What food should I eat if I get COVID-19?

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Unfortunately, despite all the precautionary practices, you may still come down with a case of COVID-19. Dealing with an illness can be very stressful. Although most cases of COVID-19 are mild, symptoms such as fever, dry cough, fatigue, nasal congestion, headache, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting can be extremely disruptive to your daily life. In addition to taking medications that can help relieve these symptoms, you should try to eat healthy because good nutrition is the key to recovery.

It should be noted that dietary supplements or specific foods will NOT treat COVID-19. According to WHO and CDC, there is no evidence that any sort of supplement or food will prevent COVID-19 either. What is important is that a COVID-19 patient should have a healthy and diverse diet that contains a range of vitamins and minerals. Having a well-balanced intake of micronutrients will speed up the recovery process because they are critical for a well-functioning immune system to help fight off the offending virus.

Clean water is on the top of the list of your diet especially if you are experiencing fever, coughing, nasal congestion, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting can make you lose bodily fluids and contribute to dehydration. If your body is losing water, you will feel weak, dizzy, and may develop headaches. A state of dehydration will also increase the risk of irritation of the mucous membrane in your nose, throat, and mouth, which leads to more tissue inflammation. You will experience more coughing, sneezing, and even difficulty breathing. That is why it is crucial to stay drink plenty of water for better recovery. It is a good idea to keep your water supply nearby. Adequate daily fluid intake should be about 3.7 litres for women and 2.7 litres for men. As 20% of this fluid intake comes from food, you should be aiming for about 3 litres (women) or 2.2 litres (men).

There are specific nutrients that play critical roles in your immune system. If you lack these nutrients, it would be more difficult to recover from COVID-19. The best way to obtain these micronutrients is through food instead of dietary supplements. This is because, in some cases, dietary supplements may cause undesirable effects if taken in too large amounts, if they interact with your medications or if they are contraindicated in your medical condition. Here are some important nutrients that can strengthen your immune system and a list of foods where they can be found:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C: This water-soluble vitamin is naturally present in many foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. It contributes to immune defence by supporting white blood cell functions. Vitamin C deficiency results in higher susceptibility to infections. Food products rich in Vitamin C include:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Chilli
  • Peppers

Vitamin D

Vitamin D: This fat-soluble vitamin is mainly present in dairy products. It modulates immune function and cell metabolism. Another well-known benefit of Vitamin D is for maintaining bone health. It promotes the absorption of calcium in your digestive system. Low vitamin D leads to low calcium, resulting in fatigue, muscle weakness, and bone pain. Vitamin D synthesis requires a trigger from ultraviolet rays from the sun. Since you are expected to stay at home during the pandemic, it is likely you will receive less sunlight exposure during the year. In this case, you may need to consume more food product rich in Vitamin D. These include:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Soy
  • Fish (trout, salmon)

Zinc

Zinc: This mineral is naturally present in many different types of foods such as meat and seafood. It is important for cell growth, wound healing, and a healthy immune system. A deficiency in zinc, even to a mild degree, can impair immune function. This is why you should consume more of these foods listed below:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Oysters
  • Crabs
  • Beans
  • Yogurt

When preparing a well-balanced meal, good food safety practices are also important. Although there is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through food handling or the consumption of food, it is always a good idea to take precautionary measures. The article Food and COVID-19: How should we protect ourselves goes into more detail explaining what you should do to protect yourself from catching illnesses through food. It also mentions microwaving your food whenever possible to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 viruses that may have contaminated your food. More information can be found in this article: Food safety: Microwave Sterilization Machines can kill COVID-19 viruses.

During your 14-day self-isolation period at home, make sure to keep eating healthy. A combination of good rest, adequate nutrition, and appropriate medications will speed up the process to full recovery. However, you should continuously monitor your health and watch for warning signs. If you notice symptoms including trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, inability to stay awake, pale or blue-coloured skin, you should call 911 or visit the local emergency department immediately. Note that this is not a list of all possible symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider if any new symptoms are concerning to you.