What to Eat When You Have COVID-19, according to a Registered Dietitian
When we get sick with the common cold, soup tends to become our best friend. If we're knocked down by the flu, we may only be able to stomach bland foods. But what should you eat when you have COVID-19?
Related: What Should You Eat Before and After Getting the COVID Vaccine? Here's What the Experts Say
Just to be clear—there is no magic diet that will help. There is limited information about foods and drinks that may reduce flu and cold symptoms or duration, and the same goes for 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. And if you're dealing with long COVID symptoms, you may want to incorporate some anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
Your diet is going to be personal
Symptoms of COVID-19 can 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 also 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 coping strategy (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 if 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. Keep note that 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 by sipping on these options:
- Tea with honey
- Electrolyte drinks
Tea with honey is comforting, plus the honey may also help calm a cough. If you're having trouble eating, have a fever or are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, grab a drink that contains electrolytes. Coconut water, maple water, sports drinks and Pedialyte all fit into that category. Juice is a tasty option and can also help you get some nutrients, just be sure to grab a bottle that is 100% juice.
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." There isn't research to back that phrase up, and your body still needs calories for energy to help fight infections. In fact, when you have a fever, your metabolism rises which makes you burn more calories.
Unfortunately, there aren't any foods or drinks that will relieve flu-like symptoms, but there are certain nutrients—including protein, vitamins A, C, D and E and zinc—that help support your immune system, according to a 2021 study published in Archives of Razi Institute. (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.)
Getting those nutrients in can be as simple as making a smoothie with fruit and yogurt or nut butter. Chicken soup is another option that is comforting and may be beneficial when you have a respiratory infection. Dealing with nausea? Ginger has been viewed as an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting. Try it in tea or add it to carrot soup.
In the end, just try to get enough calories in to support your body and eat foods that help you feel good.
Foods to limit
If you start feeling sick, it's best to avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating and may inhibit your immune system that's working hard to fight off a virus. Instead, keep yourself hydrated with drinks like water, tea, broth, juice or seltzer.
If you're dealing with 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 foods that are easy to digest, such as bananas, avocado and white potatoes.
Crackers (and other crunchy, hard foods), spicy food and anything very acidic (like lemon or 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 and casseroles freeze well, so if you do end up coming down with an illness, you'll already have premade food options. Shelf-stable or freezer foods like crackers, bread and frozen fruit are also options to have available at your home.
Food and drinks aside, the best thing you can do to prevent getting sick with COVID-19 is to continue to follow guidance from the CDC and your local public health department.
One of the steps to recovering from a cold, the flu or COVID-19 is taking care of yourself by staying hydrated and eating nutrient-dense foods. On the other hand, try to eliminate drinking alcohol as you recover and avoid spicy foods and cruciferous vegetables if you have GI symptoms.
You can also check out our story on Things You Can Do at Home to Help Relieve COVID Symptoms, According to a Doctor for additional coping strategies.