Cold and flu season comes around every year, and often even in summer, so it’s important to arm the immune system with the strength it needs to survive. These are the best foods for colds, flu and general healing and recovery that are also paleo-friendly and gluten-free.
Ideally, you’ll avoid catching the virus altogether, but hey – it happens to the best of us. Sometimes, there’s not much we can do in the way of preventing illness with all the germs floating around, kids going back to school, and people coming into the office sick.
The good news? There’s more to feeling better – and faster than pills and sleep. There’s that old adage: “feed a cold and starve a fever.” Is there any truth to it, though? It can be tougher to keep foods down with the flu, especially when you’re running a fever or experiencing nausea, but nutrition plays a huge role in our recovery process, no matter what the ailment.
Truthfully, going without food is never the answer. Illness runs up our metabolism so our bodies are working harder, and we need more fuel because we’re using so much of it to recover. When we get sick, it’s easy to reach for comfort foods, convenience foods, and bland foods like rice and toast because they’re easy on the stomach.
What if you’re avoiding grains, though? These are the best paleo-friendly foods you can eat to get over the flu quickly and safely. Below, you will also find some useful paleo-friendly supplements and natural remedies that I like to use as well.
Also, make sure to check out my in-depth post on the best ways to boost your immune system and which vitamins and supplements are the most effective.
1. Bone broth soup
Bone broth heals. It’s one of those foods that cover a wide range of afflictions because its nutrient profile is both varied and abundant. There’s a reason your mum fed you chicken soup when you got sick as a kid. Carry this lesson into adulthood and pass it on – this time, with real broth.
It’s not the chicken or the veggies that do the repairing (although they don’t hurt), but the mineral-rich base that is brewed of bones and stock. By boiling the bones, we extract all those amino acids, protein, collagen, vitamins, and minerals and get a broth that’s full of the good stuff in its most concentrated form.
Let’s talk a little more about why those amino acids are fantastic flu-fighters.
Glycine helps the body to detox, digest, and heal from wounds. Think of the flu as an internal wound; these same healing properties are going to help you pass off symptoms as soon as possible. Bone marrow, which can be used to produce broth, is a vital part of the immune system and will help fuel the cells for optimal immune health. Finally, bone broth contains a lot of easy-to-digest nutrition which makes it perfect for sipping on when you’re too sick to stomach solid food.
Although I love making my own broth, I don’t always have the time. In this case, I usually buy ready-made bone broth. For those of you in the United States, make sure to check out Kettle & Fire – they use organic ingredients and grass-fed beef, and their bone broth has a fantastic flavour. They’re also non-frozen and shelf-stable, so you can store a few cartons in your pantry. You can buy their bone broth online AND if you use the promo code cravecollective, you’ll get 10% off your first order.
In Australia, I like The Stock Merchant brand – they make free-range chicken and grass-fed beef bone broths. My UK readers might like to check out Borough Broth Co., who also have fabulous chicken and beef bone broth that you can order online. My butcher often stocks bone broth, so it’s worth checking your local shops and health food stores.
Bone broth recipes:
2. Citrus fruit
How many times have you come down with something only to be prescribed a tall glass of orange juice? Citrus is loaded with vitamin C which is fantastic for the immune system and recovery, but all that sugar isn’t! Instead, opt for whole citrus fruits, a squeeze of lemon in your water, or fancy things up with broiled grapefruit.
Vitamin C is believed to increase white blood cell production which is crucial to efficiently fight infection. The body doesn’t really store vitamin C, so you’ll need to replenish throughout the day. Moreover, flavonoid compounds (phytonutrients) found in citrus fruits like apigenin, quercetin, rutin, hesperidin, and tangerine possess the ability to target immune malfunction. Watch out, though – while citrus is loaded with the vitamins you need, the acidity can further upset an already upset stomach.
Other Vitamin C rich fruits and veggies include bell peppers/capsicum, kiwifruit, kale, broccoli, strawberries, guava, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
Bananas are a favourite of folks under the weather and have been for a long time. If you’ve ever heard of the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast – you know why. The diet is often prescribed as a means of eating with an upset stomach which is a common symptom of the flu. There’s no denying this ‘diet’ is very protein-poor and carb-heavy, but I can get on board with keeping bananas in the mix for a few reasons.
Bananas are a good source of soluble fibre which does indeed make them a good contender for relieving an upset stomach and helps to regulate digestion if that’s one of your symptoms.
Banana is also a good source of prebiotic fibre which feeds the good bacteria in the gut, stimulating immune cell production. Lastly, the fruit is also high in potassium which acts as an electrolyte and can help to address flu-induced dehydration.
Protein is vital to warding off illness, but if your appetite is running low, you need something easy and lighter than meat. Consider noshing on some eggs when the flu has you down. Not only are they rich in protein, but they’ll also give you a zinc and selenium boost – both of which aid the immune system. Pastured eggs are also an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, and research indicates that fatty acids play an important role in the immune system.
Eggs are simple to make, too, so you don’t need to slave over a hot stove while you’re feeling sick. You can always double up on immune boosters and make some egg drop soup in bone broth, too.
5. Sweet potato
Sweet potato is yet another low-effort food you can really pack in those essential nutrients with. When it comes to the flu, you really want to get the most bang for your back. You don’t want to be housing food. This is why starchy, carb-heavy fruits and veggies will be your best friend in addition to protein.
Sweet potatoes contain vitamin A, and deficiency is linked to an inability to fight off infection. The body converts vitamin A to beta-carotene, which may be linked to increased T cell activity, helping to strengthen immunity; these cells are infection warriors! Finally, vitamin A is anti-inflammatory, and the flu is likely creating some inflammation in the body – especially if you have digestive issues or respiratory problems throughout.
Sweet potato recipes:
Not only does garlic keep vampires away – it will also shoo off burdensome flu. Garlic is easily added to just about anything else savoury that might be on the menu, so if you’re up to cooking, crack open a clove. If you’re feeling particularly hardcore, you can swallow a clove whole as a natural alternative to any over the counter pills. Your burps might taste a little strong for a while, but in the name of health, we’ll do a lot of strange things.
It’s important to note that allicin – a compound that is present in garlic when crushed, chopped or chewed (but not whole) – is one of the reasons why its thought to be medicinal. Therefore, it’s better not to take the ‘whole clove’ approach. Like with many of the foods on our list, garlic has the potential to increase the rate at which our natural infection-fighting cells are made, making it the ideal candidate for quick recovery. Add some to your bone broth or sweet potatoes for double the power and immunity.
Try this 30-Clove Garlic Soup, which is gentle on the gut and very nourishing (also super tasty!).
7. Coconut water
The flu can be incredibly dehydrating, particularly if your symptoms include nausea and diarrhoea. It can be tempting to reach for sugar-laden electrolyte drinks because it is indeed important to replenish those stores and hydrate, but the added sugar is doing your immune system and healing time no favours. Instead, reach for naturally hydrating coconut water.
It does contain natural sugars which will help you replenish glycogen stores in addition to electrolytes. Coconut water also contains antioxidants which help fight oxidative damage. and studies show that oxidative stress is linked to weakened immunity.
It’s pretty common to treat colds and flu with honey, but I’m here to back up the claims and tell you to have a little something sweet! It’s always best to source raw honey, and better yet, to get some honey from bees local to your area. This is nutritionally superior and has additional benefits.
Why is honey so good for the immune system? It’s basically anti-everything that’s bad. Interestingly enough, raw honey may contain healthy bacteria like probiotic foods do, and these bacteria are great for the immune system, treating the problem from the root (or rather, the gut). Finally, if your flu is accompanied by cold symptoms, we know honey is great for sore throats and cough. Mix some up with some hot tea for a soothing healer.
supplements for the cold and flu
Oregano oil has a powerful natural antibiotic and antiviral properties. Dilute 3-4 drops in a cup of warm water or tea and drink up. The recommendation is 2-3 times per day until the symptoms reduce. You can also add a few drops of oregano (or thyme) oil to a steaming hot water bowl and cover your head over the bowl with a towel for a face steam/inhalation remedy.
Elderberry is great for supporting the immune system and can be consumed as elderberry syrup. Consume 1 teaspoon, 2-3 times per day. You can find it in most stores, online or make your own.
Ginger helps to flash out the toxins from your body and is good for settling upset stomachs, nausea, cold sweats and so on. The best way to consumer ginger during an illness (besides a mean vegetable stir-fry or chicken soup) is to make a ginger, lemon and honey brew. Cut up a 3-4″ root of ginger into slices and add to a pot of water (about 4 cups). Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour a cup of hot ginger brew and mix in a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and a teaspoon of raw honey. I drink at least 4 cups of this stuff per day when I’m sick.
Zinc is necessary for proper immune function so it makes sense to up the intake during the flu or a cold. One review found that a zinc supplement helped to reduce the severity and the duration of illness when taken as soon as possible. I usually take a zinc supplement at least one per day, and you can also get this essential nutrient from oysters, seafood such as shellfish, oysters and mussels, pumpkin seeds, and Brazil nuts.
Read this in-depth post on best nutrients and supplements for your immune system.
Keep your immune system strong this season! I hope you make it through the cold and flu season healthy and unscathed, but in case you come down with something, make sure to bookmark this guide and stay nourished.
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