What to Eat When You Have the Flu

With flu season rapidly approaching, your restaurant staff and customers are looking for ways to stay healthy during the long winter months. Thankfully, you can get a flu vaccine that helps to protect you and your staff from catching the bug. In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu, eating foods with vitamins, minerals, and potent nutrients can prevent illness and keep you, your employees, and customers healthy. Check out our list of some of the best foods for fighting the flu this fall season.

When Is Flu Season?

In the US, flu season occurs every fall and winter. The season usually begins in October, peaks between December and February, and can drag on as late as May. If you plan to incorporate these healthy, flu-fighting foods into your menu, add them in September or October. In doing so, your customers' and employees' immune systems have time to strengthen before the season begins.

Top 10 Flu Fighting Foods

Eating the right foods is crucial to both preventing the flu and healing from it. Since they contain valuable nutrients, these foods assist you in fighting the flu and boost your immune system so your body can fight other viruses. By expanding your menu to include these foods, you equip both your staff and customers to stay healthy during the flu season. Here are ten of the best foods that you can add to your menu to help fight the flu:

1. Butternut Squash

cooked butternut squash on a plate

Due to its excellent health benefits, butternut squash is known as a superfood. This squash has anti-inflammatory properties essential for fighting off sickness. It also contains vitamin B6 for nervous and immune system health, dietary fiber for heart health, and potassium for bone health.

Conveniently, butternut squash is available in October and November, making it a delicious fall food to eat if you have the flu. Roasting butternut squash brings out its sweetness, or you can use a spiralizer to create noodles for a low-carb pasta alternative. Butternut squash can also be pureed into a creamy, golden soup that's both comforting and highly nutritious, making it perfect for alternative Thanksgiving meals.

2. Carrots

Despite their reputation for boosting our eyesight, carrots also play a key role in protecting our immune systems and our skin. Beta-carotene, found in carrots, helps in the production of healthy cells in our immune systems and turns into vitamin A and encourages healthy skin. Our skin is the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, and a healthy skin barrier can prevent you from becoming sick. Carrots are in season in the fall and fit seamlessly with many cold-weather entrees, so it's easy to add fresh, local carrots to your menu as a part of your flu-fighting foods.

3. Berries

bowl with cranberries

Berries of all kinds are a delicious source of vitamins and antioxidants essential for fighting the flu and other diseases. Vitamin C, which is found in many types of berries, can prevent stress from overwhelming our bodies by boosting our immune systems. While blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are some of the most common berries eaten in the US, we've also started to adopt superfoods like goji berries and acai berries.

The elderberry is believed to boost the immune system and is often brewed into teas or cooked to make syrup or jam. Cranberries, another classic fall fruit, come into season in October and have a variety of health benefits to help fight the flu.

4. Beets

Not only can they be used as a natural food coloring, but beets also act as a natural cleanser for the body. They eliminate toxins and purify the liver and bloodstream, which helps you recover from the cold or flu faster. As an added benefit, beets can help fight inflammation in your kidneys, improve your digestion, and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. When you prep your beets, make sure to set the greens aside. Not only are they edible, but they also have unique nutritional benefits.

5. Citrus Fruits

orange next to a juicer and cutting board

Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes contain high amounts of vitamin C, which can shorten the time you're sick if eaten frequently. Oranges also have 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, so you can get all your vitamins easily to keep your body healthy. Besides high levels of vitamin C, oranges help control your blood sugar, strengthen your immune system, and prevent constipation, making them an excellent food option to prevent sickness.

Another citrus fruit with enormous health benefits is kiwi, providing a unique addition to your flu-fighting menu. High in vitamin C, kiwis contain 230% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C and equip your body to fight diseases. Kiwis also have dietary fiber and antioxidants that boost your immune system by reducing inflammation and cleaning out your gut. Incorporating citrus fruits or fresh-squeezed citrus juices into your menu items this fall provides a sweet ally in the battle against the flu.

6. Green Tea

Green tea has a multitude of health benefits and it's an excellent beverage that both prevents the flu and helps you beat the virus more quickly. Green tea is full of catechins, a type of antioxidant that can help fight off viral infections. Drinking green tea regularly aids in reducing the risk of cancer and diabetes, and even helps encourage weight loss.

If you're already sick, drinking green tea soothes sore throats and gives you an energy boost. As a bonus, green tea matcha powder has the same benefits as brewed tea and can be added to your recipes for an extra helping of antioxidants.

7. Ginger

ginger root being sliced by a knife on a cutting board

If you find yourself trying to treat common flu symptoms such as nausea and body aches, ginger may be the relief you need. Ginger root is often used to reduce nausea in pregnant women, but its anti-inflammatory benefits also help those who have a cold or the flu. Many also believe ginger to be a natural pain reliever, which helps in easing the aches and pains that come with the flu.

Luckily for patients fighting the flu, it only takes a small portion of ginger to gain its benefits due to its high concentration. You can use freshly peeled ginger root in tea, soups, or in fall desserts to add zippy flavor.

8. Garlic

Helpful in warding off vampires and bad dates alike, garlic also protects you from the common cold and is one of the best foods for the flu. Garlic, along with many other ingredients found on this list, is packed full of antioxidants that stimulate your immune system to work harder. In addition to its flu-fighting vitamins, garlic works to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

9. Leafy Greens

bowl of leafy greens

Expand your menu to include other types of leafy greens besides the familiar options like kale and spinach. There's a wide world of leafy green vegetables that contain fiber to help with digestion, as well as important nutrients like vitamin C and folic acid to support the immune system.

Try introducing collard greens, bok choy, or Swiss chard to your fall menu for a dose of flu-fighting potential. Greens are easy to add to soups and can be sauteed on their own to make a side dish. You can even sneak leafy greens into blended smoothies without altering the taste.

10. Broth

Drinking clear beverages like water, juice, or hot tea is essential for staying hydrated when sick, but broth is another great option. It not only provides a soothing effect for sore throats, but it also contains a low fiber content so your body doesn't need to work to digest it. In contrast to stock, broth has seasonings that make it flavorful and appealing to sip on its own. Broth is also higher in sodium, which is a benefit since salt helps to keep your system hydrated when fighting off the flu, cold, or other viruses.

Foods to Avoid When You Have the Flu

If you find yourself sick with the flu this flu season, what you choose to eat will affect your recovery. While healthy foods boost your immune system and help you fight the virus, some foods will weaken your body and aggravate your symptoms. Avoiding these specific foods will benefit your recovery from the flu so you can back on your feet faster.

  • Alcohol lowers your immune system and causes dehydration.
  • Caffeine also causes dehydration, especially if you’re running a fever.
  • Sugar increases inflammation, which increases your symptoms.
  • Processed foods lack nutritional value, so your body doesn’t have the tools it needs to fight the flu.
  • Dairy products increase mucus, making you more uncomfortable while you’re sick.

Whether you're looking to prevent yourself from catching the flu this season or you want to speed up your recovery, eating the right foods goes a long way to staying healthy. An outbreak among your customers or employees can affect your business. Adding foods like butternut squash and broth to your menu will help your restaurant stay open and running smoothly throughout flu season.

Posted in: Seasonal|By Richard Traylor
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