They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s extra essential if you’re feeling unwell.
“Breakfast is always an opportune time to fit in vital nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But when you’re sick or recovering from an illness, it’s even more important to have those ingredients to support your immune system,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen: 100+ Delicious Recipes for Optimal Wellness.
Here, five healthy breakfast foods that’ll help — and three that can hinder — your healing process.
5 Breakfasts to Eat When You’re Sick
These morning meals are solid sick-day choices.
1. Fortified Whole-Grain Cereal With Grapes
“When you’re feeling run down, it’s smart to grab a breakfast that’s easy to prep and helps you feel better,” Largeman-Roth says. And this nutritious, easy-breezy breakfast combo checks all the boxes.
A hearty, whole-grain fortified cereal can simplify your life on sick days: All you do is pour some flakes in a bowl, and breakfast is served.
Essential vitamins and minerals are added to fortified varieties, so you’re also getting the immune-supportive nutrients you need to bolster your body’s defenses. For example, “Fortified cereals like Cheerios or Corn Flakes provide between 10 to 15 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D, which is so vital to immune health, especially in the winter,” Largeman-Roth says.
And you’ll want to pop a few grapes in your bowl. “Grapes only need a quick rinse, and they’re ready,” she says. “Grapes not only provide important hydration [which is crucial when you’re sick], but they’re also a natural source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols that help protect the health and function of our cells, which are the foundation for good health.”
“Additionally, research suggests that resveratrol, a specific polyphenol found in grapes, may positively influence immune function in multiple ways,” Largeman-Roth adds.
Try These Fortified Cereals
- Happy Belly Strawberry Good Balance ($3.26 on Amazon)
- Kellogg’s Special K Breakfast Cereal, 100% DV of 10 Vitamins and Minerals ($47.92 for 8 boxes on Amazon)
- Kellogg’s Special K Nourish ($19.81 on Amazon)
If your mom used to make oatmeal for you when you were sick, she was definitely onto something, Largeman-Roth says.
Warm and comforting, oatmeal is a quintessential food choice if you’re feeling unwell. And thanks to a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, oats are easy to digest, which is particularly important when you have tummy troubles.
Not only does beta-glucan help digestive regularity, but it also supports blood sugar management and immunity, according to a September 2017 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Plus, it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, Largeman-Roth says.
She recommends topping your oatmeal with chopped walnuts. These plant powerhouses boast a bunch of nutrients that are needed for healthy immune function, including:
- Vitamin B6
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3
Also: “Walnuts and oats both contain prebiotic fiber to promote a healthy gut, which helps bolster the immune system,” Largeman-Roth says.
Try These Oatmeal Recipes
“It might sound odd to drink broth for breakfast, but it can be a great way to recover from a stomach bug or the flu,” Largeman-Roth says. “Whether it’s chicken, beef or vegetable broth, they all provide hydration and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium,” she says.
Thing is, you’re more likely to become dehydrated when you’re ill because you lose can fluids through fever (think: sweating), diarrhea and vomiting. But proper hydration is pivotal to a speedy recovery. That’s because H2O controls your internal body temperature, transports nutrients in the blood and helps to flush out waste, according to Upstate Medical University.
What’s more, staying sufficiently hydrated can assist the skin and mucous cell membranes to block more bad bacteria from entering the body and reduce nasal irritation, per the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Plus, sipping on soupy broth may be easier to stomach when you’re dealing with nausea, Largeman-Roth says. Just keep in mind that broth is fairly low in calories (only 40 to 50 calories per 8 ounces), so try adding some dumplings, matzah balls or cooked veggies to make it more filling, she adds.
Try These Broth-Based Recipes
4. Scrambled Eggs and Toast
“It takes just a few minutes to scramble some eggs, which is great when you don’t have any energy,” Largeman-Roth says. “Plus, eggs provide tons of essential nutrients, like vitamin D, choline and protein, which you may have been missing if you were down for the count for a few days,” she says.
Pair your eggs with a comforting carb like whole-grain or sprouted bread. “Toast is always a smart pick if your tummy isn’t feeling quite right,” Largeman-Roth says.
Her favorite type of toast to nibble on when sick is sourdough. This starchy bread known for its signature sour taste is great for your gut and heart and helps you absorb nutrients, among other health perks.
Try These Scrambled Egg Recipes
“There’s nothing easier than adding a few ingredients to your blender and hitting the button,” Largeman-Roth says.
Not just convenient, fruit smoothies also serve up a slew of hydrating liquids. “When you’re recovering from a cold, the more fluids you take in, the better,” she says.
On top of the hydration benefits, “sipping something cold may also help soothe a sore throat,” she adds.
As far as fruit smoothie ingredients, vitamin C-rich oranges are an outstanding option. Oranges also contain hesperidin — a plant compound found primarily in citrus — that helps reduce inflammation and support healthy blood vessels, Largeman-Roth says.
Sticking to a simple, straightforward smoothie is a smart strategy: Try combining an orange with half a cup of OJ and oat milk plus a little ice, she says.
Try These Fruit Smoothie Recipes
3 Breakfast Foods to Avoid When You’re Sick
While some breakfasts can help the healing process, other foods like the following might make you feel worse when you’re under the weather.
When you’re feeling sick and exhausted, you might reach for your regular cup of joe for an energy boost.
While a jolt of caffeine from java may temporarily perk you up, only having coffee for breakfast won’t provide the sustenance or nutrients you need to get back on your feet, Largeman-Roth says. Plus, caffeine is dehydrating, and, as we know, proper hydration is key to recovery.
Additionally, coffee can exacerbate your GI woes if you have a sour stomach.
Yogurt is not your friend if you have phlegm.
“While it’s a healthy staple when you’re feeling well, eating yogurt when you have a cough or you’re dealing with a lot of mucous may make those symptoms worse,” Largeman-Roth says.
“Whether it’s a cinnamon roll or a Danish, a sweet pastry doesn’t supply any nutrients like vitamin C or electrolytes to help you get well,” Largeman-Roth says. Making matters worse, added sugar causes inflammation in the body, which certainly doesn’t support your immune system as it does the tough task of fighting off an infection.
Moral of the story: “Save the sweet treat for when you’re feeling better,” she says.