Here are a few diet and lifestyle tips which could help you beat the pandemic.
COVID-19 outbreak is upending life for families around the world. Although, essential grocery shops have not closed, however, panic buying, disruptions to food systems means that some foods can now be difficult to find. For many people, unemployment and lost income will make food purchase an additional financial challenge.
While many families are looking at ready meals and processed foods as a quick and low-cost way to feed their families, there are convenient, affordable and healthy alternatives. A healthy diet boosts our body’s immunity and resistance to several infections and illnesses.
Here are five ways to help your families have a nutritious diet that will support building their immunity while overall building healthy eating habits.
1. Eat fresh and minimally processed foods and stay hydrated
• Watch the types of foods and colours on your food plate, as it is our food plate, which determines whether our diet is healthy or not. A healthy diet comprises of three types of foods (energy rich, body building and protective foods). While our plate should have an item from each of these groups, it is the protective and body building foods that are growth and immunity boosters.
• Energy rich foods- cereals and millets (such as wheat, rice, ragi, bajra, jowar, etc.), fats/oils (nuts, oilseeds, cooking oil, butter, ghee, etc.), sugars (table sugar, honey, jaggery etc.)
• Body building foods – pulses (all dals, beans, legumes), eggs, flesh foods (meat, poultry, fish), milk and milk products (curd, paneer, chaach etc.)
• Protective foods – seasonal fruits and vegetables (dark green leafy, yellow and orange coloured, citrus and other fruits)
• There is no evidence that consumption of meat, chicken or eggs leads to a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 infection. Ensure non-vegetarian food is cleaned and cooked properly as a precaution. Also, it is important to avoid touching your face after handling meat or eggs and wash soap and water soon after.
• There is no evidence to support that virus spread through pet animals/pets. The virus spreads from human to human. Those who rear chicken and goats are encouraged to consume thoroughly cooked eggs and meat. However, animals could become conduits for spread of infections between individuals.
Hence, infected/sick individuals must avoid contact with animals when sick. Also, avoid touching the face of animals or other secretions.
Certain foods and dietary items such as nuts and oilseeds: almonds, walnuts, coconut (dry), gingelly seeds, safflower seeds/oil, sunflower seeds/oil, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, poppy seeds, Niger seeds, mustard seeds; herbs, spices and condiments: ginger, garlic, black pepper, turmeric, cloves, tulsi/ basil; green leafy vegetables: broccoli, amaranth leaves, fenugreek leaves, spinach; citrus fruits etc, have antioxidant properties and reduce burden of toxins in our body. While taking these foods is protective against chronic degenerative disorders, they are also immunity boosting and good for overall health.
However, there is no evidence yet from the current outbreak that eating such foods has protected people from the new coronavirus.
• Limit intake of sugar, fat and salt to significantly lower your risk of overweight, obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. These diseases are co-morbidities that increase the severity of any infection including COVID-19 and may even increase mortality.
• Avoid overeating to prevent overweight and obesity and associated conditions.
• Limit salt intake to
• Keep your self hydrated. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water or warm water and other fluids daily preferably unsweetened beverages (like lemon water, home-made vegetable/fruits juices/ sattu). Be careful not to consume too much caffeine (tea/coffee), and avoid sweetened fruit juices,syrups, fruit concentrates, fizzy and still drinks as they may contain added sugar. Check food labels to confirm.
2. Swap in healthy dried/frozen alternatives when fresh fruits and vegetables are NOT available/accessible
• Fresh produce is almost always the best option, but when it is not available there are plenty of healthy alternatives that are easy to store and prepare.
• Dried food items like dried beans, various pulses, legumes and grains such as lentils (chole, rajma, lobia, channa, moong), split peas, rice, couscous or quinoa, dried vegetables (pudina, methi) are also nutritious, long-lasting options that are tasty, affordable and filling. Rolled oats or dalia (jowar and bajra) cooked with milk or water can serve as an excellent breakfast option, and can be spiced up with yoghurt, chopped fruits or raisins. Sprouting (pulses) and fermenting foods (pulses, rice, milk etc) further enhance nutritive value of these products.
• Fresh vegetables when available can be cut and frozen in packets at home. Tomatoes can be pureed, ginger-garlic can be made into a paste, onion can be browned and frozen.
• Children often also need nutritious small and frequent meals and a healthy snack or two during the day to keep them going. Rather than giving kids sweets or salty snacks, opt for nutritious and healthier options like nuts, cheese, chaach/yoghurt (preferably unsweetened), chopped or dried fruits / salad vegetables / sprouts spiced with lemon, boiled eggs, or other locally available / home-made healthy options. Dry healthy and low cost snacking options include roasted nuts, pulse, fox nuts (makhana), sprouted pulse, wheat and corn flakes, muesli, etc. These foods are nutritious, satiating and help build healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
3. Stay physically active, sleep well and get your daily dose of sunlight
• Ensure you are exposed to 30- 40 minutes of sunlight, within the boundaries of your household / balconies. Daily exposure to sunlight between 11am to 1pm will help to increase Vitamin D levels in human body. Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight and is often lauded for its health benefits, including benefits to immune system.
• Physical activity is important for bone, muscle, cardio-vascular and lung health. Children and adolescents should do at least 60 minutes and adults 30 minutes of physical activity daily. These could include simple stretching exercise or yoga that can be done in your room, in balcony and verandah/courtyard.
• It is known that 8 hours of sleep among adults and 10-14 hours of sleep among children improves immunity.
• Significant change daily routine is observed among children due to closure of schools/preschools/day care centres. It is important for the parents to maintain a schedule for children with recommended sleep, physical activities in the house and other engaging learning activities.
4. Observe extra precautions for maintaining food hygiene while purchasing, cooking and storing food by self and food handlers at home
While at present there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it may be possible that people can become infected by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus and then touching their face.
The higher risk though, comes from being in close contact with other people while food shopping or receiving a food delivery. As always, good hygiene is important when handling food to prevent any food-borne illnesses.
Remove any unnecessary packaging and dispose into a waste bin with a lid. Packaging like cans can be wiped clean with a disinfectant before being opened or stored. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand rub, immediately after handling packages you have just brought from the market.
General food hygiene tips
•Wash unpackaged produce, such as fruit and vegetables, and packets of consumables like milk, curd etc. thoroughly under running water.
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing any food.
• Use separate chopping boards for uncooked meat and fish.
• Always cook food to the recommended temperature.
• Where possible, keep perishable items refrigerated or frozen, and pay attention to product expiry dates. Always take out only the required portions of food items especially vegetables/meat/fish etc. from the fridge.
• Aim to recycle or dispose off food waste and packaging in an appropriate and sanitary manner, avoiding build-up of refuse which could attract pests. Try to dispose the waste in closed dustbins.
• Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating, cooking and handling food. Make sure your food handlers do the same.
• Always use clean utensils and plates.
• Inspect the store bought ready-to-eat or canned foods for any visible spoilage after opening the can/ packet. Please do not use if there is any visible spoilage/ foul smell/ colour change/swollen packets or cans.
General food buying tips
For buying groceries, it is better to have a designated person in the family. Make the required list of groceries (after discussion with other family members) beforehand.
• Buy groceries for at least one week to limit the number of visits to the store/ market.
• Elderly and pregnant/lactating mothers and children should avoid going out.
• Maintain a distance of at least 1 m (3 feet) from others while buying groceries in the market
• Buy foods that are non-perishable such as cereals, pulses, canned or frozen foods and dehydrated vegetables, and semi perishables such as onions, potatoes, yam, arvi, cabbage, carrots, small whole pumpkins, parval, etc.
• Avoid buying tempting foods like chocolates, chips, ice cream and other foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
• Keep a separate set of slippers/shoes to go out.
• Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds as soon as you return home from market.
• Do not touch your face while you are in the market.
• Wash the shopping bag thoroughly with disinfectant and clean water after shopping and dry in sun.
• Check the date of expiry of the product and visible damage (dent/ leak/ rust/ bulge/ flatten than usual size) of the pack before buying. Avoid buying items which have crossed the date of expiry or best before date or are damaged in any way. If food is spoiled or looks doubtful, it is best to throw away immediately and wash the container thoroughly.
5. Cooking and eating and doing domestic duties together can strengthen family bonds, fun whilst giving due support to extra needs of pregnant or nursing women and young children.
•Cooking and eating together is a great way to create healthy routines, strengthen family bonds and have fun.
• Wherever you can, involve your children and spouses in food preparation – small children can help with washing, preparing accompaniments or side dishes or sorting food items while older children can take on more complex tasks.
• Pregnant and breastfeeding women in addition to taking care of their domestic and work related duties require extra time and family support to take care of themselves and the baby’s breastfeeding and food schedules. Creative ways may be sought to cook easy nutritious foods for young children and women in this phase.
• India has some of the worst gender inequalities in the world when it comes to household chores and care work. Let’s use this time together to change how we do things at home!
Cooking together is a great way to strengthen relationships and have fun.
Contributors: National Centre of Excellence and Advanced Research on Diets, Food and Nutrition Department, Lady Irwin College, National Centre of Excellence and Advanced Research on Anemia
Control, AIIMS, Indian Dietetic Association, Food & Nutrition Department, Institute of Home Economics, National Institute of Nutrition, Alive and Thrive, Nutrition International, UNICEF