Due to the quarantine that affected almost all countries, the WHO published some practical advice for those in self-isolation.
First of all, they ask everyone to avoid over-purchasing. It not only leads to food supply deficiency and increase in food prices, but also to unbalanced diet, overeating, and overconsumption, as many foods are perishable and end up in the garbage bin. Fresh and high-quality foods, as well as long-lasting frozen fruit and vegetables, should be prioritized and bought in reasonable amounts. Full list of recommended products is available here.
Secondly, the WHO recommends preparing home-cooked meals, especially now that there is more free time for that. Instead of eating convenience food or fast food, you can experiment with new recipes, and prepare healthier and more diverse meals from fresh ingredients. There are several suggested recipes in the WHO’s article.
Third of all, one should be aware of portion sizes. Being at home for extended periods, especially alone or without much to do can also lead to overeating, while lack of physical activities can lead to weight gain. That’s why you should not only follow a healthy diet, but also do at least some physical exercise, and look for other ways to keep you in a good mood rather than eating.
Fourth of all, one should avoid alcohol. It’s not only a dependence-producing substance, harmful both mentally and physically, but it also weakens the immune system and undermines the body’s ability to cope with infectious diseases. Alcohol doesn’t help one cope with stress, on the contrary, it increases symptoms of depression. It also provokes anxiety, fear and panic that can intensify during self-isolation and quarantine.
Fifth of all, it’s recommended to stay hydrated, preferably by drinking plain water instead of juice, soda, and lemonade. Replacing sugary beverages with water is the best way to limit your intake of sugar and excess calories. To enhance the taste of water, fresh or frozen fruits, berries or slices of citrus fruits may be added, as well as cucumber or herbs such as mint, lavender or rosemary.
One should also limit sugar, salt, and fat intake. The availability of fresh foods may decrease and it may therefore become necessary to rely more on canned, frozen or processed foods, but many of these foods contain high levels of salt. Consider rinsing canned foods such as vegetables and beans to remove some of the excess sodium. You can also stop adding salt to your meals, and replace it with greens and spices. 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.
In order to limit fat intake, go for cooking methods that require no oil. It’s better to steam, grill, or bake. Reduce foods such as red and fatty meats, butter and full-fat dairy products, palm oil, coconut oil, solid shortening and lard.
Healthy microbiome means good immunity
Elena Kiprushkina, DSc, associate professor at the Faculty of Food Biotechnologies and Engineering and head of ITMO University’s “Molecular Nutrition and Food Technologies” program, reminds about the need to care about your intestine microbiome, the most important part of the human digestive system.
“What matters is not only the types of bacteria that live in the intestines but also how diverse they are. Microbiome should be as “multicultural” as possible. Unfortunately, just like some wild animal species, bacteria types can be in decrease for years, or on the verge of extinction. This happens due to monotonous diet and frequent use of medications, especially antibiotics that are used not only in medicine but also in animal farming,” says the expert.
Typical modern food – refined flour, sugar, saturated fats, supplements, preservatives, and artificial colorings affect the microflora in a harmful way. To get “good” bacteria, one needs to consume foods that are rich with fiber, or prebiotics – indigestible plant food components that stimulate the growth and activity of certain microorganisms that are beneficial to your health.
This means fresh, natural vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. Onions, leeks, garlic, chicory root, mushrooms, seaweed, wheat bran, legumes, berries, barley, oats, and flaxseed have the highest prebiotics content. A very good dietary supplement is fermented food (Korean cabbage kimchi, sauerkraut, soaked apples, pickles, kefir, soured milk). Eating these products on a regular basis reduces the risk of illness from respiratory pathogens and foodborne pathogens, the expert says.
However, according to Elena Kiprushkina, taking probiotics as supplements is useless.
“Biotechnological probiotics in the form of medication don’t have a “password” for taking probiotic microbes into the bowel biofilms. That’s why they often stay there for no use, transitionally, like the food microflora,” she says.
She also states that a diet low in plant fiber promotes the growth of pathogenic bacterial flora and brings the risk of increasing intestinal permeability, mitochondrial disorders, immune system problems, and inflammatory processes.
Food tracking apps
There are many apps for food and activity tracking. For example, the most popular one is MyFitnessPal. There are more than 11,000,000 meal suggestions, and it’s possible to scan barcodes in order to add items with no effort. Other than calorie and nutrients counters, food diaries and exercises, there are many healthy recipes, as well as advice on eating and training compiled by experts.
FatSecret is an absolutely free app with a simple interface: it counts the amounts of calories, protein, fat, and carbs, as well as sugar, salt (sodium), fiber, and cholesterol.
Among the apps available in Russian language, there is, for example, Zozhnik, created by the most specific Russian media about healthy lifestyle. Other than a calorie counter and food/training diaries, there also are articles, diet analyzes, training schedules, and tutorials on how to do exercises. Moreover, there’s also a mood and habit diary: it allows one to analyze in which specific cases overeating occurs.