Ask anybody who has gone through the suffering and stress of COVID infection in the last 18 months; the common thread of complaints that emerges from their post-recovery experience is all about fatigue, weakness, and the loss of energy, appetite, strength, muscle mass and weight. The road to complete recovery from COVID-19 is tiring. Besides sleep and rest, eating healthy is an essential now to aid in healing.
“Good nutrition helps your battered body build up its energy levels as fast as possible,” says Dr Kavitha Fenn Arunkumar, Madurai-based psychiatrist, referring not just to those who have suffered the sickness, but also those who have seen adversity through the pandemic. In fact, she recommends the intake of easy-to-digest food in frequent and small measures because the body and mind are both vulnerable and not in a condition to labour hard over three big elaborate meals.
Dr Arunkumar receives three or four calls a day from those who have seen a COVID-19 death in their families and now during their own recuperation are finding it difficult to eat. “The food we eat should be easy and comforting to chew and swallow,” she says. She also cautions against emotional eating (feeding on convenience foods to satiate cravings). “It’s best to eat food that does not cause distress to the digestive system or any other part of the body,” she says.
Power up with nutrients
To gain stamina and fight the weakness, Delhi-based nutritionist Shweta Gupta says it is important to power up with proteins as they help reverse tissue damage and stimulate the production of T-cells, the agents that promote healthy immune functioning. “Proteins are the most important macro-nutrients that aid in rebuilding and recharging the body; vitamins improve immunity and probiotics improve the gut bacteria after the heavy antibiotic and steroid used in treatment,” says Anjali Dange, nutritionist and founder of Starlite Nutrition and Wellness Centre, Visakhapatnam. For those who are lactose tolerant milk-based products have immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, and anti-hypertensive effects on the body.
The carbohydrates in our breakfast and lunch can constitute up to 25% and one should nourish the body well for at least six months post-COVID treatment. Our Indian kitchens are full of potent anti-inflammatory and anti-viral ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, cumin, coriander, mint, cinnamon, honey, all of which are usually and can be used in different combinations and different items for overall well being.
Home-maker Mili Ghosh from 24 South Paraganas, West Bengal, cooks and packs seven different types of khichdi for each day of the week and home delivers it fresh in her neighbourhood to those in home quarantine. “After hearing a dietician on television, I began preparing khichdi using a different millet and combination of dals each day and powered it with lots of seasonal vegetables,” says Mili, who has been doing this free of cost for six weeks now ever since her husband fell to COVID-19. Along with the nutritious and tasty khichdi , she also gives them a boiled egg five days a week and a flask of lassi daily. “I am alone and this work keeps me going,” she says.
Suman Agarwal, from Mumbai, recommends the 4X model: four meals at agap of four hours each. “Follow the 8 am- noon-4pm-8 pm or 9 am-1 pm-5 pm-9 pm schedule and control the portions, especially carbohydrates. Feed your hunger but never over-stuff,” she says.
- Avoid elaborate cooking and stick to simple recipes with more greens (Spinach, methi, sarson saag and other keerais) as they are known to lower anxiety levels.
- Make one or two vegetable chutneys and store, so that you can use them every day with rice or chapatis.
- Keep a jar of nuts and seeds by your side for easy snacking, They are potent sources of essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and healthy fats that boost energy and promote healthy cholesterol levels
- Taste and smell may take a while to return to normal making every bite of food utterly tasteless but it is important to keep up the appetite with small and frequent meals.
- The essential vitamins required during the period of healing are C and D. They help to prevent the body from oxidative damage and reduce inflammation. Stock yourself up with guavas, amla, kiwis, oranges and sweet lime for your lung health
Subhashree Ray, clinical and public health nutritionist in Mumbai, focusses on customised nutritional requirements of those with co-morbidities, particularly diabetes. “Those with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome need to be extra cautious of what is entering their body,” she says and suggests complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes for them. “High fibre cereals and pulses like jawar, bajra, ragi, brown rice, oatmeal, millets, quinoa take longer to digest than simple carbs (refined grains like maida — often found in bread) and thereby keep the blood sugar from spiking,” she adds. A staple cuisine of Bengal, the tetor dal (bitter lentil) made with the yellow split moong dal and karela (bitter gourd) is considered good.
Nutrients-dense post-COVID recovery meal
Pasty khichdi with lots of vegetables; mashed dal or rasam with rice; curd rice; paneer or soya curry with two to three soft phulkas ; green leafy and seasonal vegetables; steamed fish, egg and chicken (for non-vegetarians).
Healthy snacks :
A bowl of salad or low-fat curd at room temperature, figs and dates, a spoonful of pumpkin, chia or flax seeds, boiled peanuts or chick peas, a fistful of nuts (including almonds, walnuts), sweet potato chaat or seasonal fruits.
High hydration :
Enough water, low salt lassi , coconut water, butter milk with a dash of cumin and mint, chaach , and fresh juice with seasonal fruits (without adding sugar), bael ka sharbat (it is high in fibre).
Chicken or vegetable broth soup
The immunity boosters :
You can make a variety of health drinks at home to improve your haemoglobin levels. Here are a few suggested by the nutritionists:
Blend one small amla , half a carrot and apple each, one tomato, quarter of a boiled beetroot and half cup pomegranate; dilute it with little water to suit your taste.
Kadha : To 300 ml boiling water add 10 basil ( tulsi ) leaves, four lightly crushed peppercorns, half inch grated ginger and one pinch cinnamon. Reduce the concoction to half and add one teaspoon honey.
A simple concoction of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds ( saunf ) or lemon and barley water is good for general well-being.