Home quarantine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic can leave you stressed and bored — both of which can cause you to overindulge on your weeks-long food supplies.
“You’re in a constant state of not knowing what’s going on, you’re fearful, and that makes it tough to eat healthily,” Sabina Valentine, nutrition expert at Canada’s University of Alberta, said.
Stress can increase cortisol levels, Valentine said, changing our appetites and causing us to overeat and develop cravings for sugary and fatty food.
Being at home for longer periods of time can fuel boredom, and combined with being near the kitchen, it can lead to unnecessary snacking — and various health issues. The good news, however, is that it is not too late to change your eating habits now over the next few weeks, with tips from Valentine herself to help you get started. Here are her best tips:
Keep Your Options Healthy
“Keeping those more gluttonous foods out of your cupboards means that when you do want a snack, you’re choosing something healthy rather than unhealthy,” Valentine said. She suggested keeping fruits and vegetables, whether fresh and on hand to snack on, or frozen if you do not want them to spoil quickly.
You should also make healthier choices when at the store.
“Instead of potato chips, buy popcorn. That’s a healthier option if you’re looking to snack,” she said.
Social distancing and self-isolation mean that you should go to the grocery less often, and that means you need to plan your meals. A healthy shopping list requires knowing what you are going to make ahead of time. Planning ahead also means utilizing the items you already have in your kitchen.
“Before you go out to buy, take stock of what you already have. This is a good time to make use of meals you’ve previously made and frozen,” Valentine said.
Stick To Your Shopping List
Valentine said that budgeting “is important to consider when you are buying food,” adding that this means sticking to your shopping list and not digressing too much from it.
Involve Young Ones
“If you’ve got kids around, involve them in meal planning and preparation,” Valentine said. “Even if they’re little, they can help stir things, and they can tell you what they like.”
Be Aware Of Your Food Choices
It is important to know whether you are making healthy or poor food choices.
Valentine recommended recording the food you eat for one to four days to increase your awareness of what you are eating. From there, it is now about recognizing why you eat what you are eating.
“If you’re bored, make a list of 10 activities you can do besides eating,” Valentine said. “If you’re stressed, talk to someone about it. We are all connected by coronavirus, so it can help to talk to family members or friends about how we’re feeling.”
What Should You Eat For Immunity?
Although there are immunity-boosting supplements available on the market, the best way to keep your immune system up and running and prevent the virus from striking you down is by following a healthy, balanced diet.
“You want a diet that’s filled with adequate amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you have those in your diet, you shouldn’t need any of the supplements that are being marketed around the coronavirus,” Valentine said.
She recommends following Canada’s Food Guide, ensuring that you fill half your plate with vegetables, and one-fourth each with protein-rich food (meat, nuts, beans, dairy) and whole grains (e.g. brown rice, whole wheat pasta).
Fruits and vegetables are important for immune function because they provide vitamins A and C. Valentine recommended choosing a colorful array of fruits and veggies if you can. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, she also recommended taking at least a 400 International Unit vitamin D supplement, adding that vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased susceptibility to infection.
“We live in a northern latitude, so even though we’re getting out, we’re still not exposing our skin to sunlight, and we don’t have a lot of foods in our diet that have a lot of vitamin D in them,” Valentine said.
“That’s basically what a healthy diet looks like—which really isn’t any different from a healthy diet we should be eating normally.”
What Should You Eat If You Have COVID-19?
What if you either suspect that you have or are diagnosed with COVID-19?
“[…] It’s similar to having a bad cold, so ensure you’re getting enough fluids and healthy foods. The same principles we apply to a normal healthy diet should be applied if someone has COVID-19,” Valentine said.
She noted that a loss of appetite can often accompany symptoms. In those cases, protein-rich meal replacement drinks can help.
“The immune system relies on protein to work, and our immune cells require energy. It’s like the fuel for our cars. So if you don’t have enough calories or protein coming in, your immune system is not going to work very well and you’re not going to be able to fight the virus as well.”
Although vitamin C and zinc in lozenge form have been linked to immune function and can each work to reduce the duration of a cold, as Valentine pointed out, people should always be careful when using health supplements or any natural health products.
“Ultimately, if you’re eating a healthy diet you shouldn’t need any of those supplements.”