Long COVID diet; Healthy foods long COVID; Best foods to eat for long COVID
The Australian Institute of Health and Wellness estimates that up to one in 10 adults suffer ongoing symptoms after an acute bout of COVID.
While experts debate complexities of the condition, evidence shows symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, brain fog, joint pain and breathlessness can linger for months, making day-to-day life far from easy.
One of the ways the virus may affect the body is by inducing an inflammatory response, which can harm a number of organs including the lungs and brain.
Frustratingly, the recovery process can be protracted, with scientists yet to unravel much about the long-term health outcomes.
While effective treatments are currently limited, there are a number of dietary strategies to support natural immune function and reduce inflammation.
These are often dietary areas that have been overlooked in the average diet, making them smart changes for anyone managing long COVID.
Up your energy
For optimal immune function after a period of reduced appetite and respiratory distress, the recovery period is certainly not a time for calorie restriction.
As New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery guidelines for COVID rehabilitation suggest, “You need the nourishment, strength and building blocks to restore you to health and activities of daily life.”
Based on a pre-pandemic study of post-ICU patients published in the journal Critical Care, the hospital recommends individuals consume 35-47 calories per kilogram of body weight, or an average of 2000-2500 calories per day.
In food terms, this translates into four to five small meals each day, especially for those who have suffered severe infection for a prolonged period, and/or who have experienced weight loss and muscle wasting.
For smaller females, or those trying to lose weight, regular intake can be as low as 1200 calories a day, which means you may need to simply eat more if you have been restricting your food intake.
Focus on protein
Protein as a nutrient becomes increasingly important as we move through our 40s and 50s to help preserve muscle mass and optimise metabolism, but it is also essential to support immune function and as such is a key part of the diet recovery equation.
At a minimum, adults should consume 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight for general health, and up to 1.3 grams per kilogram post-ICU discharge.
Hospital for Special Surgery guidelines suggest aiming for 20-30 grams of protein per meal and at least 10-20 grams per snack, which means roughly one protein-rich food at every meal and snack.
For example, tuna or egg on crackers, yoghurt and fruit, or fruit and nuts together.
Most importantly, keep in mind that animal-based protein sources such as eggs, dairy, meat, chicken and fish contain a full amino acid profile, which means they are more readily absorbed in the body.
Plant proteins do not always contain all the amino acids and for this reason, combining plant-based proteins, such as eating legumes and brown rice together will help to support protein absorption from plant-based sources.
Eat your omega-3s
With just one in five Australians consuming the recommended intake of the natural anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat, and with oily fish such as salmon one of the richest natural sources of omega-3s, it is safe to say that many of us could do with consuming more oily fish.
In a recent paper on the dietary recommendations for post-COVID recovery published in the journal Nutrients, it has been suggested that as much as 1.5 to 3 grams of long-chain omega-3s should be consumed, which equates to a serve of oily fish such as salmon or sardines each day.
If you are not much of a fish fan, try plant-based sources such as soy and linseed bread, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Note, however, that plant-forms of omega-3s do not have the same degree of anti-inflammatory benefit as fish-based omega-3s sources.
Feed your gut right
It may come as a surprise to hear that much of our overall immune function is controlled by the health of our digestive system.
Digestive health is not just about popping a probiotic each day, however.
Rather, digestive health is influenced by our daily intake of dietary fibre and plant-based foods, as well as immune-modulating good bacteria that flourish on prebiotics and can be found in fermented foods.
In food terms, this means you need to eat more wholegrains, legumes and nuts, and should aim for at least 30 different varieties every single week.
It means seeking out grain-based bread and cereals, eating more vegetables and including a probiotic-rich food such as kefir, miso or yoghurt in your diet at least once each day.
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