9 Foods You Should Never Eat When You're Sick

Unless you want to feel even worse, that is.

November 23, 2016
woman with the flu
Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock

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

This article was originally published by our partners at Men's Health.


You should definitely skip your morning cup of coffee if you have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug. The caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, so it can make you pee a lot and leave you dehydrated. That’s bad news when you’re battling a virus or other infection, since getting enough hydration helps your immune system fight more effectively, says Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Related: 11 Reasons To Have A Cup Of Coffee Right Now

Caffeine is even worse when you’re dealing with vomiting or diarrhea, since both can cause you to lose fluid. Taking in extra caffeine on top of that will only make that dehydration worse. Plus, caffeine can actually stimulate the muscles in your digestive tract and make your diarrhea more intense, Arthur says.

Related: 5 Strange Causes Of Diarrhea

orange juice
Orange Juice

If you have a cough or sore throat, skip the OJ. 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.

Related: How To Make Your Own Orange Juice


If you have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug, leave the sweets for when you're feeling better. Eating refined sugar can temporarily suppress your white blood cells’ ability to fight off bacteria, says 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,” Arthur says.

Related: Make A Sugar Craving Disappear Instantly


Skip the soda if you have any type of illness, but especially a stomach bug. Like coffee, caffeinated sodas are dehydrating. And they’re loaded with sugar that suppresses your immune system and messes with your GI tract, says Arthur. If water just isn’t appealing, try a lower-sugar drink with rehydrating electrolytes—like a sports drink or coconut water, says Arthur. Diet soda is off-limits, too. “Many artificial sweeteners are large molecules, which can’t be broken down and digested well,” Arthur says. That can cause bloating, cramping, and even diarrhea. In other words, it just makes whatever stomach symptoms you’re already experiencing even worse.

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

Crunchy Snacks

If you have a cough or sore throat, skip the chips. The abrasive texture of snacks like potato chips, granola, or even crispy toast will feel like sandpaper on your raw throat, 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.  

Related: Why You Can’t Say No To Salty Snacks When You’re Stressed


Ditch the drinks if you have any type of illness, especially a stomach bug. Alcohol, like coffee, is a diuretic that can worsen illness-related dehydration, 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, Arthur says.

Related: 6 Surprising Things That Get You Drunker, Quicker


If you have stuffiness and congestion, don't bother reaching for the milk. 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,” 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.

Related: What You Should Do Instead Of Blowing Your Nose 200 Times A Day

burger and fries
Fried Or Fatty Foods

Definitely skip if you have a stomach bug. “Fatty foods take longer to move through the digestive system, which can make nausea worse and trigger acid reflux,” 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.

Related: 5 Things That Are Making Your Heartburn Worse

Spicy Foods

If you have a runny nose, definetly stay away from those spicy foods. 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, Bhatia says. On the other hand, if you’re stuffed up, it might break up your mucus so you’re temporarily less congested.

Related: How To Stop Your Butt From Burning After Eating Spicy Foods