Nutrition for illness recovery: What to eat while recovering from illness?

In these difficult times where the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many…

You may get asked this question a lot by your clients and family.

So, what are the best nutritional strategies and foods to incorporate into the diet of someone who is recovering from illness, in particular a viral infection?

Here’s a quick guide to walk you through the fundamentals:


Fever can be very dehydrating.

The higher your body temperature, the more dehydrated you may become.

Dehydration is categorised as mild (3% to 5%), moderate (6% to 10%), and severe (more than 10%).

Since re-hydration is the number one priority, drinking plenty of fluids is essential.

Electrolyte Replenishment

In addition to sipping water regularly, we need to replenish electrolyte losses – that is, salts and minerals like potassium.

This can be helped by having foods with a high water and electrolyte content like berries, oranges, melons, and cucumber, in addition to beverages like broth, herbal teas, or coconut water.

Because these are more palatable than water on its own, they can help rehydrate more effectively, too.

How Much Protein?

Muscle loss during illness is a side effect we shouldn’t ignore and it often translates to generalised weakness.

Calorie and protein requirements during recovery are usually higher than your regular intake.

Depending on the illness severity, daily protein needs go up to over 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in mild cases and over 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in the severely ill.

Therefore, besides re-hydration, foods with a high protein content need to be prioritised.

These include chicken, eggs, and fish, as well as plant foods like beans, lentils, quinoa, rice, and hulled hemp seeds, which also contain some carbohydrate aiding protein uptake by muscle and organ tissues.

A number of scientific studies found that nutritional supplementation in older patients after being hospitalised, in particular complete amino-acid supplementation, may aid recovery and increase physical strength.

For adequate supplementation and to reduce the risk of wrong advice, take a look at our Advanced Dietary Supplements Advisor certification – get the full PDF curriculum download HERE.

Which Vitamins and Minerals?

What are some of the best vitamins and minerals that can help someone to recover from illness?

All essential vitamins and minerals in the right amounts are needed for a full recovery.

But depending on the cause of the illness, some of them may be needed in higher quantities.

For example, some essential micronutrients may be used and depleted faster when the immune system is fighting a viral infection, in particular vitamins C, D, and A, and minerals like zinc, iron, selenium, and chromium.

Upping our intake of fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs, legumes, grains like rice and oats, and seeds can be very helpful during recovery from a viral infection.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Gastrointestinal disturbances are also common during illness.

In addition, this can be exacerbated when antibiotics and antiviral medications are taken.

Incorporating prebiotics can be helpful, in particular fermentable fibre, which feeds ‘good’ gut bacteria (from grains like oats, allium vegetables like onions, and fruits like bananas), as well as probiotic-rich foods such as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and miso.

Tackling Appetite Loss

A common problem is that during illness and recovery, appetite tends to go down and taste changes, with some reports suggesting that it may take 28 days for hunger hormones to return to their normal levels after critical illness.

Going back to eating normally can be further worsened by gastrointestinal disturbances, swallow disfunction, and poorer chew strength.

For these reasons, each eating episode is a golden opportunity to get the right nutrients into a body that is still recovering.

However, when each bite we take feels like a tremendous effort, it’s important to go for softer textures by pureeing and blending foods into soups and nutrient-packed smoothies.

This way, we can take in more food and more nutrition, but with less effort. And this is critical during recovery.

Want to learn about immunity nutrition?

If so, and if you’d like to have a back-to-back guide you can keep referring to when advising your clients, consider our Immunity Nutrition – Continuing Education Course.

In this CPD-accredited module, you’ll be learning:

  • Can nutrition make us “immune”?
  • How does our immune system work?
  • Which nutritional factors hinder immune function?
  • Which nutrients and food help with immune strength?

Find the answers (get CPD credits!) in this continuing education training