What do you eat when recovering from illness? It is essential to eat and drink well. This will boost your immune system and help you to regain your strength.
If you have a good appetite
Your diet should be healthy and balanced if you:
- are otherwise feeling well
- have a good appetite (desire to eat food)
- have not lost any weight
A healthy, balanced diet
Every day, you should eat regular meals that include:
- protein such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, or nuts
- dairy such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or dairy alternatives
- whole grain cereals and bread, potatoes, pasta or rice
- fruit and vegetables
Aim to limit fat, salt, and sugar in your diet.
Different age groups have different dietary needs.
If you have a reduced appetite
After being ill, you may have a reduced appetite. This is normal after certain illnesses.
- feel full soon after you have started eating
- feel like skipping meals
- have lost some weight without trying to
While your appetite is reduced, you should follow a high protein energy diet. This is also called a nourishing diet. It will help you get enough nourishment for your recovery and prevent weight loss.
Even if you are overweight and trying to lose weight, this is not the best time. Try to stay the same weight until you are fully recovered.
When you are recovered, and your weight is stable, you can return to the healthy, balanced diet above.
Tips for mealtimes
To help your recovery:
- eat little and often – 3 smaller meals and three snacks every day is recommended
- make sure you are sitting in an upright, comfortable position when eating
- allow time for eating – you may have to eat at a slower pace
- eat nourishing foods that you enjoy
- get some fresh air before eating a meal – this may help to increase your appetite
Foods high in protein-energy
If you can only eat small portions, there are some high-calorie ingredients you can add to your meals. This will increase the energy you get without increasing your portion.
Good high-calorie ingredients you can add to meals and snacks include:
- skimmed milk powder added to whole milk and milky drinks
- ground almonds
- nut butter
Other high-energy snacks include:
- cheese and crackers
- custard or rice pudding
- nuts and seeds
- thick and creamy yogurt or high-protein yogurt
- cereal bars or flapjacks
Non-urgent advice: Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian if:
- you have lost more than 10% of your body weight in three months. For example, if you were 150lbs and you lost more than 15lbs
- your body mass index is less than 20
If you have a health condition or are underweight
If you have an underlying health condition or are underweight, you may need to talk to a dietitian. Ask your physician or nurse for a referral if needed. A dietitian can give you specific advice about your situation. You should also follow the nutritional diet advice above.
Oral nutritional supplements
You may need oral nutritional supplements in the short term. These have energy and protein to supplement your diet.
Continue to follow any advice a dietitian has given you during your illness. If you have been prescribed oral nutrition supplement drinks in a hospital or at home, keep taking these as recommended. Ask your doctor or dietitian for advice if you find these difficult to take.
These can usually be stopped when:
- you have recovered
- your weight is stable
- your appetite has returned to normal
Taste changes during illness
Some people experience a change in taste and smell when recovering from COVID-19.
People have experienced taste changes in different ways.
This can include:
- complete loss of taste and smell for several weeks
- a bland taste from foods
- metallic or salty taste from foods
Tips to help manage taste changes
- Eating various hot or cold foods or food of different textures may bring some sensory enjoyment even if the taste is reduced.
- Adding additional salt, butter, the cream may make food taste nicer if flavor is lacking.
- If you are cooking for someone ill, food presentation is essential to make it as delicious as possible.
Food is as important as medicine. Even if the food does not taste the same, you should eat enough nourishing foods to help your recovery.
Access to food while you are recovering.
Your energy levels may be low, and you may feel tired quickly. Preparing meals may be complicated.
If you are too tired or unwell to cook, stock up on ready-to-eat or easily prepared foods.
If you are self-isolating
If you cannot go to the supermarket, ask family or friends to do your shopping. You can also shop online and get your groceries delivered.
Ask whoever is shopping for you to leave the groceries on your doorstep or your porch.