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Foods You Should Never Eat When You’re Sick

Food probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when you’re battling the flu or a stomach bug.

But you have to fuel the tank eventually, and what you choose to do so matters: Some foods and drinks out there can make you feel even worse.

Here, 9 foods and beverages you should avoid when you’re sick so you can feel better faster.

When you should skip it: You have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug.
Why it makes you feel worse: The caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, so it can make you pee a lot and leave you dehydrated.


When you should skip it: You have a cough or sore throat.
Why it makes you feel worse: Orange juice’s tart acidity is usually refreshing. But when you have a cough or cold, it can hurt your throat.

“It contains citric acid, which irritates the lining of your already-inflamed throat,” says Taz Bhatia, M.D., professor of integrative medicine at Emory University and author of What Doctors Eat.

That means your throat will hurt more and take longer to heal.


When you should skip it: You have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug.
Why it makes you feel worse: Eating refined sugar can temporarily suppress your white blood cells’ ability to fight off bacteria, says Dr. Arthur.

For a few hours after snacking on cookies, candy, or sugary cereal, your immune system is weaker.

As a result, it’s less efficient at fighting off the germs that are making you sick.

Refined sugar poses even more of a problem when you’re dealing with a stomach bug.

“Sugar tends to pull fluid out of the GI tract, which can lead to loose, watery stools and diarrhea,” Dr. Arthur says.

#4. SODA

When to skip it: You have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug.
Why it makes you feel worse: Like coffee, caffeinated sodas are dehydrating.

And they’re loaded with sugar that suppresses your immune system and messes with your GI tract, says Dr. Arthur.

If water just isn’t appealing, try a lower-sugar drink with rehydrating electrolytes—like a sports drink or coconut water, says Dr. Arthur.

Diet soda is off-limits, too.

“Many artificial sweeteners are large molecules, which can’t be broken down and digested well,” Dr. Arthur says. That can cause bloating, cramping, and even diarrhea.

Related: Can You Really Lose Weight—and Keep It Off—Using Sugar Substitutes?

In other words, it just makes whatever stomach symptoms you’re already experiencing even worse.



When to skip them: You have a cough or sore throat.
Why they make you feel worse: The abrasive texture of snacks like potato chips, granola, or even crispy toast will feel like sandpaper on your raw throat, Dr. Bhatia says.

And it doesn’t just feel lousy: The more you irritate your throat, the longer it’ll take to heal, too. So you might end up actually prolonging your misery.


When to skip it: You have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug.
Why it makes you feel worse: Alcohol, like coffee, is a diuretic that can worsen illness-related dehydration, Dr. Arthur says.

And since you’re probably already dehydrated to begin with, your blood alcohol content will rise faster. So the booze will hit you harder than usual.

Alcohol can also speed up digestion, causing watery stool or diarrhea, Dr. Arthur says.

#7. MILK

When to skip it: You have stuffiness and congestion.
Why it makes you feel worse: You might have heard that you should avoid dairy when you’re sick because it makes you produce more mucus or phlegm.

But that’s not completely true. “There’s no clear evidence that reducing milk will reduce mucus—it’s mostly anecdotal,” Dr. Arthur says.

However, some people find that dairy makes their phlegm thicker and more unpleasant, she says.

If it bothers you, go ahead and cut it out until you’re feeling better.


When to skip it: You have a stomach bug.
Why it makes you feel worse: “Fatty foods take longer to move through the digestive system, which can make nausea worse and trigger acid reflux,” Dr. Bhatia says.

And because they also trigger muscle spasms in your intestinal tract, they can make diarrhea worse.

Save the burger and fries for when you’re feeling better.


When to skip it: You have a runny nose.
Why it makes you feel worse: Chili peppers and hot sauce get their heat from capsaicin, a compound that can irritate your nasal passages and make your nose run.

So if you’re already drippy and runny, all that heat will only make the water works worse, Dr. Bhatia says.

On the other hand, if you’re stuffed up, it might break up your mucus so you’re temporarily less congested.

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