We’ve seen plenty of memes lately about what we’re eating or how much we’re snacking during all this ‘stay at home’ time. But seriously, it’s a good chance to adjust your diet while there are fewer distractions (like dinners out and the pub!). From a healthy eating point of view, this really is the time you need to be focusing on looking after yourself in whatever way you can.
Knowing how to make smart food choices is always important. But eating nutritiously is now crucial for staying healthy and improving our response to infections, says gastroenterologist DR ANDREA RAJNAKOVA.
“While we don’t have a specific answer targeted for COVID-19 yet, we can build up and strengthen our immunity with certain foods,” says Dr Andrea.
Vitamin C, for example, has been shown to reduce the symptoms caused by bacteria and virus infections. Fruit and vegetables like guava, papaya, kiwifruit, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, kale, peppers, spinach and tomatoes can provide vitamin C, plus a range of other vitamins and antioxidants.
Zinc has been also shown to have a significant impact on the immune system and can be found in meat, shellfish, dairy, bread and cereals, nuts and seeds. The same goes for Vitamin D, which can be found in oily fish.
Additionally, Dr Andrea says probiotics play a beneficial role in regulating intestinal functions. Probiotic sources include yoghurt, dairy products, sourdough bread and fermented foods like miso, tempeh, kimchi and natto.
Dr Andrea’s top tips for healthy at-home eating
Need some guidance? Here are six ways to get your healthy eating diet on track, according to Dr Andrea.
#1 Plan your day
Even though it doesn’t seem flexible at all, planning meals in advance is actually crucial. Without planning, it’s very easy to run out of ideas of what to prepare, and to turn to unhealthy foods and increase waste.
“Using a weekly menu is a great way to utilise all the ingredients you have at home before going out to buy new ones,” says Dr Andrea. “Especially nowadays, when we are advised to limit trips outside of the home, this planning solution is an essential strategy that comes in handy.”
#2 The rule of fives
It’s not a good idea to start dieting in quarantine as it will only increase your frustration. In turn, this can lead to emotional eating, where you eat more than your usual diet. Instead, Dr Andrea suggests following the “rule of fives”. This involves eating five times a day without omitting any food groups, but focusing more on small portion sizes and food quality.
“Eating healthy carbohydrates packed with good fibre like wholegrain products, and avoiding simple sugars can be very helpful in reducing food cravings. Start with a generous breakfast and finish your day with a small dinner.”
#3 Choose fresh fruit and vegetables
It’s important to buy fresh whenever possible. Vegetables can be cooked in large batches and stored in the fridge to have options available for a few days.
“Veggies likes cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, broccoli, kale, carrots, mushrooms and asparagus can also be frozen, and can last for up to six months,” says Dr Andrea. “Fresh fruit like banana, strawberries, mango or berries can be cut into pieces and stored in containers for a few months with a splash of lemon juice on top. If the fruit is very ripe and you can’t consume it quickly, prepare a fruit puree and freeze it in ice cube containers – you can use it later for smoothies!”
When fresh fruit and vegetables are not available, you can easily find other prepacked alternatives. However, Dr Andrea warns that canned products may contain salt, sugar and preservatives. A better idea is to choose frozen foods, which usually don’t contain any nasty ingredients and are easy to prepare.
“In order to be able to control your food intake during meals, always start with a big portion of cooked or raw vegetables and drink a glass of water to fill up your stomach.”
#4 Go for healthy protein
Dr Andrea advises filling a quarter of your plate with a protein. This could be eggs, chicken, cheese, healthy oily fish or legumes.
“If fresh options aren’t available, you can find pasteurised eggs with a longer shelf life,” she says. “Or choose hard cheese instead of the fresh and soft versions because it can last longer. Fresh fish and legumes can be replaced with dry or canned products, which provide good nutrients and can be stored for months. You can find different brands of legumes preserved in water only, without any other nasties. Alternatively, opt for the dry version, which is healthier and longer-lasting.”
Canned fish is also a good alternative, says Dr Andrea. Look for sardines, mackerel, tuna and salmon; these are rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids and a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.
Additionally, try vegan alternatives that are packed with healthy probiotics – things like natto and tempeh are fermented and have long expiration dates. Use canned and fermented foods cold in sandwiches, salads or pasta dishes, or cooked as part of a warm meal.
#5 Don’t forget your carbs
If supermarkets are running out of staple foods like white rice or noodles, this is a good time to choose other grains that can be cooked and stored in the fridge for a few days; for example, quinoa, black rice, red rice, buckwheat, oat, teff or millet.
“These are tasty, more nutritious, full of good fibre and can be easily used to make healthy salad bowls,” says Dr Andrea.
#6 Opt for healthy, homemade snacks
You’ll be very tempted to eat sweets, chocolate or other unhealthy foods while at home for the entire day. So, it’s a good idea to stock your house with a variety of homemade healthy snacks. Dr Andrea suggests the following:
- Prepare something easy like yoghurt with fruit, or popsicles made with blended yoghurt and mango or banana for the kids.
- Use avocado for smoothies with some milk, or a plant-based milk alternative like almond, rice, hazelnut or oat milk.
- Combine some ricotta cheese with honey or making skewers with hard cheese cubes and cherry tomatoes.
- Spread hummus, tzatziki, nut spread or guacamole on bread (or rice crackers for the gluten intolerant). These dips also work well with vegetable sticks, of course!
- Make an “Immunity Boost Juice” with orange, papaya, strawberries and watermelon. Other great combos include kale, mint, lemon, coconut water and apple, or orange, apple, beetroot and carrot.
Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic
#21-11/12 Royal Square at Novena, 101 Irrawaddy Road
6264-2836 | andrea-digestive-clinic.com
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