Your diet is especially important when you are ill. Eating the right kinds and amounts of foods can help you heal, feel better and become stronger. During an illness, your nutritional needs are at their peak. Fever burns away calories and fluids that are ordinarily used for normal body functions. Surgery or radiation therapy increase the need for most nutrients–especially protein–so that healing can occur. Other treatments including chemotherapy, dialysis and even some medications may result in nutrient imbalances that require specific replacement.
However, when you are ill, you may not feel like eating. You may lose your appetite, have a dry or sore mouth or throat, experience nausea and vomiting, or be constipated. Because of illness or medication you may even experience changes in how things taste. Worry and fear often accompany illness and may also contribute to loss of appetite.
Because your nutritional needs change during illness, your diet may need to change as well. General dietary recommendations for health promotion and disease prevention emphasize less fat and fewer calories through smaller portions of meat and dairy products and increased emphasis on grains, fruits and vegetables. However, with diminished appetite during illness or therapy, it may not be possible to eat as much at the very time your need for calories and protein is increased. For these reasons, your health care provider may advise that you concentrate on eating more meat, dairy products and fats in order to get the necessary protein and calories. You may even need to cut back on fruits, vegetables and grains (which are lower in protein and calories) in order to eat enough of these other foods.
During such times, your doctor or registered dietitian may also recommend a special diet. These diets are intended to correct the particular problems you may be experiencing and to help meet your specific nutrition needs. Some diets are designed to be followed for long periods of time to assist with recuperation or to maintain comfort. Other diets, however, may be prescribed for short time periods to correct acute problems or needs. Sometimes a commercially prepared nutritional formula may be recommended to make sure that your needs for protein, calories and other essential nutrients are met. At other times, vitamin and mineral supplements may be prescribed. Your health care provider should decide whether you need a special diet, a commercially prepared nutritional formula, or vitamin and mineral supplements–and for how long.