What Should You Eat If You Come Down with COVID-19?
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? (Also be sure to check out what you should eat before and after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to experts).
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. Nevertheless, here's some general guidance to help you 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 or chills, cough and shortness of breath. Some people may experience muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and GI symptoms, like diarrhea. When you're feeling unwell, call your doctor for medical advice.
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. Eating foods that bring comfort and nutrition while feeling ill is one of the coping strategies (for me that's minestrone soup, pretzels and Lemon-Lime Gatorade), but this also depends on if you have someone who can cook for you or you're fending for yourself.
Depending on your symptoms and their severity, your food preferences and if anyone is around to help you cook, your diet will look different from someone else who also 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:
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 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 wouldn'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 into 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 also help with nausea—try it in a tea or add it to carrot soup.
Nevertheless, 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 like water, tea, broth, juice or seltzer.
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 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 to 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.
One of the steps to recovering from a cold, the flu or COVID-19 is taking care of yourself by staying hydrated and eating easy-to-digest foods. You can also check out 6 Things You Can Do at Home to Help Relieve COVID Symptoms, According to a Doctor for additional coping strategies. The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve—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.