Nutrition: Why good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to virus recovery

When our immune system is down, the body needs additional support to help us get well again
Jane McClenaghan

IF YOU are struggling to recover from a Christmas virus, Covid or otherwise, then there are plenty of nutritional tools that can help support your recovery and get you back on your feet.

When our immune system is down, the body needs additional support to help us get well again. As Omicron continues to make headlines, there is little mention of how crucial good nutrition is in the recovery process from Covid and other viruses.

Our immune system is a complex network that includes white blood cells (like T cells), chemical (like histamine) and organs (including the digestive tract). When we get hit with an infection, our immune system requires extra nutrition to help it work effectively and efficiently.

White blood cells require additional protein – often the body draws on our muscle stores to meet this additional demand, which can cause muscle loss and weight loss when we are ill. As we recover, we need to build this protein back into our diets.

The immune system requires a lot of energy too, so our demand for calories increases. Choosing the right type of calories is important, though. Wholegrain carbohydrates like oats, brown rice and wholemeal pasta, with a good protein source like eggs, natural yoghurt, fish or nuts, can help rebuild your energy and support recovery.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for recovery, so include plenty of fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, some dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes and fish as a starting point. Look to the fundamentals of Mediterranean style diet with all its colourful plant foods, herbs and spices, fish and meat for inspiration.

Think warming foods like casseroles, curries, chilli and soups to help build you up and get you back on your feet.

Essential fats like omega 3, found in oily fish, have anti-inflammatory properties and are important for a well functioning immune system. If you can't face the thought of oily fish like mackerel and salmon, then a fish oil supplement might be more appealing: just take care if you are on any mediation and check with your GP or pharmacist before supplementing.

Here are some other things you can do to help speed your recovery.

GET SOME FRESH AIR INTO YOUR LUNGS: If you have not been feeling well, you have probably been cooped up inside with limited access to fresh air. Even if the weather is cold outside, get the windows open and help to refresh the air in your house. Get wrapped up and venture outside for a while every day and breathe some fresh air.

KEEP WELL HYDRATED: Dehydration can leave you feeling dizzy, headachey and fatigued. If you don't fancy cold water, then try some herbal teas with soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, like cinnamon or turmeric.

AVOID ALCOHOL: this will dehydrate you and can leave you feeling worse.

AVOID CAFFEINE: especially if you have headaches.

AVOID SUGAR: it can deplete immunity, energy and mood.

EAT PROTEIN: Pack some protein into every meal to help with the production of immune cells and support your body to repair and heal. Eggs, lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, natural yoghurt are all good sources.

EAT MORE FRUIT AND VEG: Eat a rainbow of colourful and seasonal fruit and vegetables to help build more antioxidants into your diet.

GET MORE SLEEP: Get to bed early and get a good night's sleep.

Keep things simple. If you are recovering, you are likely to still feel tired. Allow yourself rest to help yourself recover.


There has been a lot of work looking into how nutritional supplementation may help support recovery from viruses, including Covid-19. Most studies recommend taking a combination of vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc as a basic level to support immunity during an active infection.

For most adults, it is recommended that these supplements are taken for two to three weeks, or until you get better. Here is what is recommended:

:: Vitamin D3 –3000iu a day.

:: Vitamin C – an orange a day is not sufficient. Adults can take 1000 to 2000mg vitamin C three times a day.

:: Zinc – can be really useful if you have lost your sense to taste or smell. Go for about 15mg a day.

:: Quercetin – this one is especially important if you suffer from allergies. The recommended dose is at least 500mg twice a day.

I hope this helps you get well soon.

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