Colds and flu

Updated 31 July 2015

The 5 worst foodstuffs to eat when you’re sick

When you’re battling a cold, the last thing you want is to ingest something which will make it worse. These are the things you need to avoid.


From a runny nose to watery eyes and a throbbing headache, the common cold can be unbearable. And although you might not have much of an appetite, there are some substances you need to steer clear of to avoid making your symptoms worse.

These are the top five foodstuffs to avoid when you’re struggling with a cold:

1. Alcohol: Not only does alcohol have a bad effect on your immune system, which will already be under strain fighting the cold, it can also lead to dehydration. So go easy on the hot toddies and keep yourself well hydrated with water and herbal teas instead. You also don’t want to be dealing with a hangover on top of a cold.

2. Dairy: Although it is still controversial whether dairy generally worsens mucous production, most doctors still advise against it when you’re sick. If you want something cold to ease a sore throat, opt for some frozen fruit or make yourself a dairy-free smoothie with some strawberries, ice and banana.

3. Sugary foods: Sugary foods suppress the immune system, feed inflammation and can also trigger headaches. If you’re craving something sweet, rather have some fruit or a little extra honey in your hot toddy to satisfy the craving.

4. Junk food: When you’re sick, your body needs healthy, nutritious food to keep it going and fight the virus. Fast foods are generally nutrient deficient and offer your body no vitamins or minerals it needs to heal.

5. Coffee: Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can deprive your body of fluids, and when you’ve got a cold you need to stay hydrated. So steer clear of caffeinated drinks and rather drink herbal tea or warmed water with lemon and honey if you want something warm.

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Sources: - The Best and Worst Foods to Eat When You're Sick; Natural Society - Foods not to eat when you’re sick


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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