Navigating Loss of Taste & Smell From COVID-19

About a month ago, I tested positive for coronavirus. I get tested every week at work, which is how I realized I had it. Overall, my symptoms really weren’t bad, though I wasn’t entirely asymptomatic. I had a bit of a sore throat and runny nose. Though I didn’t have a fever at any point, I would occasionally wake up sweating. Plus I had a general feeling of malaise, like that of a bad cold. But by far my worst symptom was the loss of my taste and smell.

Before I got my test back, I assumed it was just like any time I had lost my taste with a cold. But then my congestion went away and I still couldn’t taste or smell at all. It was a seriously weird sensation. I would put my nose an inch away from a very fragrant food and nothing. Though I could feel certain sensations on my taste buds, such as bitter, sour, salty, and sweet, the actual taste wasn’t there. To be honest, it was really rough. I ended up losing about 3 pounds in 2 weeks (likely all muscle mass) just because I wasn’t motivated to eat at all. After 7 days of absolutely no taste and smell, my senses started to come back very slowly. And even now, I don’t think they’re completely back to normal, with certain things still tasting strange.

Based on my personal experience with COVID-19 and my professional experience as a dietitian, I want to provide a few suggestions for coping with loss of taste and smell if you yourself happen to get COVID. As we all know, nutrition is truly a cornerstone for disease prevention and recovery. And COVID is no different. So if you find yourself testing positive and losing your taste and smell like I did, keep reading for a few coping and recovery tips!

Contrast Textures & Temperatures

When you can’t taste, it’s helpful to stimulate your taste buds in other ways such as with varying textures and temperatures. Rather than having a meal that’s completely cold or completely hot, try to include both hot and cold foods in each meal. Incorporating different textures can also really make eating more enjoyable than if all foods are the same boring consistency.

Focus on Food Groups

It can be a challenge to make sure you’re eating at all when you can’t taste, much less eating the right things. But to keep it simple, try to focus on getting at least 2 or 3 food groups in at each meal. This is an easy way to make sure your meals are balanced and consist of more than just one macronutrient. Look for meals that contain fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Even though you can’t taste it, getting all 3 of these will aid in your recovery and make sure you’re not becoming malnourished.

Nourish with Nutrients

Along with each of the macronutrients, it’s a good idea to look at food in terms of the micronutrients it offers. Micronutrients are essential in any medical recovery, so you want to make sure you’re getting a variety at each meal. An easy way to do this is to simply make sure your meals have a variety of (natural) colors on your plate, and being sure to get at least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables total each day. Your body will thank you for this and will be able to recover more quickly.

Keep the Fluids Flowing

Having a dry mouth can exacerbate loss of taste. So it’s important to make sure you’re getting plenty of fluids while you have COVID. This can include broths, teas, juices, but most importantly, just plain water. 2 liters of fluid per day is recommended with loss of taste to keep your mouth moist. Not to mention, your body needs fluids any time it’s recovering from illness. It can also be helpful to chew your food slowly, which allows for increased saliva production and greater release of flavors for when your taste starts to return.

Sprinkle the Spices

Using aromatic herbs and spices to add some flavor to your food can also be helpful. When you can’t taste, it can be sooo tempting just to load up the salt and sugar so you feel something on your tongue. But try to steer clear of too much salt and sugar, and experiment with other spices to add to a dish. Adding a sprinkle of cheese, bacon bits, or nuts, or squeezing on some lemon juice or other acidic topping can help add a little bit of flavor and texture as well. (Personally, I found that Trader Joe’s everything seasoning worked really well as a topping for me.) This is preferable to combination dishes, such as casseroles, which can make it hard to differentiate individual flavors and actually dilute the taste of the foods.

I hope these tips are helpful to you if you come down with the dreaded coronavirus. It’s tough to lose your taste and smell, but just remember that so many other people are experiencing the same symptoms and that it will end eventually! Until then, make sure you’re properly nourishing your body!

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