We don’t often think of food as a kind of medicine, but nutrition is an important part of recovery, especially after a serious illness.
For individuals recovering from COVID-19, common symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue can make it difficult to eat and drink. Many symptoms such as loss of smell, taste and appetite can persist over time.
“Without enough nutrition there is a risk of weight loss, dehydration and loss of muscle mass which can prolong time spent in hospital,” says Lisa Snider-Nevin, a dietitian in the General Internal Medicine unit at Mount Sinai Hospital. “We work with patients and their families to maximize protein, calorie and fluid intake, and help support an optimal recovery,” she adds.
Lisa suggests dietary approaches that can help individuals recovering at home from COVID-19 or from other medical conditions:
- Decreased energy or shortness of breath: To help avoid weight loss and maintain muscle mass, try high-protein foods such as eggs, meat and fish as well as calorie-dense foods such as nuts or nut butters and high-fat dairy products. Try softer foods or liquids such as soups and smoothies to help with energy conservation during meals.
- Hydration: Try to take frequent small sips of liquid throughout the day. Keep a variety of liquids, including water, within reach at the bedside or by the TV chair.
- Decreased appetite: Aim for smaller meals more often. Try six small servings instead of three large ones and sip high-calorie, high-protein liquids in between. Lisa says, seize the times of day when you feel hungrier. For caregivers, try preparing foods that your loved one usually enjoys or is very interested in at the moment, even if that means serving the same foods at every meal.
- Taste and smell changes: Try experimenting with spices and different flavours such as lemon juice or ginger. If taste changes are really limiting meals, try drinking nutrition supplements through a straw so the liquid can more easily bypass the tongue. Nutrition supplements or meal replacement beverages provide protein and calories in a small volume of liquid and have added vitamins and minerals.
Isolation and quarantine can also make it difficult to find motivation to prepare meals. Try scheduling virtual meals with family and friends. Choose new recipes to try together or exchange recipes for favourite meals.