It's that time of the year, depending on when you're reading this, that is. If you're not already sick, then someone you know is coughing up a storm, or maybe your kids are feeling under the weather.
What do you do when you're sick because chicken noodle soup just won't cut it on a ketogenic diet.
What to eat on keto when sick? The best foods you can eat on keto when sick are keto-friendly foods that provide adequate nutrition, comfort, hydrate and replenish your electrolytes.
In this article, I'll list some keto-friendly foods to eat when you're sick, but also some common pitfalls to avoid or look out for that may be mistaken as an illness and what to do.
Top 7 Foods To Eat When Sick On Keto
Food not only can provide us comfort when we're not feeling our best, but some foods may even help give relief to many of your symptoms. First, you want to make sure you're feeding yourself with foods that help nourish and support your body while helping fight off any illness.
What you should eat on keto when sick should follow a few fundamental principles:
- Provide nourishment and support
- Help comfort and relieve symptoms
- Replenish electrolytes
What keto food list wouldn't be complete without the avocado? Avocados are an excellent source of fiber in addition to being rich in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium.
Avocados are also high in healthy monounsaturated fat, similar to that of olive oil. In particular, avocado is a rich source of oleic acid, which has been shown to help decrease inflammation and improve immune response. 1
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are full of high-quality protein and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3's are shown to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. 2
Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D. As much as 42% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D, which helps fight inflammation and boost immune function. 3
Eggs are another great keto-friendly food that's relatively easy to whip up and consume, which is especially essential while sick. Eggs are another great source of vitamin D and also zinc, commonly found in many over the counter medications.
Chicken soup has been a remedy for the common cold since the dawn of time, at least my time on this earth, and for a good reason. Chicken soup is easy to consume and chock full of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
Additionally, chicken soup is excellent at providing additional hydration and electrolytes. Making sure you're well-hydrated is vital while following a ketogenic diet, even more-so when sick.
What's more, chicken soup may act as a natural decongestant due to the hot steam and being rich in the amino acid cysteine. N-acetyl-cysteine's shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-viral effects. 4 5
You can quickly turn this into chicken noodle soup by using a low-carb noodle alternative such as shirataki noodles.
Another option similar to chicken soup or chicken broth is bone broth. Bone broth's full of vitamins and minerals in addition to having other possible healing properties, though only anecdotal.
You can make your bone broth from store-bought bones, or if you're less inclined like me, there are great ready-to-eat alternatives. Kettle and Fire produce an excellent bone broth ready to drink, or Lono Life makes a powder you can mix in hot water.
Beef liver is probably as close to a “superfood” as you can get. People usually associate fruits and vegetables as being the king of vitamins and minerals, but the liver far surpasses them in terms of quantity and bioavailability.
Beef liver is also a great source of high-quality protein, relatively low in calories, and very cost-effective.
A small 100-gram serving of beef liver is chock full of key vitamins and minerals. Here are the nutrients found in one 100-gram serving of beef liver:
- Vitamin A: 500% DV | 26091 IU
- Vitamin B12: 1300% DV | 83.1 mcg
- Riboflavin (B2): 200% DV | 3.4 mg
- Folate (B9): 65% DV | 260 mcg
- Iron: 35% DV | 6.2 mg
- Copper: 730% DV | 14.6 mg
- Choline: 418 mg
When you think about eating a chicken egg, it's as if you're consuming the complete nutrition of a whole chicken in a bite-sized package, or what you can call “nose to tail.” Fish eggs, referred to as roe, are similar in that they're a nutrition powerhouse.
All the different varieties of roe are nutritious in their own right, but fish such as salmon and carp are much more affordable and sustainable than other fancy caviars. A 1 oz serving of salmon roe averages nearly 900 mg of anti-inflammatory omega-3's in its most bioavailable form, meaning better absorption than taking a fish oil supplement.
When Does Keto Flu Hit And Why
Sometimes people mistake getting sick for the keto flu. The keto flu typically affects people during the beginning stages of a ketogenic diet, as I'll explain further.
Feeling like you have a common cold while on keto or other illness can sometimes be mistaken for the keto flu, especially if you've just started your ketogenic lifestyle. The keto flu generally occurs during the first couple of weeks while transitioning to a ketogenic diet due to a variety of factors.
When transitioning to a ketogenic diet, your body is undergoing many changes. A significant cause of why you may be experiencing flu-like symptoms when switching to a ketogenic diet is due to a rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes. Additionally, your body is becoming accustomed to using fat and ketones as its primary fuel source after living off carbohydrates your entire life.
Low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets cause a rapid loss of water and electrolytes during the first couple of weeks because carbohydrates stored in the body help to retain water. Our bodies store carbohydrates in the body as glycogen located within our liver and muscles. The role of glycogen in our body is mainly to provide quick, usable energy to our muscles and brain when needed.
For every gram of glycogen in your body, it will store an additional three grams of water. As you begin to deplete glycogen by following a ketogenic diet, the body also releases the water stored with it. Imagine every gram of glycogen In your body as a sponge holding water and every time your body needs a sponge, it squeezes out the water inside.
The rapid water loss is the reason you may have noticed a substantial drop in the scale the first week or two of starting a ketogenic diet. While some of the weight was fat, a good majority of the weight loss at the beginning of the diet was water weight.
You may have noticed that you had to pee a lot more when first starting keto, which is your body rapidly getting rid of fluid retained by your glycogen stores. This sudden shift in fluid levels, and the electrolytes lost, as a result, is a major reason why you may be experiencing the keto flu.
To help off-set or avoid many of the keto-flu symptoms, make sure you are staying well hydrated and replacing any lost electrolytes. You can best accomplish staying hydrated and replenishing electrolytes by making sure you are drinking enough water to thirst and salting your food liberally and to taste.
Secondly, your body is still getting used to using fat and ketones as its primary fuel source. While you may generally start to enter a state of ketosis within 24 to 72 hours, it can take upwards of three weeks or longer for your body to become “keto-adapted.” Being keto-adapted means your body's accustomed to running on fat and ketones for fuel, which generally gets better and better as time progresses.
Symptoms Of The Keto Flu
The keto flu cleverly gets its name due to many of the symptoms sharing similarities with the common influenza flu:
- Increased sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Keto breath or dry mouth
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Again, one of the best methods anecdotally to help prevent or relieve symptoms of the keto flu is to drink plenty of water and replenish your electrolytes, most importantly, sodium. An easy and tasty keto flu drink remedy is to sip on some salty chicken or bone broth. Alternatively, you can supplement with an electrolyte supplement such as LMNT or Keto Vitals Electrolytes, specially formulated for people following a ketogenic diet.
The keto flu may also explain why you lack energy or feel exhausted on a ketogenic diet, among other reasons I've written about.
Feeling Nauseous While On Keto
While feeling nauseous on keto can be a symptom of the keto flu, there's another big reason people following a ketogenic diet may feel sick.
The body requires the enzyme lipase to help break down fats. If the body doesn't produce enough lipase, this can lead to fat malabsorption, which can result in nausea and indigestion, among other symptoms. Many people that start keto, even months into the diet, report feelings of nausea, especially after a high-fat meal.
Not producing enough lipase is similar to someone who's lactose intolerant, their body doesn't produce enough of the enzyme lactase. Not producing enough lactase leads to poor digestion of sugars found in dairy.
Also, your liver manufactures bile and bile salts, which help to emulsify fat. If your liver is not producing enough bile and/or bile salts, you may have trouble absorbing and digesting the fats and fat-soluble vitamins from your diet.
Other tell-tale signs you may not be absorbing fat well is by examining your stool. If you find your stools are white, pale yellow, clay-colored, oily, and/or smelly, you may be suffering from fat malabsorption.
What can you do?
Assuming you do not have a pre-existing medical condition that may hinder your ability to digest fats, there are a few things you can do to help your body along:
- Reducing total fat intake
- Smaller more frequent meals
- Supplement with ox bile and/or lipase (ox bile supplement | lipase supplement)
- Make sure you chew your food well
- Allowing your body to adjust over time
Specific individuals, such as those without a gallbladder and following a ketogenic diet, may find these tips useful as well. The liver and gallbladder especially helps to produce, store, and secrete the bile necessary to help absorb and digest fat. If you have any medical-related problem with your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas, this can lead to poor fat digestion.
If you've given it enough time, followed the tips, and the problem persists, you should consult your doctor as you may have another underlying problem.
Sick After Eating Carbs While On Keto
We can't all be perfect ALL the time. Sometimes we want to indulge in a treat rich in carbohydrates or enjoy food with friends and family.
While it's perfectly ok to indulge from time to time, eating a large amount of carbs after being on a ketogenic diet for a while may cause some people to feel unwell. If this happened to you, you're not alone, and here's why.
For the same reason, it takes weeks, and possibly months for your body to get used to burning fat as its primary fuel source, the same happens in reverse. You may feel sick after introducing carbohydrates because your body has been ramping up the enzymes and transporters necessary to use fat and ketones.
Meanwhile, the enzymes to break down and process carbohydrates have ramped down, commonly referred to as physiological insulin resistance. Physiological insulin resistance isn't a bad thing. Physiological insulin resistance means your body is healthy and functioning properly, doing what it's supposed to do.
Physiological insulin resistance is completely normal and reversible. There's no cause for alarm if you plan to switch to a diet higher in carbohydrates in the future or indulge from time to time. Physiological insulin resistance is just that “physiological,” and not “pathological,” which means it's not a disease state.
Take Away Message
Sometimes people confuse the keto-flu or re-introducing carbohydrates after a prolonged period with actually coming down with a cold or illness. To help off-set or avoid the keto-flu, you should do your best to stay well hydrated and replace any lost electrolytes.
If you find yourself with an actual sickness or illness, make sure to incorporate the foods listed above in addition to getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
No foods can inherently cure sickness, but eating the right foods to support your body may help relieve symptoms and boost your immune system.