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Eating well is especially important during illness to help the body recover and regain health. When people are ill, their need for certain nutrients is even greater to help them keep alive, fight infections and replace the nutrients lost through illness. Sick people often have little or no desire to eat, but eating is especially important, because of increased needs to fight infection and to replace nutrients that may be lost. During episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting, up to half the food taken in and much water can be lost. If sick people do not eat to meet their energy and nutrient needs, their body may start to use up their own body fat, muscles and other tissues; they will lose weight and become undernourished. People who are ill or recovering from illness need a diet that is appealing, particularly rich in micronutrients and protein and not too big in volume.

To think about

Why is it important to eat well during illness?

What kinds of foods are especially good during illness?

How can people be helped to eat well during illness?

Children and adults who are ill need to be encouraged to eat and drink, even if they have little desire to eat. They should be offered small amounts of a variety of foods frequently. Liquids, such as clean water (boiled, if necessary), fruit juices, coconut water, soups, broths and watery porridges, are especially important to replace fluids lost in fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. Breastfed children who have diarrhoea need to be breastfed frequently. When recovering from being sick, people need to eat more to regain lost weight and they need to eat more nutrient-rich foods to replace lost vitamins and minerals.

It is especially important for people with HIV/AIDS to have well balanced diets. While good nutrition cannot cure AIDS or prevent HIV infection, it can help to maintain and improve the nutritional status of people with HIV/AIDS. Improved nutritional status will help them to remain more active, healthy and productive and improve their quality of life. In people infected with the HIV virus, the body’s immune system has to work harder to fight infection and this increases the need for energy and nutrients. Other infections and fever also increase the body’s demand for food and reduces the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in food. The amount of food that people with HIV eat is often affected by reduced appetite, sore mouth, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, depression and lack of money. However, it is particularly important for people with HIV to have a healthy and balanced diet in order to meet their increased protein and energy requirements and maintain their nutritional status. People who are infected with HIV have to eat more to meet these extra energy and nutrient needs, which will increase even more as the HIV/AIDS symptoms develop. Children with HIV/AIDS may need 50-100 percent more energy than non-infected children.

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Activities

Special needs during illness

Discuss the special nutritional needs during illness. Remember the last time that you were at home sick in bed.

  • Did you feel like eating?
  • Did someone encourage and help you to eat and drink?
  • Were the foods you ate different from your usual diet?
  • If yes, how were they different?
  • What foods are especially good to eat during illness?
  • What foods are more appealing to eat during illness?

Go to the hospital

Invite a dietician from a local hospital or clinic to talk about the special nutritional needs and diets of people who are sick or recovering or go to the hospital yourself to talk to the dietician.

Feeding sick people 

Take a quick matching exercise (551kb)to test your understanding of the special nutritional needs during illness.

Key Points

Review these three key points to remember about how to eat well during illness. See if your knowledge has improved and try to apply it to yourself when you are sick and to other family members.

 

Eating well during illness

  • People who are ill should eat well to help the body recover, fight infections, replace lost nutrients and regain lost weight.
  • People who are ill or recovering from illness need a diet that is appealing, particularly rich in micronutrients and protein and not too big in volume.  Liquids are especially important to replace fluids lost in fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Good nutrition can improve health and the quality of life of people with HIV/AIDS, helping them remain more active, healthy and productive.