Beth Brink

Beth Brink

This saying, “Starve a cold, feed a fever,” once a standard thought to many people, is actually incorrect. Although eating and drinking fluids are the last things anyone feels like doing when they are sick, it actually is what can help them get better quicker and have less breakdown of their body.

COVID 19, the virus that has taken the stage this year, can wreak havoc on a person’s body. It appears to be an individualized virus, in that some may be diagnosed having no symptoms at all, while others may pay the ultimate price from contracting it. Thankfully, the majority of people who do get it are able to stay at home until the virus runs its course in them. Because of some of the main symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, coughing, nausea and vomiting, loss of taste and smell, and diarrhea — the thought of eating or drinking anything is off-putting. However, good nutrition can be key to fighting the virus.

Fever causes the body to lose water rapidly causing dehydration. When you are dehydrated, your respiratory secretions thicken and are hard to clear from your lungs. This could lead to pneumonia. Drinking water and clear liquid beverages are important to replace the body’s fluid losses and to thin the respiratory secretions. Drink at least 8 ounces of water or clear liquids every hour and monitor yourself for dehydration. If unable to drink large volumes at a time, take small sips every few minutes. If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, drinking something such as Gatorade, Powerade or Pedialyte can provide your body with calories and essential electrolytes and minerals that your body needs. If you don’t have any of those products on hand, you can make your own rehydration drink by mixing one-half to three-fourths teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of juice (orange, grape, apple, or cranberry) with 3 ½ cups of water.

Although you may not have an appetite, and food doesn’t taste good at the time, it is critical that you do eat. Your body needs the calories and protein to maintain its metabolic functions and body weight during this time. While sick, eat a high protein, high calorie meal and snacks throughout the day.

Intake of calories will protect against the breakdown of muscle for energy, while the intake of protein will help maintain your muscle mass. If the taste of food or the smell of it is off-putting, consider eating cold or room temperature foods such as a sandwich, cottage cheese or a salad, which tend to give off less of an odor. Some people find that food tastes metallic. If this is the case, eat with plastic utensils. Eat small meals and snacks every two to three hours instead of the typical large three meals per day.

When you are just not hungry or are too tired to eat, try drinking an oral supplement such as Ensure or Boost. These products are nutrient-dense and provide the extra calories, protein and essential vitamins and minerals in a concentrated form. If unable to obtain these, you can make your own with three-fourths cup full-fat yogurt, 1 cup whole milk, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and fresh fruit of your choice. Blend well. Add more milk if needed. This will make about 2 ½ cups and provide about 12 grams of protein and about 200 calories per cup.

Food is good medicine when you are ill. Wishing you good health and safety in these unusual times.

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Beth Brink, MS, registered dietitian nutritionist and a licensed dietitian with DeTar Healthcare System.

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