Eating well while recovering from COVID-19

Many people find it difficult to eat and drink well when recovering from COVID 19. Symptoms of COVID-19 can have an impact on your appetite.

But eating well can help:

  • regain your strength
  • support your immune system
  • provide the energy you need to get back to regular activity

There are things you can try to help you eat well if you have a reduced appetite or taste changes caused by COVID-19.

If you have a good appetite

Your diet should be healthy and balanced if you:

  • are otherwise feeling well
  • have a good appetite (desire to eat food)
  • have not lost any weight

Eat regular meals and snacks that include:

  • a small amount of poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans or meat - choose fish up to twice a week (oily fish is best)
  • dairy such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, or dairy alternatives - about 3 palm-sized portions a day
  • wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cereals, pasta and brown rice
  • lots of fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours - aim to fill up to half your plate or bowl with these at every meal
  • a very small amount of healthy fats, spreads and oils - for example, avocado, nuts, olive oil, or fatty fish such as salmon

Do not eat foods high in fat, salt and sugar every day.

The amount of food you need from each of the food groups depends on your age, gender, activity level and any allergies.

Advice on how to eat well and portion sizes

If you have a reduced appetite

When you are recovering from COVID-19, you may:

  • have a reduced appetite
  • feel full more quickly than usual
  • feel like skipping meals and snacks
  • lose some weight without trying to
  • lose some muscle strength

While your appetite is reduced, follow a diet that is high in protein and energy. This is called a nourishing diet. It will help you get enough nourishment for your recovery and prevent muscle and weight loss.

Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. To get more nutrients, you can also drink milk-based drinks or unsweetened dairy alternatives such as soya milk.

Monitor your weight and look out for signs of weight loss including your clothes and jewellery becoming loose.

Even if you are overweight and trying to lose weight, this is not the best time to do so. Try to stay the same weight until you are fully recovered.

When you are recovered and your weight is stable, you can return to the healthy, balanced diet above.

Tips for mealtimes

To help your recovery:

  • eat little and often - try to eat something every 1 or 2 hours, aim for 3 small meals and 3 snacks every day
  • eat your biggest meal at a time when your appetite is best - for example, have a bigger breakfast than usual if you feel hungrier in the morning
  • make sure you are sitting in an upright, comfortable position when eating
  • allow time for eating - you may have to eat at a slower pace
  • eat nourishing foods that you enjoy
  • get some fresh air or do some gentle physical activity before eating - this may help to increase your appetite
  • choose convenient foods - if your energy is low, it can help to stock up on foods that are ready to eat or easy to prepare

You may have trouble breathing and swallowing. This is because you hold your breath when you swallow. This may affect how much you can eat.

Advice on swallowing difficulties after COVID-19

Foods high in protein and energy

If you can only eat small portions, there are some high-calorie ingredients you can add to your meals. This will increase the energy you get without increasing your portion.

Good high-calorie ingredients you can add to meals and snacks include:

  • cheese
  • skimmed milk powder added to whole milk and milky drinks
  • butter
  • cream
  • jam
  • honey
  • ground almonds
  • nut butters (such as peanut butter)
  • vegetable oils such as olive oil

Other high-energy snacks include:

  • cheese and crackers
  • custard or rice pudding
  • nuts and seeds
  • thick and creamy yogurt or high-protein yogurt
  • cereal bars or flapjacks

Download a cookbook for recipes and advice on high protein, high calorie meals (PDF, 6.5MB, 222 pages)

Non-urgent advice: Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian if:

  • you have lost more than 5% of your body weight in the last 3 months - for example, if you were 70kg and you lost more than 3.5kg
  • your body mass index is less than 20
  • you have been able to eat very little or nothing for the past 5 days

Calculate your body mass index - on safefood.net

If you have a health condition or are underweight

If you have an underlying health condition or are underweight, you may need to talk to a dietitian. Ask your GP or community nurse for a referral if you need to. A dietitian can give you specific advice about your situation.

Oral nutritional supplements

You may need oral nutritional supplements in the short-term. These may be prescribed by your doctor or dietitian and contain energy and protein to supplement your diet.

Continue to follow any advice you have been given by a dietitian during your illness. If you have been prescribed oral nutrition supplement drinks in hospital or at home, keep taking these as recommended. Ask your doctor or dietitian for advice if you are finding these difficult to take.

These can usually be stopped when:

  • you have recovered
  • your weight is stable
  • your appetite has returned to normal

Vitamin or mineral supplements

Most people should get all the nutrients they need by having a varied and balanced diet.

It can be hard to get the vitamin D you need from food alone.

If you are over 65 years of age, you should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 15 micrograms.

If you are between 5 and 65 years of age, you can decide to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter.

Advice on taking vitamin D supplements

If you are only eating small amounts or cannot eat all the recommended food groups, you may consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. A pharmacist, doctor or dietitian can give you advice about supplements.

If you have been prescribed an oral nutritional supplement drink, these may contain vitamins and minerals.

If you have a health condition or are taking medicines, talk to a pharmacist, doctor or dietitian before you start a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Taste changes during illness

Some people experience a change in taste and smell when recovering from COVID-19.

Your taste can change in different ways, such as:

  • complete loss of taste and smell for a number of weeks
  • a bland taste from foods
  • metallic or salty taste from foods

Food is important to help you recover. Even if food does not taste the same, you should continue to eat.

Tips to manage taste changes

Choose foods that appeal to you and continue to retry foods. Your taste preferences may change as you recover.

You can try to:

Do

  • eat a variety of hot or cold foods

  • try food with different textures such as crunchy or smooth

  • add more salt, sugar, butter or cream - this may make food taste nicer if flavour is lacking

  • present the food so it looks appetising

  • eat bland flavours such as plain chicken, fish, tofu and rice if you have nausea or an unsettled stomach

  • add strong flavours to improve the taste of the food such as herbs, spices or mustard

  • balance sweet taste changes with sharp or tart flavours such as orange, lemon or lime

  • balance salty or bitter taste changes with sweet flavours such as sweetener or honey or try low salt foods

  • use plastic cutlery and glass cookware if food has a metallic taste

Looking after your mouth

Access to food while you are recovering

Your energy levels may be low and you may feel tired easily. Preparing meals may be difficult.

If you are too tired or unwell to cook, stock up on healthy foods that are ready to eat or easy to prepare.

You can also ask someone to help prepare your meals if possible.

Managing fatigue after COVID-19

If you cannot go to the supermarket, ask family or friends to do your shopping. You can also shop online and get your groceries delivered.

Ask the person who brings the groceries to leave them on your doorstep or in your porch.