Regain your health after recovery: dietary recommendations

Sushma Ghag, Clinical Dietitian, Diet & Nutrition Department, Aster Hospital, Mankhool, Dubai

What is recommended for a post-COVID diet?

While no specific food or supplement provides protection against the COVID – 19 virus; we recommend well balanced diet can support the immune system as it fights the infection.

With a balanced diet it is also important to have good physical activity regime and maintain proper sleep pattern. A little indoor exercise or a walk for 30minutes is more than enough to be physically active. Balanced diet and physical exercise will help maintain ideal body weight which helps to stay away from all metabolic conditions including diabetes, cardiac issues, hypertension etc.

It is advised to avoid processed food as much as possible and eat more of freshly cooked foods; as nutrients are well preserved.

Processed foods include additives and higher sodium levels which can harm the kidney and consist of empty calories which lead to weight gain.

Binge eating while staying awake late at night can affect body’s metabolism rate, hormones and can negatively impact immunity. This leads to slower recoveries and chances of re-infection.

Why is it important to maintain healthy diet post recovery?

A recovering patient needs to maintain strength and fitness, as well as help the body fight the infection. In addition, the patient also needs to recover from muscle loss or unintentional weight loss endured during the course of the treatment.

COVID - 19 is an infectious disease which can cause symptoms of fever, cough, general weakness, body pain, difficulty breathing as well as changes in the senses of taste and smell. These symptoms can affect appetite and ability to eat, making it difficult to meet one’s nutritional needs. Over time, this can lead to a condition called malnutrition/ under nutrition, which can slow down the recovery process.

In such an instance, maintaining a well balance, healthy and nutritious diet is essential to speed up the recovery process.

What should the diet plan consist of?

A balanced diet should consist of following:

Proteins - Try to eat 2-3 servings of protein based foods daily. Proteins come from lean meat and chicken, eggs, fatty fish, pulses and lentils. In case of medical conditions like kidney failure, refer to your doctor for dietary requirements.

Fats - Choose healthy fats from unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Nuts and nut-seeds are the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruits and vegetables - We should include at least 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables fresh, frozen or canned with less than 20% sodium content are allowed as part of a recovery diet.

Carbohydrates - Choose more of complex carbohydrates than simple one. Wholegrain cereals and cereal based food, millets, less processed rice are some good options.

Fluids – Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water every day. You may also intake other fluids such as tea, milk, soup and fresh squeezed juices.

High energy foods - High energy or calorie food need to be restricted if you are trying to manage or reduce weight. They are typically high in calories and sugars/fat but low in nutrients.

  • For High risk people

The care of critically ill COVID - 19 patients is similar to that of viral Pneumonia causing respiratory failures. Patients might be admitted in an ICU for longer durations; extending up to 2-3 weeks. Patients may not able to eat enough food to meet their nutritional needs during recovery contributing to further loss of lean muscle.

So, a good protein based diet is mandatory for them. One should choose complex carbohydrates as an energy source since simple sugar based foods lead to breathing difficulty in such cases.

  • For Low risk people

As the pandemic has progressed, we are increasingly seeing many people suffering from weight gain, obesity and underlying health conditions like diabetes. While they may not be directly exposed to the COVID – 19 virus, underlying health conditions may weaken immunity and metabolism thereby making them more prone to being infected by the virus.

Exercise can reduce risk of major illnesses, keeps muscle strong and keeps one agile.

Adults should try to be active and aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

Exercising whilst social distancing can seem more challenging thereby consider taking a walk in the garden or any open green space. In case of no open spaces around you, dancing at home with the family or participating in online exercise classes can also help.