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Wellness in times of COVID-19: Food & Nutrition

Part 1: Food and Nutrition Tips

Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. Limited access to fresh foods may compromise opportunities to continue eating a healthy and varied diet. It can also potentially lead to an increased consumption of highly processed foods, which tend to be high in fats, sugars and salt. Nonetheless, even with few and limited ingredients, one can continue eating a diet that supports good health.

1. Make a plan – take only what you need

Panic buying behaviour may have negative consequences, such as an increase in food prices, overconsumption of food and an unequal distribution of products. It is therefore important to consider your own needs, as well as those of others. Assess what you already have at home and plan your intake. This way you can avoid food waste and allow others to access the food they need.

2. Be strategic about the use of ingredients - prioritize fresh products Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be used over longer periods of time and often have a similar nutrient profile to fresh foods. To avoid food waste, you may consider freezing any leftovers for another meal.

3. Prepare home-cooked meals Spending longer periods of time at home may now offer the possibility to make those recipes you previously did not have time to make. Many healthy and delicious recipes can be found online.

4. Take advantage of food delivery options On days you want a break from cooking, take advantage of the many restaurants and other businesses offering food delivery options. Some solutions include “contact-less” options, where no human interaction is required, thus supporting self-quarantine and isolation measures.

5. Be aware of portion sizes Being at home for extended periods, especially without company or with limited activities can also lead to overeating. Seek guidance through your national food-based dietary guidelines on what constitutes healthy portions for adults and be mindful that young children will need smaller portions.

6. Follow safe food handling practices By following these five key recommendations for safer food, you can prevent many common foodborne diseases:

· keep your hands, kitchen and utensils clean

· separate raw and cooked food, especially raw meat and fresh produce

· cook your food thoroughly

· keep your food at safe temperatures, either below 5 °C or above 60 °C; and

· use safe water and raw material.

7. Limit your salt intake If you are relying more on canned, frozen or processed foods, keep an eye on their salt levels as they can be high. In many countries, 50–75% of the salt intake comes from the foods we eat, rather than what we add ourselves. The WHO recommends consuming less than 5 g of salt per day. Prioritize foods with reduced or no added salt or rinse canned foods such as vegetables and beans, to remove some of the excess sodium. Avoid adding extra salt when cooking and to your meals at the table and experiment with fresh or dried herbs and spices for added flavour instead.

8. Limit your sugar intake

If you crave something sweet, fresh fruit should always be the priority. Frozen fruits, canned fruits in juice rather than syrup, and dried fruits with no added sugar are also good options. Ensure that desserts are low in sugar and consume small portions. The WHO recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar intake a day. Limit the amount of sugar or honey added to foods and avoid sweetening your beverages.

9. Limit your fat intake

Opt for cooking methods that require less or no fat, such as steaming, grilling or sautéing instead of frying foods. If needed, use small amounts of unsaturated oils like rapeseed, olive or sunflower oil to cook foods. To limit saturated fats, trim excess fat from meat and poultry and choose skinless options. Reduce foods such as red and fatty meats, butter and full-fat dairy products, palm oil, coconut oil, solid shortening and lard.

Avoid trans fats as much as possible. Read nutrition labels to ensure that hydrogenated oils are not listed in the ingredients. If in doubt, minimally processed foods and ingredients are better choices. The WHO recommends limiting total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake, of which no more than 10% should come from saturated fat.

10. Consume enough fibre

Fibre contributes to a healthy digestive system and offers a prolonged feeling of fullness, which helps prevent overeating. Aim to include vegetables, fruit, pulses and wholegrain foods in all meals. Wholegrains foods include oats, brown pasta and rice, quinoa and whole-wheat bread and wraps, rather than refined grain foods such as white pasta and rice, and white bread.

11. Stay hydrated

Good hydration is crucial for optimal health. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is a simple way to limit your intake of sugar and excess calories. To enhance its taste, fresh or frozen fruits like berries or slices of citrus fruits may be added, as well as cucumber or herbs such as mint or rosemary. Avoid drinking large amounts of strong coffee, strong tea, and caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks. These may lead to dehydration and can negatively impact your sleeping patterns.

12. Avoid alcohol, or atleast reduce your alcohol consumption

Alcohol use and especially heavy use undermines your body’s ability to cope with infectious disease, including COVID-19. It is recommended that alcohol in general be avoided, but especially when in self-quarantine. As a psychoactive substance, alcohol also affects your mental state and decision-making and makes you more vulnerable to risks, such as falls, injuries, or violence when under quarantine with someone else. Alcohol consumption is also known to increase symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear and panic – symptoms that can intensify during isolation and self-quarantine. Consuming alcohol is not a good coping mechanism, neither in the short nor long term, although you might think that it will help you deal with stress.

Alcohol also makes certain medications less effective, while increasing the potency and toxicity of others. Do not consume alcohol in combination with pain medication, as alcohol will interfere with your liver functions and might cause serious problems, including liver failure.

13. Enjoy family meals Social distancing has meant that many families are spending more time at home, which provides new opportunities to share meals together. Family meals are an important opportunity for parents to be role models for healthy eating, and for strengthening family relationships.

Increased time at home during this period may also present new opportunities to involve children in cooking healthy foods, which can help them acquire important life skills that they can carry into adulthood. For example, let children choose what vegetables to include in your meals and teach them about proper food safety (including hand washing). Make sure to keep meals simple when involving children.

Helpful Resources:

1. Canada Food Guide:


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