Eating well during illness and recovery

The body needs more during illness and recovery

When you are ill, you may think that you need less food because you are moving less. However, your body needs extra protein and enough energy to stay in good shape. In this video Fleur Wijers, a dietitian at Amsterdam UMC, tells you more about what you should eat during illness and recovery.

Not eating enough due to symptoms

Being ill can affect your appetite and taste. Especially if you have nausea, altered taste, pain or poor appetite, eating is difficult. If you eat too little, you can become deficient in energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, losing weight as a result.

Weight loss = undesirable

Perhaps you do not experience a few kilograms of weight loss as negative or even find it pleasant, yet weight loss during illness is not desirable. Loss of body weight means not only loss of fat, but also loss of muscle. Muscles are everywhere: in legs, arms, heart and lungs. Muscle loss is associated with a decline in functionality, poorer wound healing, increased risk of infection, increased risk of complications after treatment or surgery, poorer tolerance to treatment and feeling less good.

Sufficient energy

To prevent muscle loss and stay in good shape, you need enough energy and protein.

Energy, also known as calories, is used for movement, but also, for example, to digest food, maintain body temperature and keep the heart beating. Despite the fact that you may move less when you are ill, you still need a lot of energy to prevent muscle loss. When you take in less energy than you need, you will lose weight. If you take in as much as you need, you will maintain your weight.

Sufficient protein

Another important nutrient is protein. Protein is a building material for the body. It is needed, among other things, for the preservation of muscles and for wound healing. During illness, the protein requirement can be as much as twice as high. The body has no supply of protein. If you eat too little protein, body proteins are broken down. This leads to loss of muscle.

Protein is found in animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, cheese and eggs and in plant products such as soy products, vegetarian meat substitutes, nuts, peanuts and legumes. Your body uses protein best if you eat protein-rich products several times a day.

The healthy diet recommandations advices to eat 250 grams of vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day. However, fruits and vegetables contain little protein. The protein-rich products now have priority. Therefore, during illness, a handful of nuts, fried egg, cottage cheese or yogurt may be healthier than a fruit salad.

Nutrition and exercise

In addition to an optimal diet, exercise is essential. Proteins provide the building blocks for muscle growth and through movement the muscles are stimulated to build. To preserve your muscles as much as possible, it is good to move every day, as far as possible.

All forms of exercise are helpful, such as walking, housework or gardening. Even if you are not yet able to move very well, you can do exercises from a chair or even in bed. A physical therapist can advise you on this.

Do you find it difficult to eat enough, or are you losing weight? Ask for help from a dietitian, who can give you personal advice.

If you have kidney problems or diabetes mellitus, the dietary recommendations are sometimes slightly different and it is certainly good to consult a dietitian.