Choosing and eating a healthy diet when you are sick is very hard, as most illnesses and medications affect your appetite. Chronic illnesses, like cancer, arthritis, or even depression makes shopping and cooking difficult. This nutrition moves away from our priority when ever illness strikes. With some extra effort and thought we can bring nutrition to the forefront helping you to get enough nutrients and vitamins.
“When a person is sick protein is the key nutrient required for repair and building new cells," says Paula Charuhas, RD, nutrition education coordinator at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Adequate amounts of protein in the diet will ensure that there is no loss of muscle mass from the body. It increases the healing ability of the body and maintains the fluid balance. According to Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, some of the best sources of protein are chicken, pork, lean meat, fish and lamb. Easily digestible proteins include eggs and cheese.
“Getting adequate amounts of protein is difficult if one is a vegetarian," says Gerbstadt. A vegetarian needs to eat a lot of vegetable protein to meet the requirements. Some of the good sources of plant protein are beans, soy products like tofu, and nuts. Adding more peanut butter or almond butter helps to increase the intake of protein. High-protein supplements are also good options to get adequate amounts.
When a person is sick, instead of counting the calories, one may need to increase the amount to meet the body’s demands. Even though there is an increased demand for calories the appetite will be less for the intake of food. Weight loss can be serious at this time and it makes you feel exhausted, tired and weak, and also interferes with the treatment. In people who are losing weight, high calorie food may be the best option to prevent the consequences.
Easy tips to follow when you are sick include:
- Eating protein-dense foods
- Drinking whole milk instead of skim milk
- Adding cream to soups, fruits, cold cereal, and other foods
Some chronic diseases pose the problem of gaining weight. High calorie diet should be started only after discussion with the doctor.
This component of food is ideal for both long term and short term recuperation. In the long run it will reduce the risk of gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes and other problems. When a person is sick they are often tempted to avoid it and go for fiber-deficient foods like mashed potatoes. This change along with a low fluid intake and lack of physical activity can lead to constipation when one is sick. Add fiber to the diet by having lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber supplements should be taken only with a doctor’s recommendation.
In the case of some chronic illnesses, fiber may make you feel bloated. Talk to your doctor before including fiber in the diet. For example, if a person has diarrhea, either due to illness or due to the medications, fiber content should be deliberately reduced in the diet. According to Sheri Knecht, RD, a dietitian at the South-Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society, fiber foods can be brought back into the diet once the condition is under control.
Vitamins and minerals like calcium and potassium are important for the overall health of a person. One needs to improve the quality of food to get adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in the food, rather than supplements. All the nutrients should be obtained from whole foods; taking supplements may not have the same effect.
Supplements can also cause serious problems if you are on treatment. For example:
- Omega-3 fatty acids, used in the treatment of arthritis and other conditions should not be had along with blood thinners like Coumadin
- Folic acid may interfere with the action of methotrexate, a drug used in the treatment of arthritis, cancer and other conditions.
Many supplements have more amounts of vitamins and minerals when compared to the daily recommended dose. Supplements and alternative treatments should be started only after discussion with the doctor. Supplements should not be started all on a sudden, especially in the middle of a treatment. The best option would be to have lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Wholesome foods will provide adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Healthy diet always works better with consistent and proper treatment. To improve the appetite one needs to control the symptoms and side effects. If there are any symptoms that interfere with the eating, discuss with the doctor to prescribe medications to control pain or to, reduce nausea. Never give up on a medicine because of side effects.