What Food Can I Eat When Recovering From COVID-19?

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) is having an impact on people’s health and well being. One impact is how it can produce a low nutritional status and in some cases malnutrition during the recovery phase from infection by coronavirus. There are some useful guidelines to be found on various public health bodies which are worth considering. Whilst the information below is not by any means comprehensive we hope it gives some pointers on what foods could be consumed during recovery from COVID-19. 

The issues are mainly:

  • loss of taste and smell
  • loss of appetite and a significant reduction in portion size
  • difficulty with swallowing and drinking 
  • diarrhoea
  • sickness and vomiting
  • mouth ulcers

Other conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease will exacerbate the situation but there is now plenty of advice to be had from the web.

There are no miracle foods or liquids which will help stave off COVID-19 specifically. We have discussed various foods which may alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu. Garlic, ginger, lemon juice, honey have their own specific benefits but they are not preventative or cures.

Developing And Improving Your Appetite

  • Maintain a regular eating pattern.
  • Aim for three meals daily. Three snacks may also help in evening out the dietary pattern.
  • Some foods may be off-putting because of the smell. In this case eat them cold so that the aromas do not permeate as effectively.
  • Try your favorite foods as these will be consumed more readily.
  • Ready meals and some fast foods which are well cooked and contain little fibre. 

Vitamin D

Maintaining a sufficient vitamin D status is essential for good health particularly where immunity is concerned. In the USA for example vitamin D deficiency is a major issue with 18 per cent of the population having insufficient vitamin D levels (Zhang, 2020).

The Scottish NHS web-site suggests the following vitamin D intake levels given that many of us may not have the opportunity to receive sunlight if we are forced to stay indoors.

Everyone, including children, should consider taking a daily 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D.

It’s specifically recommended that groups at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency take a supplement. This includes:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • infants and children under 5 years old
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound, confined indoors for long periods or live in an institution such as a care home
  • people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, who require more sun exposure to make as much vitamin D

Avoid These Foods

This may fly in the face of good sense when it comes to recovering from the virus but certain foods need to be reduced because the eating experience is a specific challenge.

  • Highly fibrous foods that make chewing difficult. Kale and raw vegetables are not recommended for those with difficulty chewing or have mouth ulcers.
  • Nuts and dry foods including rough and fibre-rich breads
  • Chewy foods including certain confectionary unless it dissolves easily in the mouth.
  • Avoid foods that are too crispy such as crisps and crackers. Dry cooked bacon has been difficult for some

Making Foods Easy To Eat

Ideally any food needs to be easy to consume because chewing and swallowing will be difficult. This usually means a compromise on nutrition versus the mechanics of consumption.

Recommended foods include:-

  • Plenty of fresh fruit including banana 
  • Well cooked vegetables
  • Trying different textures and temperatures to introduce as much variety where feasible especially for those with compromised taste and smell.
  • ready mixed porridge and milk-soaked cereals where there is no dryness left
  • choosing food which breaks apart easily with a fork and spoon as opposed to just a knife.
  • Adding sauces, butter, gravy and even vegetable or animal oils to increase moisture and slipperiness.
  • Consume plenty of unsaturated fats from fish (no bones)
  • Stewed fruit
  • Remove all bones from meats so cottage pie and lasagne are good options
  • beans and pulses which are cooked but not to the point where vitamins are lost. This applies to vegetable generally but there is advice from various NHS trusts which suggest that well cooked foods are better in the first few days.

Hydration

Drink plenty of water everyday – 8 to 10 cups is recommended by the WHO in this situation. Other sites suggest roughly 2 jugs of water although sizes are not given. Other fluids including milk and dilute fruit juice are of course recommended but not alcohol. Whilst high salt levels are too be avoided it should not come at the expense of maintaining osmolality and it helps with digestion. Sports drinks are said by some to be an option. Hypotonic foods can be issue as they take water out of the digestive system.

Avoid eating out although some foods could be brought in if cooking is simply impossible.

All the nutrition and medical web-sites state that proper nutrition and hydration improve nutrition and encourage better immunity. A healthy nutritional status is certainly preferable to malnutrition but it is not a cure. The WHO for example suggest counselling and psychological support for anyone who wishes to maintain a good mental state.

References

Zhang, X. (2020) Vitamin D and Depression in Puerto Ricans Living in the United States. J. Nutr. 150 (12) pp. 3047-3048 (Article)

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