We’ve all heard the old wives’ tale “feed a cold and starve a fever”. But is there any truth to that when dealing with illness? Per Harvard Medical school, your immune system needs energy and nutrients to do its job, so eating and getting enough fluids is essential when fighting sickness. So how about dealing with COVID-19?
- Loss of appetite and decreased nutrient intake is very common with most illnesses. And as expected, COVID-19 also has many effects on nutrition. Listed below are a few effects from COVID-19.
- Loss of smell—the inability to smell food decreases the perception of food flavor and may decrease the gastric juices which can stimulate appetite.
- Loss of taste—loss of taste or impaired taste has been a sign of low immune system function even before COVID-19. Not being able to taste food can reduce the desire to eat.
- Breathing Difficulty—with a lung disease like COVID-19, breathing can be difficult on its own. This can become even more difficult when trying to eat. If there is difficulty breathing, dietary intake may not be sufficient.
- Weakness—fighting any disease can leave a person weak; fighting a disease where breathing is difficult means the body must work harder, leaving the person very weak, sometimes too weak to eat.
- Depression and Cognitive Changes – Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been linked to depression, worsening physical health, and increased stress and cognitive changes. This may cause a decrease in appetite and meal intakes.
Undernutrition, malnutrition and vitamin mineral deficiencies are all very likely. Not eating can also make you feel much weaker. Early interventions of nutrition support with fortified foods or oral nutritional supplements is recommended. Listed below are ways to help optimize nutritional status.
- Discontinue any therapeutic diet restrictions.
- Small, frequent, nutrient-dense meals and snacks may be better accepted due to decreased appetite and increased energy requirements.
- Use protein/calorie rich ingredients to fortify the caloric contents of food without adding to the volume of food
- Make a list of high energy high protein foods and liquids that are best liked and tolerated.
- Identify the time of day when the appetite is best. Concentrate the intake of calorie-dense and nutrient-dense foods at that time.
- Modify food consistency to mechanical soft or pureed when fatigue and shortness of breath interfere with chewing and swallowing. Foods that easily melt in the mouth may be better accepted.
- Ensure adequate flavor of foods since foods such as meat and vegetables may taste bland. Residents may favor cold and sweet foods.
- Physical and cognitive decline may lead to decreased feeding ability. Offer assistance as needed to help improve intakes.
- Smaller bites may be necessary if having trouble breathing
- Nutritional Supplements may be considered to provide additional calories and nutrients for those who need them.
- House nutritional supplement, nutritional supplement given with medications, juice-based supplements, fortified ice cream, nutritional puddings
- Liquid protein product—protein foods may be difficult to chew, and swallow so may be lacking in the diet
- Multivitamin w/minerals should include B complex, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium
- Push fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Water is the best liquid to drink
- Other good choices are milk, juice and flavored drinks
- Coffee and tea cause the body to lose fluid so staff should encourage the intake of water and fruit juices instead
- Foods can provide fluids too like popsicles, fruits, vegetables, sherbet, ice cream, broths, and soups
When dealing with sickness research supports the importance of good nutrition and staying hydrated to fight illness. It’s important to focus on eating foods that will give your body the nutrients it needs to get better. Starving is never the correct answer. The old saying should say feed a cold, feed a fever. Talk to a dietitian who can assess your individual nutritional needs and provide advice and recommendations on interventions to best meet each person’s individual needs.