What to eat when you have COVID-19 to ease symptoms

A positive test for COVID-19 raises many questions. What should you do next? Who do you need to tell your positive status to? And when the dust settles, what should you eat if you have COVID?

Official guidance on COVID-19 mostly revolves around things like testing, isolating and monitoring your symptoms. There’s really nothing like a COVID diet to either try to speed up your symptoms or to make you feel better. But COVID-19 can come with some uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that suggest you should change your eating habits.

So what should you do in terms of diet after testing positive for COVID? Here’s what infectious disease experts recommend.

How likely is it that your diet affects your disease?

It’s important to get this clear up front: what you eat is unlikely to speed up the course of your illness or what type of symptoms you have.

“Right now, there is no data showing that eating specific foods or taking specific vitamins for COVID-19, such as vitamin D, zinc, or vitamin C, will affect the course of your COVID,” said Thomas Russo, MD, professor and lead the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. But, he says, “people still watch it. The lack of data does not exclude the possibility that some dietary changes or improvements will benefit you.”

There’s some data to suggest that certain vitamin D levels can keep you from getting COVID and even make you less likely to have a severe case if you happen to contract it. “But there is no evidence that supplementation has any benefit after an infection,” says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Even things like vitamin C are unlikely to have an effect, he says, adding, “There is no evidence of benefits of vitamin C supplementation in people with adequate levels.”

You may also have heard that fermented foods can boost your immune system. And while research has found that people who eat fermented foods have a more diverse gut microbiome, which can affect your immune response, it’s also unlikely to help if you’re actually sick, says Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio and a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.

What should you eat when you have COVID-19?

It really depends on your symptoms. To start, “it’s important to eat a normal diet and stay hydrated while you’re sick, as a fever can be dehydrating,” says Dr. Adalia.

You should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables along with lean proteins to ensure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs and keeping your body in good condition, says Dr. Russo.

Beyond that though, it really depends on your symptoms. If you’re struggling with gastrointestinal issues, says Dr. Russo, you could try the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) to see if it helps. But dr Adalja says that one should really only “eat what is bearable”.

Another major potential symptom is loss of taste and smell. If this happens to you, Dr. Watkins to still try to eat a nutritious diet, even though you may not want to eat much. “It’s important to maintain an appropriate diet with enough calories,” he says.

You can also throw smell training into the mix to help regain your senses, says Dr. Russo. In case you are unfamiliar with the practice, smell training involves smelling certain strong scents, such as cinnamon and citrus, and imagining how they smell as you inhale. Studies have found that it may help people somewhat restore their sense of smell and taste, but research is ongoing.

Should you avoid foods when you have COVID-19?

Again, certain foods are unlikely to affect the course of your illness, but eating certain foods could make you feel sub-optimal while your body fights off the infection. Fast food, fried foods, and things high in sugar can make you just feel lousy on top of feeling bad about already having COVID, says Dr. Russo. They can even increase inflammation in your body, although the occasional fried food or treat probably doesn’t in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, says Jessica Cording, RD, CDN, nutritionist and health coach and author of The little book of game changers.

It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol, says Dr. Russo to prevent you from becoming dehydrated and contributing to more bodily inflammation. You also don’t want to take the risk of overdoing it and feeling even worse the next day, he says.

And according to Dr. Russo also noted the following: Doctors cannot rule out the possibility that alcohol could interfere with your body’s ability to fight infection. “It’s better to play it safe and give your body every opportunity to clear the infection,” he says.

This article is correct at the time of going to press. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus is evolving, some of the information may have changed since the last update. While we strive to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit the online resources provided by CDC, WHOand your the local health department to stay informed of the latest news. Always speak to your doctor for professional medical advice.

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