Justine Bold is a Senior Lecturer in Nutritional Therapy in the University's School Allied Health and Community. She is a registered nutritional therapist and has worked in private practice since 2003. In this blog, she explores the challenges of healthy eating and wellbeing during the Covid-19 lockdown and how to overcome them.
Over the recent months, many people will have come across challenges around the availability of food; perhaps from isolating at home owing to symptoms of Covid 19 and not being able to go out shopping. Or perhaps usual staples and favourites haven’t been available in a shopping delivery or on a visit to the shops. Or you may be having to go longer between visits to the shops or between shopping deliveries. There’s also added financial pressure for many families with increasing food prices and schools and childcare facilities disrupted. So, how can we navigate this time and still remain healthy?
Take a balanced approach
We should all be trying to eat a healthy balanced diet as this helps our overall health and resilience, which is obviously of even greater importance in a public health crisis. Most of all, it’s important to enjoy your food and eating, and, if you live with others, to try to make it a time to talk to each other.
The key to a balanced diet is to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and to eat from all the food groups. This includes fats, especially the healthy oils found in nuts, seeds and oily fish; proteins in foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, beans, pulses, meat, dairy foods; and carbohydrates which include starches like bread, cereals, rice and pasta and fruits and vegetables that also give us fibre and many valuable vitamins and minerals.
If you haven’t got much fresh produce, substitute in canned, preserved or frozen fruit and vegetable alternatives if you have them. Remember dried store cupboard items, like split peas, lentils, dried beans and jars of herbs and spices, are healthy and can be used to make and flavour soups, curries and casseroles.
Comfort eating and drinking
One challenge of staying at home more is that it can be tempting to comfort eat or drink alcohol more than usual, especially if we are bored and missing social interaction. If we aren’t moving around or exercising as much as normal, both can lead to weight gain as well as us feeling unhealthy and perhaps also contributing to lowered mood. So, the trick here is balance and moderation without depriving ourselves (as that can lead to compensatory behaviour where we ultimately consume more or binge later).
So, it’s really important for general wellbeing and maintaining a positive mood during this crisis that we enjoy our food and some treats and that we also relax. We can still enjoy sweet treats like chocolate and a glass of wine or beer. Cocoa in chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants; so, a few squares of chocolate, especially dark chocolate with a higher cocoa content can be very beneficial. But if you struggle like many people with not eating the whole bar of chocolate; try portion reduction strategies like mixing with a few bits of dried fruit or nuts. Or limiting yourself to one chocolate treat in the day. Other healthy snacks can be really helpful, these include carrot sticks, oat cakes, any type of fruit as well as nuts, seeds or slightly salted popcorn.
Eating to help the body
Another challenge has been the lack of time outside. If we are cooped up inside and getting less fresh air and sunlight this reduces our ability to make vitamin D through sunlight exposure on our skin. Vitamin D is important for immunity and there’s some evidence that low levels are associated with increased risk of respiratory infections and pneumonia; so outside daily exercise is recommended to the majority of people.
For those looking to top up on vitamin D, foods containing it include oily fish, eggs and mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight. Supplements of vitamin D are recommended by Public Health England during autumn and winter months when we may not get enough sunlight; so, if we are spending less time outside, supplements may be a good idea now. The recommended dose is 10 micrograms for adults.
What we eat can also help us manage mental stress. Anyone having trouble sleeping should ideally avoid caffeinated drinks from around mid-afternoon and try to increase foods containing an amino acid called tryptophan prior to sleep. This is found in foods such as poultry, oats, eggs and bananas. Magnesium rich foods such as green vegetables and wholegrains can also be useful in stressful times as magnesium is lost from the body more at times of stress. Magnesium salts or Epsom salts, which can still be ordered online, can be added to the bath. They are relaxing and can be a useful aid to sleep whilst also helping to reduce muscular tension.
Finally, if you are looking for an energy boost first thing in the morning to get you going, we recommend a breakfast containing quality proteins that help balance blood sugar through the day, such as a couple of boiled or poached eggs served with toast or an oat porridge served with a sprinkle of seeds or with yoghurt.
It can be useful to learn to adapt recipes and ingredients around what we have at home and also to minimise food waste.
This means it’s especially important now to keep an eye on sell by dates and to use any fresh fruits and vegetables we have before they go off. Try cooking and freezing if you have a surplus and access to a freezer.
If you eat meat or poultry, it’s a good idea to boil up leftover bones to make a stock or bone broth as this can be used as the basis for a tasty soup or curry as well as being a rich source of many nutrients. It’s also reputed to be very good for the digestive system.
If you have fruit at home that is past its best, but not mouldy, sometimes it’s a good idea to cook it and you can use it in different ways such as a compote for breakfast cereal and it will also help it last for longer.
Substitute unavailable products
If you have plain flour and can’t get self-raising flour and want to bake sweet treats: remember that recipes for fruit cake and biscuits often use plain flour so they can still be options for home baking. If you don’t have any flour but have some ground nuts like almonds or chestnuts, you can also bake with those.
If you are running low on fresh vegetables, there are nutritious wild ingredients that you might be able to find outside if you have a garden or access to green space on daily walks. Nettles can be challenging to pick (we recommend wearing gloves and it’s obviously important to find a clean source, to wash well and only use the tender tips), but they make great healthy very smooth soup and in many areas in Worcestershire and Herefordshire wild garlic is growing at the moment too. Wild garlic can be eaten in salads, cooked in a stir fry or used in soups.
Justine is CNHC registered and has worked part time in practice since 2003. She is a Senior Lecturer in Nutritional Therapy in the University's School Allied Health and Community
This post was published on 4th June 2020 Any references to self-isolation, travel or meeting others was accurate at the time of writing but the guidance may have changed since. Please always refer to the latest Government advice.
All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.