Good Diet Good Health
1. Knowing what to eat and why you need to eat it
Whatever your age or the current state of your health, a well-balanced diet fuels your body’s needs and gives you the energy to pursue normal activities. Many key nutrients can support our immune system, helping protect us from infections and illness, and stimulating the cell production that helps us recover from injuries. Most of all, good food is a source of pleasure!
- If you are healthy, follow the guidance provided by your governments dietary recommendations. In general, you should eat a variety of foods, including more fruits and vegetables, and fewer foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
- Fruits and vegetables: Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day and remember, fresh, frozen, dried and canned all count towards your total five-a-day. Vegetables included as ingredients in other dishes (tomatoes in pasta sauce, onions in stew etc.) also count, so it’s actually not that hard to get your required five. It’s good to choose a variety of different fruits and vegetables. As well as providing vitamins, minerals, fiber and flavor, fresh foods add powerful antioxidants into our diet.
- Cereals and grains: Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy carbohydrates, (including chapattis, breakfast cereals, noodles and oats), are an important part of your meals and snacks. Aim to include one food from this group in every meal. Choose wholegrains whenever possible.
- Meat and proteins: We all know that meat is a source of protein, but red meat should be eaten in moderation. Fish can be enjoyed a few times a week, as can chicken. Combining legumes (beans, lentils or chickpeas) with grains (rice, pasta, or bulgur, barley, etc.) forms a complete protein and makes a hearty meal!
- Dairy and alternatives: Dairy-based foods, such as yoghurt and milk provide the richest and best absorbed source of calcium in our diet. Aim for three portions a day to meet the recommended calcium requirements.
- If you have a health condition or are recovering from illness or injury your dietary needs may be different. Some illnesses can change your body’s need for nutrients and its ability to absorb them. Follow the advice of your healthcare professional if you require a special diet and do not hesitate to call them if you have any questions. During the Coronavirus outbreak please follow your government’s guidelines on how to contact your healthcare professional.
If you are unable to eat and drink enough to meet your body’s needs, then you could be at risk of malnutrition. Older people and people with specific pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, please consult your healthcare professional. There are also reliable self-screening tools available to check for malnutrition like: https://www.malnutritionselfscreening.org/
2. Managing changes of appetit
Enjoying your food is a really important part of healthy eating. But when we are worried or under stress, we may find that we either lose our appetite or turn to stress-eating for comfort.
- If this is the case, getting the nutrients your body needs may be more of a challenge. First, try to find ways to reduce your anxiety. Following your government’s guidelines can give you a sense of control and help you to relax in this situation. Follow their advice on how to stay safe, stay in touch with friends or relatives by phone or text, limit watching the news, revisit an old hobby or try gentle exercise.
- Try having small frequent meals or multiple healthy snacks during the day, rather than a few large meals. You may also find small portions easier to manage. If appetite loss persists for more than a few days, try full-fat foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese. Have a nourishing, milk-based shake or smoothie between meals. Weigh yourself to check that you are not losing weight. If so, it may be a sign of malnourishment, in which case you should consult your healthcare provider without delay.
- Improving your diet may help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly.
- Eat regularly: If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. These include pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread, cereals, nuts and seeds. Avoid foods that make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks and alcohol.
- Stay hydrated: If you don’t drink enough fluids, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. It is recommended that you drink between 6–8 glasses a day. Water, tea, coffee, juices and smoothies all count towards your intake, however drinks that contain caffeine or sugar should be avoided.
- Managing caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant, found in tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks. It can give you a quick burst of energy, but it may also make you feel anxious and depressed. It can also disturb your sleep should you drink coffee or black tea for example, before bed. You may also experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly.
- Eating the right fats: Your brain needs fatty acids (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Healthy fats are found in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.
- If you tend to eat more or more often when feeling anxious and worried, you may be ingesting too many calories, which can cause weight gain.
- When we eat for comfort, we often feel guilty afterwards. Try not to be too hard on yourself, as that can make you feel even worse. Understanding whether you are eating because you are hungry or emotionally upset is key. Emotional hunger usually comes on suddenly, whereas physical hunger comes on more gradually. If you have the urge to eat, try putting it off for five minutes, and chances are it will pass. Listen to your body, ask yourself how you are feeling. If you are upset, try to find ways to relax. Government guidelines actually help give us a feeling of control over the situation. Staying safe, checking in with friends or relatives by phone or text, revisiting an old hobby or trying some gentle exercise can all help us relax.
- When you are eating with others, focus on enjoying your food, or on the conversation. Avoid doing other activities at the same time, such as watching TV, checking your phone or listening to the radio.
3. Meal planning to the rescue
Use a visual guide like the Eatwell guide to help you plan your meals. For each of the seven days in the week write down what you will eat for each meal. You may find that most mornings you eat a similar breakfast. For lunch and dinner, make sure you include a starchy energy food, fruit or vegetables and a good source of protein. Deciding in advance what you are going to eat can help you keep your diet interesting and varied and will help you know how much and what types of foods you need to buy. There are lots of easy, quick recipes available online e.g. through BBC Good Food.
4. Always shop with a list
Seeing pictures of empty supermarket shelves can be very worrying, but it’s important to think about others when shopping and only buy what you need. Making a menu plan for the week to make a shopping list. Remember to use what you have in the freezer or pantry and only shop for the items you need. Start your list with the basics that you use most, e.g. fruit, vegetables, milk and bread. Think about what recipes you want to cook and add the ingredients to your list. It can be helpful to work through the day from morning to evening in your head, so you don’t leave anything out. A list also helps you do your grocery shopping quickly, helping avoid being in the store longer than is necessary.
5. Swap ingredients of favorite recipes
If your usual foods are not available, it can make cooking your regular recipes more challenging. Try some of these tips:
Swap one starch for another: can’t find pasta? Use rice or polenta. No baguettes? Try pitta.
Many recipes can be adapted to use different sources of protein: chicken can be substituted with fish; ground beef can be replaced with lentils.
If fresh foods are unavailable or not so fresh, use frozen or canned ingredients instead.
6. Give your immune system a boost
The best way to support your immune system is to eat a varied, healthy diet to get all the nutrients you need. Supplements are not usually necessary but if your healthcare provided has recommended them, do take as prescribed.
7. Quarantine with vitamin D supplements
The British Dietetic Association has put together some really useful information on vitamin D. Here is a summary of their information and advice:
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium for healthy bones, muscles and teeth. It helps to prevent rickets, osteomalacia (the softening of the bones caused by vitamin D deficiency) and falls.
Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D. Exposure to the sun is even more effective than diet in providing what our body needs. If you are self-isolating, try to spend some time outdoors in your garden or on your balcony. If that is not possible then, like in autumn and winter, you may not be getting enough sunshine right now. That’s why you might need to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D and so, as always, make sure to include them in your diet: cod liver oil contains a lot of vitamin D. If you don’t like the strong taste, then opt for oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring, kippers and eel. They contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D, so try to eat them more often if possible.
Egg yolk, meat, offal and milk contain small amounts, but this varies according to season.
Margarine, some breakfast cereals and some yoghurts are fortified with vitamin D.
For more information see the British Dietetic Association website.
8. Leftovers are always better the next day!
Planning your meals carefully will help you make the most out of the food you have. These days, when we are trying to stretch our food supplies even further, leftovers are more useful than ever. Whatever is left of last night’s meal will make a delicious lunch today! Once the leftovers have cooled (within two hours), they can be stored in the fridge or freezer, in a clean bowl or tub. If refrigerated, use leftovers within two days.
Leftover cooked meat or fish can be enjoyed cold as sandwich fillings or to top a salad. If you reheat meat, fish or any food ensure it reaches 70 degrees for two minutes so that it is heated throughout. Use up leftover meat and vegetables in a stir-fry, blend cooked leftover vegetables to make a sauce for pasta or soup. Stale bread can be toasted or refreshed for a couple of minutes in the oven. Cooking an extra couple of portions of a dish that freezes well is a useful way of having a stand-by ready-made meal should you fall ill.
9. Know what’s in your kitchen cupboards
Now is a good time to do a good inventory of your kitchen cupboards. Check best-before dates and make sure you use up anything near the end of its shelf-life first. Make a list of what you’ve got. Divide into food groups e.g. starchy energy foods like rice, pasta and other grains. You may have tinned or frozen fish, meat or beans – these are good sources of protein. Fruits and vegetables that are tinned or frozen are just as good as fresh ones. Knowing what you have makes meal planning and shopping easier. You may only need a couple of additional fresh ingredients to make a whole meal.
10. Cooking for one
Being isolated from friends and family can be extremely difficult, especially if you live alone. Loss and bereavement can also mean that you find yourself eating meals on your own. If you live with someone who becomes ill, you might also find yourself eating alone out of necessity. It may help to plan or even prepare your meals and snacks in the morning when you are likely to be feeling at your best. If you leave it until later, you may be feeling too tired or down to cook. Modern technology can provide instant company at mealtimes, so if you can schedule a video chat. Even calling up a friend or loved one and putting them on speaker phone can provide instant company. It can also be a comfort to eat while watching a favorite TV show or radio program.