By Lize Van Der Merwe, Registered Dietician
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has drastically changed the lives of millions of people worldwide. As schools and child-care facilities are closed, many parents are juggling childcare and work or are faced with unemployment and other challenging responsibilities. As a result of disruptions in food supply systems and panic buying, providing a healthy diet for the family may be challenging. Here are 4 strategies to ensure good nutrition and stay healthy during these unprecedented times.
Strengthening your immune system
A healthy diet is required for the body to function well and this includes the optimal functioning of the immune system. A “healthy” immune system protects against invaders i.e. viruses, bacteria and parasites, as well as resolve an infection rapidly when it does occur in the body.
Various food and food compounds have been researched to explore the effect on the immune response.
Vitamin C and Zinc
Zinc plays an important role in the immune response and has been shown to reduce the replication of viruses in the body (meaning it slows down the “growth” of viruses). Therefore, with the current COVID-19 outbreak, adequate zinc intake should be of utmost importance. Currently, due to high demand, zinc supplements are not widely available in pharmacies and health shops. Therefore, foods rich in zinc can be added to your daily meals to ensure adequate intake for immune support. Food high in zinc includes beef, pork, baked beans, fortified breakfast cereals, and chicken. For those following plant-based diets, including pumpkin seeds, oats, almonds, kidney beans and chickpeas into your diet will increase your dietary intake of zinc.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, supports the cells walls against invaders and appears to prevent and treat respiratory infections. A daily intake of 100-200mg/day is advised to optimise levels in the body. Foods high in Vitamin C include red and green peppers, oranges, kiwi fruit, broccoli, tomatoes and tomato juice.
A healthy gut: the first line of defence
The gut is seen as “the first line of defence” when it comes to immunity. Most of the immune cells in the human body can be found in the gut, and therefore the gut should be a focal point of improving the immune system.
Increasing the variety and number of healthy bacteria in the gut, by providing a variety of food, improves gut health. Plant-based diets have been researched for their impact on gut health and has been shown to increase the variety of bacteria and increase the “good” bacteria in the gut. Food rich in probiotics cultures include yoghurt, kefir and fermented vegetables and can be added to your diet to improve gut health.
Adjusting portions according to your energy expenditure
During the lockdown, your activity and therefore energy expenditure will be different from your usual day-to-day activity. Due to the confinement of your home or apartment, you may be moving a lot less than usual, which will reduce your total energy expenditure for the day. Or you may be used to a desk job and now you are running around and playing with your children the whole day, which will increase your energy usage. If you are moving less than usual, adjust your dietary intake accordingly. Eat smaller portions at mealtimes, especially the portion of high energy foods such as cookies, rusks, energy bars and sugary drinks. Increase your portions of high volume, low-calorie food. Examples of these are vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, green beans and peppers. These foods add bulk to meals and are packed with immune-boosting vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Eating according to hunger (not boredom)
Being at home the whole day implies a change in proximity to your fridge… twenty-four-seven. You might feel tempted to eat when you are bored or feeling anxious. Try to distinguish between hunger cues and “boredom eating” or “emotional eating”. Respect your bodies hunger cues and eat only when you are feeling hunger.
For many people around the world, the pandemic and lockdown periods resulted in a lack of household income. Therefore, choose healthy foods that will suit your income. Dried beans and pulses, barley and whole-grain starched can for a part of each meal. These foods are packed with energy and fibre. Beans and pulses are an excellent source of protein and can be used as a meat substitute. Or it can be used to add volume to meat dishes, stews and soups. Buy fruit and vegetables in season and locally produced, as these are more affordable and contain higher vitamin and mineral levels.
Book a consultation with Lize Van Der Merwe, a trusted Dietician to help navigate through the maze of nutritional advice and find a plan which will work for you in the long run. Virtual consultations are available.