, an internal medicine and geriatrics specialist at the Cleveland Clinic's Beachwood Family Health Center in Beachwood, Ohio. "It causes nausea and diarrhea. However, stomach flu is viral gastroenteritis, not influenza. Influenza virus reduces appetite because of symptoms like sore throat and temporary loss of taste and smell."

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Flu is a viral upper-respiratory illness that attacks your nose, throat and sometimes your lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With flu, you may have:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness from dehydration or an underlying ear infection

Some people may have nausea and vomiting, but this symptom is more common in children, according to the CDC.

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"Nasal congestion can block smells that stimulate appetite from getting to the olfactory nerves inside your nose," Dr. Morgan says. "Many people have a temporary loss of smell. Flu virus may also change the composition of saliva and lead to loss of taste for a while. Once the flu runs its course, your appetite should come back."

What to Eat When You Have the Flu

A healthy diet supports your immune system during the flu and helps you recover faster, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The old saying that chicken soup is good for a cold also holds up for the flu. "Warm soups and broths that are low in sodium are best for the flu. These foods may shorten the duration of illness slightly," Dr. Morgan says. The Cleveland Clinic suggests these anti-inflammatory foods:

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  • Foods with omega-3 fats like like tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, chia and pumpkin seeds, edamame, flaxseeds and walnuts
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein from fish and poultry, legumes, whole grains and healthy oils like olive oil or canola oil, in line with a Mediterranean-style diet

You should also aim to drink plenty of fluids, including water, electrolyte-rich beverages, broths and herbal teas, per the Cleveland Clinic.

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What Not to Eat When You Have the Flu

"Avoid dairy foods because they can thicken secretions in your nose and lungs and make congestion worse," Dr. Morgan says. "Dairy foods also promote inflammation, along with foods like red meat and fats."

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The Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding:

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  • Foods with saturated fat, like full-fat dairy, lard, palm oil and red meat, which promote inflammation and may make the flu worse.
  • Foods with trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils, which can also promote inflammation. Those may include packaged cookies, crackers, doughnuts, margarine and pie crusts.
  • Alcohol and caffeine, which contribute to fluid loss and may keep you from staying hydrated.

After the Flu

"Some people who recover from viral gastroenteritis may have a reduced appetite that continues after other symptoms get better. That does not happen after the flu. Your appetite should bounce back once the flu is gone, which usually takes about a week," Dr. Morgan says.

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Even after you recover, continuing an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean-style diet can support your immune system and help you fight off future infections, per the Cleveland Clinic.

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references

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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