What to eat to recover from illness

If you've been unwell it can be tempting to eat comfort foods, but the best way to recover is to be clever about what you eat. Nutritional Therapist Jessica O'Dwyer offers some advice.

When recovering from illness, your body is working extra hard to repair and rebuild itself. Any type of illness can cause low energy and a loss of appetite, leading to depleted nutrients and weight loss. So choosing foods that give you the right nutrients and building blocks for healing is essential for returning to good health. Here’s my guide to the foods that will help you come back fighting fit.

Probiotics for good bacteria

If your doctor has prescribed you a dose of antibiotics to beat a nasty bacterial infection, you may experience digestive after effects such as diarrhoea and/or bloating. This occurs because antibiotics also destroy the ‘friendly’ bacteria in your gut, which aid digestion and help prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

As 80 percent of our immune cells are located in our gut we need to make sure our friendly bacteria is replenished. We can do this using by eating probiotics, which are healthy bacteria found in certain foods. Foods containing the healthy bacteria L bulgaricus, L casei and S thermophiles help reduce the incidence of antibiotic-related digestive disorders.

Best found in: Natural yoghurts and probiotic drinks.


Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. We also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. For this reason, you require sufficient protein in your daily diet. Harvard School of Public Health recommends getting at least 46 to 56 grams of protein every day. You may need slightly higher amounts after an illness.

Best found in: Lean meats, spinach, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is vital antioxidant to help your cells’ recovery after battling an illness. Also known as ascorbic acid this water-soluble vitamin helps stimulate white blood cells which help attack and destroy any invading pathogens.

Best found in:
Papayas, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and kiwi fruit.  


Keeping yourself hydrated is very important during an illness. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, weakness, light-headedness and nausea. You may lose fluids due to a loss of appetite or through diarrhoea and vomiting. Along with water you can keep yourself hydrated through herbal teas. Dandelion tea is especially good as its chemical compounds may help clear toxins from your body, thereby enhancing your immune system's ability to destroy infection-causing agents.

Best found in: Water and herbal teas – especially dandelion.

Last updated Monday 25 April 2022

First published on Thursday 5 November 2015