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Eating Smart

Fight Illness With Proper Nutrition


For some people, it's hard enough to eat properly when healthy. With illness, they may lose the desire or ability to eat anything at all.

But getting adequate nutrition during any prolonged illness, such as AIDS or cancer, will obviously improve your chances of recovery and help you fight off infection. The following tips will help you maintain good nutrition while sick, even if you're suffering from a relatively simple ailment, such as the flu, a sore throat or reaction to a medication.

If you have mouth sores or pain:

* Eat foods at room temperature, not when they are very hot or very cold.

* Choose foods and beverages that are mild and nonirritating, such as apple juice instead of orange juice or other acidic juices.

* Limit spices and salt.

* Dunk toast, crackers and cookies in a liquid, such as milk or soup, to soften them.

* Try eating soft foods, such as pudding, eggs, soft cheeses or noodles.

* If you have trouble getting enough calories, try a nutritionally balanced liquid formula for a while.

If you have difficulty swallowing:

* Try single-texture foods such as mashed potatoes and oatmeal, instead of mixed textures such as stews.

* Avoid single-particle foods such as nuts, corn and rice that can get stuck in your throat.

* Avoid sticky foods (such as peanut butter), which can be hard to swallow, and slippery foods (such as macaroni, gelatin, luncheon meat), which can slide down too fast and cause you to choke.

* Try drinking with a straw.

* Try tilting your head back or moving it forward to make swallowing easier.

If your sense of taste seems dull or suddenly different:

* Try a variety of flavors and textures to make your food more enjoyable.

* Choose foods that smell good to you.

* Eat acidic foods to help thin out your saliva and make it easier for you to chew.

* Experiment with new herbs and spices.

* Marinate foods, or add chopped onions, garlic, bacon bits or cheese to add more flavor.

* When your mouth is dry, try chewing ice chips, hard candy or gum.

If you have diarrhea:

* Drink plenty of liquids, including water, diluted fruit juices and flavored drink mixes.

* Avoid caffeinated beverages, which act as diuretics.

* Eat salty foods; they promote water retention.

* Avoid foods, such as milk, that contain lactose.

* Eat bananas, mangoes and diluted orange and nectar juices to replace minerals you may have lost.

* Avoid foods that are high in fat.

* Eat low-fiber foods, such as white rice, white bread and cooked fruits and vegetables without the skin.

* If the diarrhea persists too long, be sure to contact your doctor.

If you have lost your appetite or just aren't interested in food:

* Try eating in a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere; have a friend join you.

* Eat several small meals a day, and avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, such as candy.

* Eat foods with only faint odors, and serve them at cool temperatures.

* Drink an instant breakfast shake or liquid formula between meals to boost calories.

* If you don't feel like eating meat, try tofu, beans, nuts, fish, peanut butter or eggs.

* Try adding grated cheese to sauces, vegetables and casseroles to boost the protein level.

* Keep ready-to-eat snacks on hand (cheese and peanut butter, ice cream, canned fruit).

If you are nauseated and vomiting:

* Drink clear, cool beverages and soups; eat gelatin, particularly between meals. Eat as slowly as possible.

* Try ice cubes made from clear fruit juices.

* Have small, frequent meals.

* Choose low-fat, mildly flavored foods.

* Eat salted foods, such as pretzels or crackers.

* Try chilled foods, such as cottage cheese with fruit, tuna salad or cold chicken.

* Eat meals at least an hour before taking medication that is known to cause nausea.

* If the smell of cooking food bothers you, have somebody else do it for you, and be sure the cooking area is well ventilated.

Once you feel better and the symptoms have passed, work your way back into a regular meal pattern.

If your symptoms persist and you are unable to eat for more than a few days, be sure to check in with your health-care provider.


Dr. Sheldon Margen is a professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Send questions to Dale Ogar, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, or e-mail to Eating Smart appears occasionally in Health.

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