Tested positive for COVID-19[feminine] raises many questions. What should you do next? Who should you tell about your HIV status? And, once the dust settles, what should you eat when you have COVID?
Official advice regarding COVID-19 largely revolves around things like testing, isolating, and tracking your symptoms. There’s really nothing about a COVID diet, either to try to speed up your symptoms or to make you feel better. But COVID-19 can come with some unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that suggest you may want to change your eating habits.
So what should you do about diet after testing positive for COVID? Here’s what infectious disease experts recommend.
How likely is what you eat to influence your disease?
It’s important to get this straight from the start: what you eat is unlikely to hasten the progression of your disease or the type of symptoms you experience.
“Currently, there is no data showing that the consumption of special foods or take certain vitamins for COVID-19 such as vitamin D, zinc or vitamin C are going to influence the course of your COVID,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. But, he says, “people are still watching this. The lack of data does not exclude the possibility that certain dietary modifications or improvements may benefit you.
There have been some data to suggest that having certain levels of vitamin D can prevent you from getting COVID and even reduce your chances of having a severe case if you are infected. “But there’s no evidence that supplementing once you’ve been infected has any benefit,” says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Even things like vitamin C are unlikely to have an impact, he says, adding, “there is no evidence of benefits from vitamin C supplementation in people with sufficient levels.”
You may have also heard that fermented foods can boost your immune system. And while to research found that people who eat fermented foods have a more diverse gut microbiome, which may impact your immune response, it’s also unlikely to help you once you’re actually sick, says Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
What should you eat when you have COVID-19?
It really depends on your symptoms. Initially, “it’s important to eat a normal diet and stay well hydrated during your illness, as fever can be dehydrating,” says Dr. Adalja.
You’ll want to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with lean protein to ensure you meet all of your nutritional needs and keep your body in good working order, Dr. Russo says.
Beyond that, however, it really depends on your symptoms. If you’re struggling with gastrointestinal issues, Dr. Russo says you can try the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) to see if that helps. But Dr. Adalja says you really should “eat whatever is tolerable.”
Another big potential symptom is the loss of your sense of taste and smell. If this happens to you, Dr. Watkins recommends trying to eat a nutritious diet, even though you may not feel like eating very much. “It’s important to maintain an adequate diet with enough calories,” he says.
You can also add scent training in an effort to reclaim your senses, says Dr. Russo. In case you’re unfamiliar with the practice, scent training involves smelling certain strong scents, like cinnamon and citrus, and imagining what they smell like as you inhale. Studies found that it may help people regain their sense of smell and taste a bit, but research is ongoing.
Should you avoid certain foods when you have COVID-19?
Again, any particular food is unlikely to influence the course of your disease, but eating certain foods could make you feel less than optimal while your body fights the infection. Fast foods, fried foods, and foods high in added sugar can just make you feel crummy on top of already feeling bad about having COVID, Dr. Russo says. They can even increase inflammation in your body, although fried foods or treats are unlikely to do so in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, says Jessica Cording, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and health coach, and author of The little book of game changers.
It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol, Dr. Russo says, to keep you from becoming dehydrated and contributing to more body inflammation. You also don’t want to run the risk of overdoing it and feeling worse the next day, he says.
And, there’s also this to consider, according to Dr. Russo: Doctors can’t rule out the possibility that alcohol may be impacting your body’s ability to fight infections. “It’s better to be safe and give your body everything it needs to help clear the infection,” he says.
This article is accurate at the time of press. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus grows, some information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit the online resources provided by the CDC, WHOand your local public health department to stay informed of the latest news. Always consult your physician for professional medical advice.
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