Healing Foods

Nutritional Support During Illness
During an illness, the body needs nutrients to fight infection, repair damaged cells, and restore health. Chicken soup is a common folk remedy for colds and other ailments. Researchers continue to debate whether it can really boost the immune system. However, chicken soup does have some important benefits for a recovering body. The chicken provides protein, an important nutrient used to repair damaged cells. Since it's liquid-based, the soup helps to rehydrate the body (replace fluids). Inhaling the warm steam also moistens the nasal passages and may loosen mucus secretion.

Another common folk tale is "feed a cold, starve a fever." Health experts say the adage isn't entirely true. Whether it's a cold, the flu, or any other illness, the body needs food for fuel to gain strength and fight back. People with colds and fever also need fluids to prevent dehydration. If sore throat causes swallowing discomfort, try eating softer foods, such as applesauce or fruit smoothies.

Patients with stomach illnesses (vomiting and diarrhea) may be unable to eat. Once the body begins to recover, ease back into a normal diet. Start with small portions of bland foods (such as white rice, toast, boiled potatoes, or plain scrambled eggs). Stay away from greasy foods and things that cause gas or indigestion. Gradually introduce other foods back into the diet. Diarrhea can cause significant dehydration, so patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids. Avoid sugared drinks (such as soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks) because these beverages often make diarrhea worse. For children with diarrhea, special over-the-counter oral rehydration fluids (such as Pedialyte®) can be purchased at drug stores and some grocery stores.

While recovering from illness, some patients develop constipation. Choose foods that are high in fiber, such as apples, oatmeal, and whole-wheat products) to provide bulk. To help move foods through the body, continue to drink plenty of fluids.

Nutrition After Surgery
Depending upon the type of surgery, patients may have specific dietary restrictions in the first few days of recovery. Doctors may initially recommend a clear liquid diet, followed by other types of liquids (such as broth). Gradually, solid foods are introduced, starting with soft foods (such as pudding, eggs, and finely chopped meats. As those foods are tolerated, more traditional foods can be introduced into the diet.

Whether it's illness, trauma, or surgery, nutrition is an important part of recovery. Patients without an appetite can sometimes be coaxed into eating by initially offering "comfort foods" or foods they crave, such as a small piece of cake. Unless a patient has very specific dietary restrictions, those small food tokens may help the patient get over the appetite hurdle and begin to eat more nutritional foods.

For general information on nutrition or illnesses:
American Dietetic Association, http://www.eatright.org
Medem™ - http://www.medem.com