How to Eat with COVID
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How to Eat with COVID

One of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 is a loss of taste and smell. It affects more than 80 percent of those who develop symptoms for COVID-19. Because taste and smell are so closely related to appetite and because nutrition is just as important when we are sick as when we are well, I wanted to offer some helpful tips for stimulating appetite for those with COVID-19.

Interestingly, COVID-19 isn’t the only illness that affects taste and smell. Many of the tips below come from years of research and experience working with cancer patients, whose treatments often cause them to lose these important senses. I am happy to be able to share these lessons with those sick with COVID-19.

Experiment with new flavors.
People with COVID-19 might find that their favorite foods are no longer appealing. Not being able to taste them as well as you would like could be seriously frustrating. Instead, try something new. While it is tempting to reach for high sugar and high salt foods, these healthy and flavor-packed ideas could satisfy while also providing some nutrition for your recovering body.

  • This is a great time to experiment with spices like black pepper, red pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, and others, even if you don’t typically enjoy strong flavors.
  • Enhance the sour flavors in dishes with extra acidity, like the acidic flavors in lemon and vinegar.
  • Sauces and marinades sometimes combine the acid and spices in ways that make foods more appealing, even to people who are not tasting foods as well while they are ill.
  • When you don’t feel like eating, broth can be a nice substitute. It’s warm and comforting, and it sometimes helps stimulate appetite.

Use all of your senses.
Taste and smell are only two of your five senses. While they are the big players in eating, you can pull in the other senses to increase the enjoyment.

  • Vary the textures found in your dish by adding something crunchy to something smooth. Top some yogurt with some granola or oatmeal with nuts.
  • Varying the temperatures of your food items may also help. Try making some homemade applesauce and eating it with a dollop of frozen yogurt. A hot quesadilla with cool plain Greek yogurt, diced avocado, and salsa might be just the thing.
  • When you serve your dish, make it pretty. Arrange the items on the plate in a way that makes them more desirable.

Slow down and enjoy all aspects of the experience.
If you have the energy, try setting the table with your nicer plates and glasses and flipping on some dinner music to make the experience more enjoyable. Then, really pay attention to what works for you. If one of the dishes you’ve prepared hits the spot, plan to have it again. 

While it certainly won’t be easy, these tips aim to make it a little more fun to eat with a diminished sense of taste and smell. The nutritious food you eat will no doubt fuel your recovery.

Kristin Irace, RD, is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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