Testing positive for COVID-19 raises a lot of questions. What should you do next? Who do you need to tell of your positive status? And, once the dust settles, what should you eat when you have COVID?
Official guidance around COVID-19 largely revolves around things like testing, isolation, and keeping tabs on your symptoms. There’s really nothing out there about a COVID diet, either to try to speed up your symptoms or make you feel better. But COVID-19 can come with some unpleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that suggest you might want to alter your go-to eating habits.
So, what should you do diet-wise after you test positive for COVID? Here’s what infectious disease experts recommend.
How likely is what you eat to influence your illness?
It’s important to get this out of the way upfront: What you eat is unlikely to speed up the course of your illness or what kind of symptoms you experience.
“Right now, there’s no data that show that eating special types of food or taking certain vitamins for COVID-19 like vitamin D, zinc, or vitamin C are going to influence the course of your COVID,” says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. But, he says, “people are still looking at this. The absence of data doesn’t exclude the possibility that some dietary modifications or enhancements will benefit you.”
There has been some data to suggest that having certain levels of vitamin D can prevent you from getting COVID and even lessen the odds you’ll have a severe case if you happen to get infected. “But there’s no evidence that supplementation once you’ve been infected has a benefit,” says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Even things like vitamin C are unlikely to make an impact, he says, adding, “there is no evidence of benefits for vitamin C supplementation in people with sufficient levels.”
You may have also 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 impact your immune response, it’s also unlikely to help once you’re actually sick, says Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.
What should you eat when you have COVID-19?
It really depends on your symptoms. At baseline, “it is important to eat a normal diet and keep well-hydrated during your illness as fever can be dehydrating,” Dr. Adalja says.
You’ll want to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with lean proteins to make sure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs and keeping your body in good working order, Dr. Russo says.
Beyond that, though, it really depends on your symptoms. If you’re struggling with gastrointestinal issues, Dr. Russo says you could try the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) to see if it helps. But Dr. Adalja says that you really should just “eat whatever is tolerable.”
Another big potential symptom is losing your sense of taste and smell. If that happens to you, Dr. Watkins recommends still trying to eat a nutritious diet, even though you may not feel like eating much. “It is important to maintain an adequate diet with enough calories,” he says.
You can also throw scent training into the mix in an effort to recover your senses, Dr. Russo says. In case you’re not familiar with the practice, scent training involves smelling certain strong scents, like cinnamon and citrus, and imagining what they smell like while you inhale. Studies have found it can help people recover their sense of smell and taste somewhat, but research is ongoing.
Should you avoid any foods when you have COVID-19?
Again, it’s unlikely that any particular foods will influence the course of your illness, but eating certain foods could make you feel less-than-optimal while your body is fighting off the infection. Fast foods, fried foods, and things that are high in added sugar may simply make you feel crummy on top of already feeling bad from having COVID, Dr. Russo says. They may even increase inflammation in your body, although the occasional fried food or treat is unlikely to do that in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, says Jessica Cording, R.D., C.D.N., a dietitian and health coach, and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
It’s also a good idea to steer clear of alcohol, Dr. Russo says, to prevent you from getting dehydrated and contributing to more bodily inflammation. You also don’t want to run the risk of overdoing it and feeling even worse the next day, he says.
And, there’s also this to consider, per Dr. Russo: Doctors can’t rule out the possibility that alcohol could impact your body’s ability to fight infection. “Better to be safe and give your body every edge to help clear the infection,” he says.
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
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