Best Diet for COVID Recovery Explained

When our body is fighting an infection, such as COVID-19, eating and drinking well is very important.

Under these circumstances, our bodies have increased nutritional needs, requiring energy, protein, vitamins and minerals in order to recover.

Protein and energy-rich foods support our immune system and help repair damaged body tissue. Vitamins and minerals also aid in this process.

However, people who are sick with COVID-19 may find it difficult to eat and drink for several reasons, including a loss of appetite or a distorted sense of smell.

If we do not consume enough, our body may start using up its natural stores of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins, leading to weight loss or feelings of tiredness and weakness.

Nutrients Beneficial for the Immune System

Nutrition research indicates that eating lots of plant foods helps to keep our microbiome and immune system healthy.

Vitamins, such as A, B6, B12, C, folate, D, and E, and trace elements, such as zinc, copper, selenium and iron, are important for keeping our immune system functioning well. Eating a diverse diet enables you to consume sufficient quantities of these substances.

For example, milk and cheese products are sources of vitamin A and B12, while green leafy vegetables are high in vitamin A, B6, folate and iron.

Nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamin E, copper and iron, while fruits often contain high quantities of vitamins A and C.

Meat is a source of zinc, iron, selenium and vitamins B6 and B12, while fish are sources of vitamins A, B6, B12 and selenium.

Vitamin D also plays an important role in supporting the immune system, although it is only found in a handful of foods. While exposure to sunlight produces the vitamin in the skin, people often have insufficient levels of this vitamin and need to take supplements.

What to Eat If You Are Recovering From COVID-19

According to the ZOE COVID study, people who are recovering from COVID-19 should try to eat foods that contain lots of energy (calories) as well as protein, especially patients who are hospitalized.

ZOE researchers recommend eating protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, fish and full-fat dairy, or plant-based alternatives such as pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Getting enough vitamin C and zinc is particularly important when suffering from a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19. Oranges and orange juice, red and green peppers, and strawberries are all examples of foods with high levels of vitamin C.

Good sources of zinc, meanwhile, include shellfish, meat and cheese.

If you have a decreased appetite, try to focus on eating smaller, more frequent meals or snacks throughout the day, according to Emily Monfiletto, a senior registered dietitian with Baylor Medicine Stratos Integrated Health.

Monfiletto recommends eating every two or three hours, with a focus on protein, as well as nutrient and energy-dense foods.

"Protein is essential in the recovery process. Pair that with something that is high in vitamins, minerals and nutrients, like fruits and vegetables. Make sure to eat the protein first at meals, especially if you are struggling to finish what is on your plate," she said in a statement.

Good snacks may include apples with peanut butter; fruit with nuts; guacamole; Greek yogurt; smoothies with fruits, vegetables and a protein source, such as nut butter; and nutritional supplement drinks.

Hydration is also key for recovery, so Monfiletto recommends consuming water or other beverages every hour throughout the day. Making food into drinkable form can also be an option for those with decreased appetite.

Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, agrees that hydration is an important aspect of recovery, in addition to sufficient consumption of proteins and carbohydrates.

"From what we understand about COVID-19, we all respond very differently to this virus and recovery means different things to different people," Pigott told Newsweek.

"However, as a dietitian I tend to find when there is any pressure on the body—adequate and appropriate nutrition supports health and return to optimal health. Note this information refers to the un-hospitalized and clinically stable person.

"During the acute stage of illness and depending on severity, the focus is on adequate hydration with sufficient carbohydrate and protein if possible. Whilst a lot of media has focused on the negative impact of obesity on COVID-19, I always remind people that acute illness is not a time to be restricting energy intake."

Update 01/19/22, 7:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add comments from Aisling Pigott.

A selection of healthy food
Stock image showing a selection of healthy foods. Eating and drinking well is an important factor in recovering from an infection like COVID-19. iStock