Ugh, you’ve tested positive for COVID and feel like a fatigued slug. Can you eat your way to feeling better? While there’s no magic bullet that will cure you of COVID, doctors and dietitians say the best medicine is a healthy body to help fight the infection.

Wondering what to eat when you have covid? If you’re suffering from symptoms, such as nausea, loss of taste and appetite, diarrhea, and sore throat, you can soothe yourself with nourishing foods. Not sure which ingredients are best (and worst)? Consider this your COVID meal plan.

Meet the Experts: Samantha Nazareth, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist and member of the Women’s Health Advisory Board. Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN is a New York State-certified dietitian nutritionist with more than 15 years of experience working with patients and clients. Valerie Agyeman, R.D., is a dietitian and host of women’s health podcast, Flourish Heights.

 

What are the best foods for COVID recovery?

Liquids. Samantha Nazareth, MD, a gastroenterologist, recommends staying hydrated. That could be with water, but also broths and non-dairy soups. “Hydration is essential,” agrees New York City nutritionist Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN. “So for a lot of us that means at least two liters of water or other fluids a day.”

Lean proteins. If your stomach can tolerate it, Dr. Nazareth suggests having chicken, fish, lentils, beans, or tofu.

“Protein helps preserve lean muscle mass, which is important for strength, wound healing, and overall recovery,” according to Valerie Agyeman, R.D., dietitian and host of women’s health podcast, Flourish Heights. If your appetite is diminished, getting enough protein can help prevent malnutrition.

Antioxidant-rich foods. “Eat the rainbow for antioxidants,” Dr. Nazareth also advises. Produce in season will be the most nutrient dense (and taste the best) so load up on fruits and vegetables at their peak. In the fall and winter, reach for sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and other squash, cranberries, pomegranates, and apples.

Vitamin C. “This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals,” says Agyeman. “It’s very important during an illness as the body is under oxidative stress.” Consuming vitamin C-rich produce, such as kiwis, citrus fruits, berries, and bell peppers may help enhance immunity. A recent study found that eating two SunGold kiwifruit a day for four weeks improves the function of neutrophils, a white blood cell directly involved in immune function.

Coconut water. This easy-to-digest drink is your BFF if you’re losing fluids from diarrhea or vomiting. According to Agyeman, “coconut water is naturally rich in potassium and sodium so it’s great for restoring electrolyte balance.”

chicken bone broth

JULIA GARTLAND

What to eat when you have COVID but no appetite

Loss of appetite is a common symptom of COVID. “Stick with bland food,” Dr. Nazareth advises. “Think BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).” These low-fat, low-fiber foods are easy to digest and gentle on the tummy.

“In terms of food and drink preferences, there are two camps,” Anselmo explains. Some find comfort in foods that are dry, salty, and bland. “So plain saltine crackers can be really soothing,” Anselmo says. While others find relief in foods that are cool, sweet, and refreshing, such as vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit. Anselmo says many of her clients faced with no appetite find watermelon really appealing.

For gastrointestinal distress, “ginger tea and ginger candy can make the nausea a little bit more low key,” Anselmo adds. “It’s not going to get rid of it entirely but ginger can be a helpful natural remedy.”

Another feeding strategy when you don’t feel like eating is to ingest just small amounts at a time. “Don’t force yourself to necessarily sit down and eat three big meals a day,” Anselmo cautions. If solid foods are a struggle, focus on nourishing liquids, which require minimal effort. After all, it’s much easier to sip smoothies from a straw, or soups from a bowl or mug. She does still encourage boosting these liquids with protein, but take baby steps. Maybe it’s high-protein smoothies that include soy milk or a scoop of peanut butter, or opting for protein-packed soups such as lentil or split pea.

Finding the right foods is not an exact science, however. “There’s always going to be trial and error,” Anselmo concedes. It may be frustrating for the convalescent as well as caregivers but instead of pressing the issue, try different options and take joy in small victories.

avocado spinach green smoothie

Laura Murray

What to eat when you have COVID but no sense of taste

Perhaps one of the most devastating symptoms of COVID is the loss of taste. In this case, take the nuclear option and blast your buds with flavor. Dr. Nazareth suggests spiking foods with acidity — citrus juices or even vinegar are strong and assertive. She recommends spices as another powerful taste stimulator. So go ahead and raid the spice rack; add a shake of pepper, cumin, garlic, ginger, or cinnamon to one of the recovery foods.

Water tasting bad is a common complaint among COVID sufferers, according to Anselmo. So what can you do to stay hydrated if you can’t even stomach water? “Add a little lemon juice or fresh mint if you’re drinking cold water — they can help stimulate the taste buds,” she advises. “Or try hot ginger tea and playing with the temperature of your drinks.” Anselmo says many people who’ve lost their sense of taste find it easier to drink liquids super chilled versus room temperature. When water won’t go down, she urges clients to try it icy-cold through a straw.

Electrolyte tabs or powder mixed into water can also help. “They probably don’t do anything from a health standpoint unless you have pretty severe diarrhea or are vomiting and losing a lot of fluid,” Anselmo says, “but if it helps you drink more water that’s a win.” She notes that you should steer clear of electrolyte drinks loaded with sugar or caffeine. “They’re usually not going to be your best bet in the long run.”

Find foods that smell good. “Taste and smell are closely linked,” Anselmo explains. “So if there are foods that smell enticing, try a bite of those—at least that will let you experience something even if your taste buds aren’t quite there.”

Try new things. Anselmo also advocates experimenting with flavors you’re not used to having. The novelty can be thrilling in way that promotes appetite. “It doesn’t just taste the same as everything else,” she states. And that, in and of itself, can be compelling.

What foods should I avoid if I have COVID?

Dairy and grease. So that means no pizza, for example. “Stay away from things that are greasy, fried, or fatty,” Anselmo advises. Rich foods take longer to digest and could potentially make you feel worse. “Foods that hit heavy tend to come up more or feel like they’re coming up more”—which can exacerbate nausea or reflux.

Sugar. Dr. Nazareth cautions to keep foods with added sugars to a minimum. That includes sodas, fruit juices, flavored drinks, and sweet snacks.

Processed foods. When fatigue strikes with COVID, you may be tempted to grab whatever is easiest but Dr. Nazareth wants to dissuade you from the packaged stuff, especially fast food, snack foods, frozen pizza, and cookies. These foods won’t nourish you in the way that whole, unprocessed ingredients can.

Alcohol and caffeine. Agyeman says these can result in dehydration and worsen symptoms, like fatigue or headaches. If it hasn’t been emphasized enough, “Staying well-hydrated is extremely important when you’re fighting an illness,” she says.

Miracle cure supplements. There’s a lot of supplements out there that promise to heal you, but Anselmo calls their bluff. “Most of those claims are just marketing and not actually based in science.” So don’t believe the hype, get nutrients from real food instead.

Agyeman adds that it’s essential to “eat in a way that makes you feel energized, comfortable, and supported when recovering from an illness.” She encourages you to listen to your body. “If certain foods exacerbate some symptoms, it’s best to put it on pause.”

Headshot of Susan Choung

Recipe Editor

Susan (she/her) is the recipe editor at Good Housekeeping, where she pitches ideas, parses words, and produces food content. In the Test Kitchen, she cooks (and samples!) recipes, working with developers to deliver the best written versions possible. A graduate of Brown University and a collaborator on several cookbooks, her previous experience includes stints at Food & Wine, Food Network, three meal kit companies, a wine shop in Brooklyn and Chez Panisse, the pioneering restaurant in Berkeley, California. She enjoys playing tennis, natural wines and reality competition shows.