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What to eat when you're sick

March 06, 2002

How does the old saying go? Starve a fever and feed a cold, or is it the other way around? Either way, the cold and flu season is once again upon us. And to effectively fight a cold or the flu, it's necessary to keep your body properly hydrated and provided with a sufficient amount of energy and nutrients even if you don't feel like eating or drinking.

The next time you have a cold or the flu, try the following suggestions:

Drink plenty of fluids - liquids help thin mucous secretions. Try water, decaffeinated tea, fruit juice or broth-based soups. Slowly enjoying a steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup is an old remedy that may provide some relief.

Avoid dairy products such as milk, ice cream and pudding because they tend to increase phlegm. Any other foods are okay to eat as long as you can tolerate them.

Keep in mind your sense of taste may be distorted as a result of your nasal passages being plugged. Your favorite foods may not taste the same.

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Make sure you get plenty of rest. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try drinking decaffeinated tea, herbal tea or decaffeinated carbonated beverages.

If you are vomiting, don't eat or drink for approximately one hour after an episode, then drink 2 ounces of water or a flat lemon-lime carbonated beverage. If you tolerate that, repeat every 15-30 minutes.

When vomiting has subsided for a few hours, try drinking more liquids in order to replace the loss of fluid from your body. Water, decaffeinated tea, fruit juice or broth-based soups are generally good choices.

Gradually add other relatively bland foods such as plain or lightly buttered toast.

If you are running a fever, but are not vomiting, drink plenty of liquids.

If you are experiencing diarrhea, try a banana, apple juice, applesauce, rice or rice cereal without milk. These foods help regulate your system and may help relieve your symptoms.

As your symptoms subside, slowly increase your food intake. Your appetite should return to normal as you get better.

To keep germs from spreading when you or those around you are sick:

Wash your hands regularly with warm, soapy water and dry with disposable paper towels to prevent picking up or spreading the bacteria and viruses that cause illness.

Wash all eating and drinking utensils in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water and allow to air dry. Wash glasses and silverware after every use to limit contamination.

If you're too sick to wash dishes, consider using paper plates, cups, and disposable utensils.

If your symptoms worsen or persist for longer than a few days, contact your doctor.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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