Many people who endured COVID-19 are experiencing lingering health issues. Some long-term symptoms include loss of taste or smell, decreased appetite, fatigue and weight loss, which can diminish overall nutrition.
Some individuals also suffer from weight loss, muscle wasting and cachexia (weakness and wasting of the body due to chronic illness). This is multifactorial, resulting from the significant inflammatory reaction during acute illness, poor intake due to loss of appetite and taste, in addition to physical inactivity.
Although more prevalent in patients who were hospitalized with the acute COVID-19 illness, individuals with mild disease endure similar challenges. The recovery should therefore include interventions that focus on nutrition and physical rehabilitation.
“Food is our primary source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. If you’re malnourished or not consuming the appropriate types of foods, it’s going to be a lot harder for your body to fully recover and replenish everything it lost during the infection, especially when we’re seeing long-term issues. Your body has increased nutritional needs not only during the infection, but during recovery as well.” said Emily Monfiletto, senior registered dietitian with Baylor Medicine Stratos Integrated Health.
Get creative in the kitchen
Lingering loss of taste is one of the most common long-haul symptoms after infection. Monfiletto suggests using different marinades, spices and herbs to make food palatable and less bland. Focus on foods with a lot of flavor to increase the taste.
Eat meals and snacks throughout the day
If you experience decreased appetite, it is crucial to consume calories, vitamins and minerals. Stray away from eating bigger meals and focus on smaller, more frequent meals or snacks throughout the day. Try eating every two or three hours to give your body a source of calories and nutrition. Monfiletto suggests eating nutrient and energy-dense foods, with an emphasis on protein, if you have lost weight or lack appetite.
“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.”
Snacks to consume throughout the day may include:
- Apples with peanut butter
- A piece of fruit with nuts or a trail mix
- Greek or Icelandic yogurts
- Smoothies with fruits, vegetables and a protein source, such as a high-protein yogurt or nut butter
- Nutritional supplement drink
You can also enjoy a regular meal, such as chicken, rice and broccoli, and have it in smaller portions. With less of a desire to eat, have two or three ounces of chicken instead of five or six, with a little bit of broccoli and a spoonful of rice.
“You will need more protein for recovery. Put more focus on protein sources to make sure you not only get enough, but also space it out as best as you can throughout the day,” Monfiletto said.
Smaller, more frequent meals will also help with blood sugar control, giving you more consistent energy levels. When we go long periods of time without eating, this can cause low energy levels and exacerbate feelings of fatigue.
Lack of appetite makes eating food less desirable. Make food into drinkable form, such as smoothies with milk, to continue replenishing nutrients and to help maintain hydration. Hydration is key for recovery, so make sure to consume water or other beverages every hour throughout the day.
“Try not to make anything too overwhelming to consume, but still try to consume foods from all different food groups and balance it out as you can throughout the day. The variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients we consume will play a role in recovery,” Monfiletto said.
The Post COVID Care Clinic at Baylor treats patients for long-haul symptoms and side effects of COVID-19. If you are interested in visiting the clinic, call 713-798-2400 to make an appointment.
-By Homa Shalchi