The rise of the COVID-19 omicron variant has resulted in many vaccinated and boosted people testing positive. And, as someone who contracted both the alpha variant (back in January 2021, before vaccinations were widely available) and the omicron variant this year, I can say firsthand that the COVID symptoms that I dealt with post-vax were far milder and shorter-term. Most notably, I was able to keep food down during my omicron outbreak (unlike the alpha experience, which left me constantly nauseated and unable to smell or taste what I was eating).
This felt like a massive relief, but when I went to place grocery delivery orders while quarantining, I did wonder whether there might be specific food items that could help boost my energy and ease my cold-like symptoms. This curiosity led me to consult some licensed nutritionists, who shared recommendations for seven food and drink items that can make breakthrough COVID easier to manage for people of all ages.
Even though my own personal experience with an omicron breakthrough didn’t involve nausea, an unsettled stomach is still a common COVID symptom. For that reason, it makes sense that easy-to-eat (and easy-to-digest) foods like vegetable soup were popular recommendations from our nutritionist sources.
“Warm vegetable soup with a side of protein (like chicken or tofu) is my top choice because the vegetables will provide plenty of extra vitamins and minerals, which are especially essential in times of illness,” registered dietician Morgyn Clair said.
Also, “if someone is suffering from a sore throat or congestion, the warm fluids can help soothe these symptoms and help break up phlegm,” Clair explained. She advises the protein addition because it “supports healthy immune function, since all enzymes in the body are made up of proteins.”
Another soup that makes a smart menu addition for those grappling with breakthrough COVID is bone broth (or, if you’re on a plant-based diet, vegan “bone broth”). Registered nutritionist Paula Doebrich told HuffPost that “most people experience poor appetite when they get COVID, so soup is an excellent way to get nutrients in. Making it with bone broth adds valuable nutrients, such as a higher protein content, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and other minerals. Many of these nutrients are needed for the immune system to function properly.”
Dr. Frank Lipman, chief medical officer of The Well in New York City, described bone broth as “hydrating, nutrient-rich and supportive [of] immunity.” It makes a great dietary addition for adults with COVID, he said, and is an easy form of sustenance for COVID-positive children who may find their appetites compromised by their illness.
“The best thing you can do for your kids’ health is avoid feeding them processed, sugary foods that lead to systemic inflammation and compromise immune function,” Lipman said.
When looking for vitamin-rich foods to eat during a COVID infection, “go for berries, which are packed with antioxidants such as quercetin and vitamin C,” said registered dietician and certified dietician nutritionist Linda Altenburger of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, New York. “ These are necessary to reduce inflammation and provide resistance to infection by boosting immunity.”
Berries, explained Altenburger, “contain powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids, that are responsible for providing immune-boosting benefits.” Flavonoids can “reduce free radical formation and oxidative damage, and contain anti-viral properties.”
While the scientific community is still studying the effect of flavonoids on COVID outbreaks, the National Institutes of Health says they’ve shown “promising evidence” against COVID, “thereby reducing severity of illness.”
So, go ahead and add blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or any other berry to your shopping list. They’re also crowd-pleasers with children, and work well when you’re trying to urge your COVID-positive child to eat.
Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber, which “helps nourish the good bacteria in our microbiome and [sends] anti-inflammatory and virus-fighting signals to the immune system,” according to owner, licensed nutritionist and head of research Shawn M. Talbott of Amare Wellness Center in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Plus, it’s easy to zhuzh up oatmeal in healthy (and kid-friendly) ways. Talbott recommends adding “a handful of blueberries and a scoop of whole-fat yogurt.”
Many of the symptoms associated with breakthrough COVID infections resemble those of the common cold, from congestion to coughs to sore throats. Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges are often recommended for cold patients.
“They’re a great source of vitamin C, a helpful antioxidant commonly known to boost the immune system,” explained Jay Cowin, a registered nutritionist. “These same properties also make citrus fruits a wise choice for COVID patients. Vitamin C can also reduce and even prevent catching a cold; it may help fight off the infections faster and prevent any complications that these viruses might cause,”
Cowin pointed out that “citrus fruits are affordable, convenient and can easily be enjoyed by adults and kids. They can be eaten or drunk, making them easy to consume even with a sore throat. There’s no magic food that can completely protect us from any virus, but the best thing we can do is consume things that can help strengthen our immune system to fight off these diseases.”
If you (like me) find yourself with a decent appetite in spite of breakthrough COVID, then consider adding a heartier source of protein to your diet, like wild salmon. “Oily fish such as salmon are packed full of healthy fats,” said certified nutritionist Reda Elmardi. She noted that “omega-3 fish oil, which wild salmon contains, is a potent anti-inflammatory, which means it can play a key role in [treating] COVID cases, as has been shown in this study.”
For adults and children dealing with COVID, hydration proves crucially important. “Water performs many vital functions in the body,” explained registered dietician Lyndsay Hall. “Being even slightly dehydrated can lead to or make worse the feelings of fatigue often associated with breakthrough COVID-19 symptoms.”
A fluid loss of just 1% to 3% can impact mental sharpness, focus and energy — all likely already compromised by a virus. Mancuso recommends “sipping on water throughout the day to keep you well-hydrated. If drinking water on its own is not up to your liking, try adding a slice of lemon for some zest. Tea performs a similar function to water.”
If your COVID-positive kids have trouble drinking water (or simply prefer sweeter or more flavorful beverages), try Pedialyte, which registered dietician Ricci-Lee Hotz describes as “helpful for children experiencing fever who are having difficulty drinking enough liquid.”
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