Managing Diabetes Calls for Extra Attention During Flu Season

Diabetes can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight infection, increasing the risk of serious complications from the influenza virus. However, by paying extra attention to nutrition habits during flu season, most people with diabetes who do catch the flu can avoid serious complications.

People with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes are at high risk of serious flu complications, even if they are doing a good job of managing their condition. There is the risk of sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other flu-related illnesses. In recent flu seasons, almost 30% of adults in the United States hospitalized with flu had diabetes.

Alabama and many other southern states have high rates of diabetes. Alabama ranks No. 4 in the nation, based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which collects state data about U.S. residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for catching a contagious illness.

Making Matters Worse

Flu also can make diabetes worse, because some illnesses can make it harder to control blood sugar. Flu may raise sugar levels, but sometimes people don’t feel like eating when they are sick, and a reduced appetite can impact glucose (sugar) levels.

It’s still not clear just how effective certain nutrients, vitamins, anti-oxidants, flavonoids, and other food elements are at boosting immune systems, especially for fighting influenza. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says there currently is no strong scientific evidence that any natural product is useful for preventing the flu.

Still, an immune system with greater nutritional resources has a better chance of battling the effects of influenza. That’s especially true for people with diabetes.

Nutrition for Fighting Flu Symptoms
Fever can raise metabolic rates, so the body needs more calories to function normally and support the immune system. A sudden reduction in that caloric intake may cause flu to last longer. However, once flu symptoms are present, appetite may decrease, along with any motivation to prepare even the simplest meal. It’s extremely important to get some nutrients in the system, even when you don’t have an appetite. Beverages are essential because dehydration, a common side effect of the flu, can raise blood sugar.

Anyone with diabetes who is not eating meals because of flu symptoms should at least eat or drink about 50 grams of carbohydrates every four hours, such as 1½ cups of unsweetened applesauce or 1½ cups of fruit juice. Options to avoid dehydration include water, unsweetened tea, and low-sodium chicken broth.

Foods that contain 15 grams of carbs include:

  • ½ cup fruit juice

  • ½ cup regular Jell-O

  • Six saltine crackers

  • ½ cup applesauce

  • 1/3 cup noodles or rice

People with diabetes can better manage flu season by preparing ahead. It’s a good idea to have enough insulin, other diabetes medicines, and easy-to-fix foods on hand to last several weeks. The supply list below can help you get organized.

Medicines and Supplies

  • Milk of magnesia

  • Medicine to control diarrhea

  • Antacids

  • Pain relievers

  • Thermometer

  • Suppositories to treat vomiting


  • Sports drinks

  • Juice boxes

  • Canned soup

  • Regular gelatin

  • Regular soft drinks

  • Instant cooked cereals

  • Crackers

  • Instant pudding

  • Unsweetened applesauce

This is also a time when comfort foods – and beverages – may help. They can provide sufficient nutrition because, even on the worst flu days, these items may still be appealing enough so that people don’t skip meals or get dehydrated.

See these recipes for diabetes-friendly comfort foods

A bowl of soup is a healthy option, keeping in mind to limit carbohydrates to fewer than 15 grams of carbs per serving, and control for sodium, calories, and saturated fat, so that all soup recipes remain diabetes friendly. See these recipes for diabetes-friendly soups.


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