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Dietician Digest: Advice on Staying Healthy During the Coronavirus

by Christi Bowling, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD

To say that we are living in interesting times is an understatement. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, and for many of us, that means living in very isolated situations for the time being. During this time, social distancing is imperative to slow the spread of the virus, but it also gives us additional time to think about our own health. One of the best ways to keep your immune system strong is by eating a nutritious, balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and staying as active as possible. Poor nutrition, not getting enough sleep, and being sedentary can compromise your immune function and increase your risk of getting infected.  

There are several nutrients (copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and D) that play an important role in our immune system. It is generally advised to eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, which allows us to get these important nutrients through our food.

The following tips will also help you stay healthy during this excess time spent at home:

Stock up on nutrition-packed foods that will stay fresh for a week or longer: 

  • Breads—corn tortillas, whole grain English muffins, bagels, breads, wraps, frozen whole wheat waffles
  • Grains—instant oatmeal, quick cooking pasta, frozen brown rice, couscous, refrigerated pizza crust
  • Fruits—sturdy fresh fruit (apples, citrus), dried, plain frozen, canned in juice or water
  • Vegetables—sturdy fresh veggies (celery, broccoli, onions, potatoes), plain frozen, low sodium canned, sundried 
  • Sauces—tomato pasta sauce, salsa
  • Soups & Broths—canned, frozen, shelf-stable cartons
  • 100% Juices—refrigerated, frozen, canned, boxed
  • Milk—fresh, canned, shelf-stable packages 
  • Eggs—fresh eggs, egg whites in cartons
  • Cheeses—sliced, cubed, shredded, crumbled, grated hard cheese
  • Beans/Legumes—canned beans (black beans, chickpeas), dry beans 
  • Nuts & Seeds—bagged, canned, nut butters
  • Chicken—frozen or canned
  • Seafood—frozen ready-to-cook fish fillets, frozen shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Beef—pre-made frozen lean ground patties or meatballs
  • Flavorings—add zing with dried herbs & spices, vinegars, mustard, hot/steak sauces, lemon/lime juice, light dressings, honey, Greek yogurt

Be mindful of poor nutrition habits. Proper nutrition also involves keeping bad foods, such as sugars, fats, and synthetic chemicals out. Stressful conditions such as these can also encourage binge eating, which typically includes these types of “inflammatory” foods. Have a plan in place to discourage binge eating by keeping these tempting foods out of the house and keeping busy as much as possible (spring cleaning, exercise, reading, calling friends and family, etc.).

Be sure to stay hydrated. Not only is this good overall for fighting infection, but it also helps keep mucus thin and easier to remove from the body. In general, drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day (8 oz. per glass), unless you are on a fluid restriction. Foods like soups, fruits, and vegetables with high water content, such as melon and cucumber, also count as fluid sources. Unsure if you’re getting enough fluids? One way to tell is by your urine. If you are well hydrated, your urine should be a light color.

Keep moving. Plan a set time for exercise or other fun physical activities (otherwise it may not get done). Download free fitness apps on your smartphone or visit YouTube and search for your favorite workouts. Encourage the family or just yourself to walk in the neighborhood when weather permits, practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet from others who are outside. Fresh air combined with moderate aerobic activity can help clear the mind, boost energy levels, reduce blood pressure, increase vitamin D, improve digestion, and lower stress. 

Keep a sleep schedule. Try to wake up and go to bed around the same time each day. Our body clock, or circadian rhythm, regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness each day. Having a consistent sleep schedule maintains a balanced circadian rhythm so that we can enter deeper, more restful sleep. This in turn helps to regulate our appetite, mood, and immune system.

These are crazy times we are living in, and many of the things that are happening in our world today are out of our control. But we do get a say in the choices we make, and those play a fundamental role in shaping our destiny. Remember – we are all in this together!

Christi Bowling is the Director of Nutrition Services for MetaPhy Health. Every quarter she provides her unique perspective and valuable expertise on all things diet and nutrition relative to chronic disease management.

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