Here is some guidance from a registered dietitian on foods and drinks that may help you feel just a little bit better if you get sick with COVID-19.

Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
Updated September 08, 2020
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At EatingWell, we've been answering a lot of questions surrounding food and the new coronavirus. What's safe? What isn't? How should you be handling your groceries? One question that may be on people's minds as they're hunkering down is: What should you eat if you come down with COVID-19?

Just to be clear—there is no magic diet that will help. We have some information about foods and drinks that may reduce flu and cold symptoms or duration, but we don't know specifically about COVID-19 (understandably, as the virus is so new). Here's some general guidance to help you feed yourself or a loved one who gets sick, including what to eat and drink, what to limit, and how to prepare in advance.

Your diet is going to be personal

Everything we know so far about this virus, indicates that symptoms vary greatly from person to person. The most common symptoms, per the CDC, include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. But some people may experience muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and GI symptoms, like diarrhea (call your doctor if you're not feeling well). Just like with the flu, you may not be feeling as hungry. You may also lose your sense of taste and smell, which can impact your appetite (here are tips to eat well when you can't taste or smell).

In addition to big variations in symptoms, there are also some other things to consider, like what you like to have when you're sick (for me that's minestrone soup, pretzels and Lemon-Lime Gatorade) and if you have someone who is able to cook for you or you're fending for yourself.

Depending on your symptoms and their severity, plus what you like to eat and if anyone is around to help you cook, your diet is going to look different from someone else's who has COVID-19. It's important that you stay home if you're not feeling well, call your doctor and see about getting any food or groceries delivered with no contact (via family and friends or a delivery service).

Hydration is super important

Drinking water is important if you get sick, especially if you have a fever, which may cause you to sweat out water, or if you have diarrhea. Try to drink plenty of fluids—these are all good options:

  • water
  • tea with honey
  • broth
  • juice
  • seltzer
  • electrolyte drinks

Tea with honey is comforting and the honey also may help calm a cough. You probably don't need special electrolyte drinks, but if you're having trouble eating or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, they may be helpful. Coconut water, maple water, sports drinks and Pedialyte all fit into that category. Juice can also help you get some nutrients, and may make it easier to hydrate since it's tasty.

If you're not feeling well, it's important to stay hydrated and rest as much as you can.

Nutrition matters, but calories matter too

You may have heard the saying, "starve a fever, feed a cold" but there isn't research to back that up. Your body needs calories for energy to help fight an infection.

There really isn't any one food that seems to help with flu-like symptoms. There are certain nutrients—including protein, vitamins A, C, D and E and zinc—that help support your immune system. (Get more information about foods with protein, foods with vitamin A, foods with vitamin C, foods with vitamin D, foods with vitamin E and foods with zinc.)

I don't recommend starting a new supplement routine right now, especially without talking to your doctor or a dietitian first, mainly because many of these nutrients are easy to get in your diet by eating a varied diet and also because in large quantities they may lead to negative side effects.

A smoothie made with fruit and yogurt or nut butter may help you get calories in if you're not hungry. Chicken soup is comforting and may be beneficial when you have a respiratory infection. Ginger may help with any nausea (try it in a tea or add it to carrot soup).

Trying to get calories in however you can and eating foods that help you feel good is probably going to be more important than worrying about getting enough zinc or vitamin A.

Foods to limit (you probably won't want them anyway)

Alcohol is dehydrating and may inhibit your immune system, so if you start feeling sick, skip the booze and replace it with something hydrating.

If you have GI symptoms, you may want to limit hard-to-digest foods like cruciferous vegetables, beans and whole grains. They take more energy to digest and may upset your stomach and GI tract. Swap them for these foods that are easy to digest.

Crackers (and other crunchy, hard foods), spicy food and anything very acidic (lemon, vinegar) may irritate your throat if you have a sore throat. You may tolerate these foods, though; again, it depends on your symptoms.

Is there anything you can prepare in advance?

You may want to have foods and some over-the-counter medicine on hand to help you in case you start feeling sick. Soup freezes really well, and so do casseroles. Buy some shelf-stable or freezer foods like crackers, bread and frozen fruit. It's hard to predict what you'll want to have because everyone is impacted differently by this virus.

The best thing you can do to prevent getting sick is continue to follow guidance from the CDC and your local public health department including limiting close contact with people outside your household, wearing a mask if you need to go out, washing your hands frequently and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces around your house.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.