For me, COVID is not over, launches Mars Delgado, who lives in Toronto and contracted the virus in March 2020. Until July of that year, the disease was at its peak, before symptoms subsided for a few months. In October, however, he returned to the hospital.
” Among these relapses, I was already noticing that some things weren’t quite back to normal. One of these main things is my sense of taste and smell. “
In Europe, Dr. Jérôme Lechien, an ENT surgeon who splits his time between France and Belgium, has participated in and even conducted several studies with patients such as Mars Delgado.
Prevalence among COVID patients
Before the appearance of the Omicron variant, loss of smell was present in 60-86% of cases of mild or moderate forms of the disease (which in turn account for 90% of all forms), Dr. Lechien later noted. However, the loss of taste was rarer.
Since then, a studio (New window) has more specifically looked at the COVID-19 cases identified during the Omicron wave and believes that
%”,”text”:”la prévalence et la gravité des dysfonctionnements de l’odorat et du goût associés à la COVID-19 ont considérablement diminué avec l’avènement du variant Omicron, mais elle reste toujours supérieure à 30%”}}”>the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 associated smell and taste dysfunctions has decreased significantly with the advent of the Omicron variant, but still remains above 30%.
According to Dr. Lechien, the vast majority of patients recover in less than a month, but 20% of them still suffer from a total or partial loss of smell after a month. For 5-10%, symptoms continue after six months, while a small percentage (1% to 5%) still show symptoms after one year.
And in addition to being disabling, these symptoms can pose risks, stresses the specialist. Flavors come from a combination of smell and taste and therefore the loss of the senses of smell and taste impacts the nutrition of many patients, he adds.
” Some patients eat less, lose weight and even have depressive symptoms because in many cases eating contributes to happiness. “
The problem can be even worse for people with eating disorders, such as Mars Delgado.
I have a much better relationship with food, but suddenly I didn’t recognize anything anymore.says Mars.
Sometimes I was hungry, I started cooking without smelling anything, which also means that I have burned a lot of dishes, but it is time to eat, without any flavor. Mars claims to have lost motivation.
” Once I put a cookie in my mouth, it crumbled and I spat it out feeling like I was eating dust. “
And around the world, it’s not just COVID-19 patients who suffer from these sensory losses. British chef Ryan Riley learned this long before the pandemic hit the world, when his cancer-stricken mother couldn’t enjoy food due to her treatment.
Find the taste without the flavors
After her mother died, the author and the cook wanted to honor her memory and use her skills and experience to help other chemotherapy patients.
He collaborated with chef and food stylist Kimberly Duke, but also with Professor Barry Smith, founder of the Center for the Study of the Senses at the University of London, to create LifeCooking, a non-profit organization that offers cooking classes and recipes to help these people.
When the pandemic hit, with many infected people losing their taste and smell, Ryan Riley thought he could make his recipes available to everyone.
But he still had to adapt, he says.
Some [patients COVID] he suffered from anosmia, then total loss of smell, some from parosmia, then altered odors, underlines the chef, who wanted to create a recipe book that could deal with all types of cases. So he and his team dived into new research this time on Professor Smith’s COVID-19 patients.
” Research has shown that things like coffee, garlic or onions, eggs and often even meat taste really disgusting for people who have parosmia. […] So we had to remove all those trigger ingredients. “
Texture, temperature and umami
We looked at texture, not just crunchiness or tenderness, but how food feels when you put it in your mouth.Chief Riley says. But also the temperature, the sensation of cold and heat and the level of acidity.
Of the five tastes we perceive, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, even the last one, which is probably the least known in Western cuisine, has proven to be very important.
It is a very strong taste, assures Mr. Riley, who explains that it is found, for example, in Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, meat juice or some mushrooms. Acidity has also been used in many recipes.
All those strong flavors […] it can stimulate the sensory receptors of our disc but also make sure you feel its texture.
In March 2021, after four months of development, the LifeCucina, Taste and Flavor, was released as a free download version (New window). Some recipes include spicy tomato soup with sesame seeds,
to add a more crunchy texture and combine it with this hot dish, or one of the most famous, according to the chef, the pineapple tacos. But the book also offers practical advice.
” We don’t want to change people’s diets, because as humans we are creatures of habit. Giving many new recipes does not necessarily translate into everyday life, so we wanted to give above all little tips, little tricks to incorporate into everyday dishes. “
There is no miracle recipe, it is different for each person.instead, concludes the chef.
Social bond and society
We wanted to provide the world with a resource, backed by science, to help them enjoy the pleasure of the table again, to help them get back to cooking, especially when you know the mental health impact of needing to get together and eat together.adds Ryan Riley.
Marte Delgado agrees.
: est-ce que cette perte de sens peut me faire perdre ma connexion avec ma famille, avec mon pays d’origine?”,”text”:”Dans ma culture latino-américaine, la nourriture c’est très important, donc évidemment, il existe une certaine peur: est-ce que cette perte de sens peut me faire perdre ma connexion avec ma famille, avec mon pays d’origine?”}}”>In my Latin American culture, food is very important, so obviously there is a certain fear: can this loss of meaning make me lose the bond with my family, with my country of origin?
Mars Delgado is pleased to see that specialists from all disciplines are paying attention to this problem. But he also stresses the importance of not neglecting the people who suffer from it and that society shows more compassion and indulgence.
” I have been overweight for most of my life and when I sought help for my lack of appetite I was told: is this not okay? No it is not. I nearly died of anorexia, but as I don’t look like a skeleton, they didn’t take my condition seriously. “
Then to conclude:
It is not easy to see people give little consideration to something, because it seems small to them, while it is so important to someone else.