What To Eat When You’ve Caught COVID-19
Since the emergence of the less-severe Omicron variant of COVID-19, the emphasis has moved away from emergency care for the virus, and onto home treatment and management. But since we have been given very little guidance about how to treat COVID from home, it may be diﬃcult to know what to do once you’ve caught it.
As with any illness, we depend on our immune systems to get over COVID-19. The strength of our immune system depends on our genetics, lifestyle and, yes, our diet – as this gives us all the nutrients and minerals that we need to fuel our immune systems and keep our vital organs healthy.
COVID-19 may reduce appetite in many people, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not important to continue to eat a balanced and healthy diet.
Here, we will outline which foods and drinks are best for recovering from the virus and describe other simple changes you can make to support your recovery.
COVID Problem 1. Coughing And Breathing Issues
One of the most well-known symptoms of COVID-19 is coughing, which may lead to phlegm developing in the lungs. Many people believe that dairy products may lead to increased mucus, which they think may contribute to breathing issues and coughing.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is actually the case. In fact, dairy is high in nutrients and essential fats that may become depleted during illness. So unless you are allergic, or following a plant-based diet to begin with, there is no reason why you should cut out dairy from your diet.
If you are coughing or having breathing issues, the best way you can manage your eating is by changing how, not what, you eat.
For instance, the following measures will help:
- Eat SLOWLY – If you are having breathing diﬃculties, it may make it diﬃcult to eat and even increase your risk of choking. If you are asthmatic, take a puﬀ of your inhaler before eating if your breathing is bad. Eat small portions, slowly, and increase the number of meals you eat while reducing the portion size.
- Sit Up Straight – Slouching may increase your risk of choking on food and will put pressure on your lungs. Sitting up straight relieves pressure on your chest and helps to prevent choking.
- Clear Your Chest – Clearing your lungs helps to release pressure on your chest while eating. You can do this by using controlled coughing, or by tapping your chest and neck gently.
- Stay Hydrated – Water helps to thin the mucus in your lungs, nasal passages, and throat. This helps to reduce diﬃculty breathing and swallowing.
COVID Problem 2. Lethargy
Lethargy and tiredness are common with COVID-19. Being ill depletes our energy reserves, leading to fatigue, drowsiness, and diﬃculty concentrating.
Eating bland meals that are high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals – but low in fat – helps to boost energy and prevents muscle wasting. Making sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables will also keep your body stocked up on vitamins and minerals, helping with the conversion of food to energy.
Small amounts of caﬀeine may help to boost energy levels and concentration, although excessive amounts of caﬀeine may contribute to dehydration, so go gentle on the coﬀee!
COVID Problem 3. Gastrointestinal (GI) Issues
One symptom of Coronavirus that is often overlooked, is gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
GI issues were not originally considered to be one of the main COVID symptoms but were recently added to the symptom list after many patients with Omicron began experiencing problems with diarrhoea and stomach pains. In fact, a recent study from Stanford indicated that as many as a third of patients with a mild case of Coronavirus experienced GI symptoms.
The term ‘gastrointestinal’ covers all issues taking place in the gut and intestines, for example, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. With COVID, you may experience stomach pain, loose stools, nausea, and even vomiting.
If you are actively vomiting, it’s recommended that you do not eat until the vomiting stops.
Vomiting is often caused by bacteria in the gut; if you feed this bacteria sugar (which is in most, if not all, foods), the bacterial infection is likely to grow faster, making it more diﬃcult for your body to recover.
Drinking plenty of water and keeping your stomach empty, on the other hand, helps your body to ‘flush out’ the infection in your sweat and urine.
When you are ill, your stomach also slows down. This may cause a loss of appetite and make it harder to digest food.
If you are not actively vomiting, you may start to eat again. Take it slowly, eat small portions, start with foods that are bland, and avoid fatty or sugary foods.
The BRAT Diet
One of the most commonly prescribed treatments for gastrointestinal issues is eating what is known as the BRAT diet – Bananas Rice Applesauce Toast.
These foods are low in fibre and high in starch, while also being bland.
These help to harden stools, prevent your stomach from being further irritated, and are also high in vitamins, minerals and energy that may be depleted while you have diarrhoea and vomiting.
COVID Problem 4. Dehydration
If you are struggling with diarrhoea or vomiting, you should stick primarily to water – and lots of it.
Diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration, which is one of the most common complications of most illnesses.
In fact, as many as 20% of COVID-19 patients experience diarrhoea. While diarrhoea is generally a transient, acute symptom, in extreme cases, it can lead to more severe consequences, including kidney and liver issues, which aﬀect mental and neurological states, heart and breathing rates, and are even linked to the development of sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
Ideally, patients should avoid drinks containing substances that may dehydrate them, such as high quantities of caﬀeine, and alcohol.
Sports drinks containing electrolytes are an ideal choice, as vomiting and diarrhoea may cause electrolytes to be lost. If a patient doesn’t enjoy drinking water or sports beverages, squash or small amounts of tea are also an option.
COVID Problem 5. Reduced Appetite
COVID-19 reduces your appetite. If you’ve had diarrhoea or vomiting, you may have had to avoid solid food for some time. The problem is that when you don’t eat, your stomach reduces in size. This means that you will feel much less hungry.
Over time, you may find that the less you eat, the less you want to eat. If you have a history of eating disorders, this may cause distress, and possibly even trigger a relapse.
If you are finding that you are losing your appetite, and you are not experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting, you may find that gradually increasing the number of bulky foods you are eating will help.
Start oﬀ by expanding your stomach with larger amounts of light food (for example, soup), and gradually progress to eating more bland, starchy, and high protein foods such as bread and cheese.