What to eat and drink when you're feeling bad

November 27, 1990|By Los Angeles Times Syndicate

From the Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter

Chicken soup. Soda crackers. Weak tea. Toast.

When you're sick with a cold, the flu or diarrhea, remedies abound for what you should eat to get through the worst period and back on your feet. Do any of them work? Which ones? Why?

Here's some advice about what you can and, in some cases, should, eat and drink the next time the latest "bug" puts a crimp in your style.

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

There's no cure for a cold or the flu. But you can make yourself more comfortable.

If you can't remember whether you should feed a cold or feed a fever, don't worry. You should really feed both. Any kind of infection, such as cold or flu, uses up energy. And food supplies energy.

The next time you're suffering from a cold or the flu, the best thing you can do is rest, keep warm and . . .

*Feed a cold or a fever with plenty of hot liquids. The moist heat from hot liquids helps to clear mucus from your nose. If you're running a fever, liquids will also help to replace some fluids you lose.

*Drink liquids with calories. Any hot liquid will help. But liquids with calories are best, especially if you don't feel like eating. Good choices are chicken soup, hot lemonade or hot apple cider.

When the "bug" hits low

As opposed to the respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, any of a variety of viruses, bacteria or other small organisms that have contaminated food or water can infect your gastro-intestinal tract and cause diarrhea.

Bacteria can produce a toxin that triggers intestinal cells to secrete salt and water. This overwhelms the capacity of the lower small bowel and the colon to absorb fluid. The result: diarrhea.

More commonly, an invading virus can damage the mucous membrane that lines the intestine, and interrupt absorption.

Mild diarrhea tends to last no more than two or three days. That's usually not long enough to dehydrate you seriously or jeopardize your nutritional status. For a mild case of diarrhea, here's what to do:

*Don't eat solid foods until the diarrhea subsides.

*Drink clear liquids. The main liquid you need is water. Other clear liquids you may choose include broth, soft drinks, fruit drinks or juices (except nectars and prune juice), Jell-O or Popsicles.

Liquids that contain a specific concentration of sodium, potassium and sugar (which helps the intestine absorb the water and salt) are necessary when diarrhea persists.

Older adults or infants with severe diarrhea that lasts longer than two or three days run a greater risk of dehydration and should see a doctor.

*Gradually begin to eat low-fiber foods. As your symptoms improve, start to eat low-fiber foods such as soda crackers, toast, eggs, chicken and tender cuts of meat, or custard. Greasy or fried foods, highly seasoned foods or milk products may be irritating at first.

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