Good nutrition is crucial in supporting and maintaining our immune system
We’re certainly not in ordinary times; the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is causing a lot of changes in the daily lives of people globally.
And with many active cases in Ghana, physical distancing, good hygiene and other safety precautionary measures remain the best protection against COVID-19.
However, sustaining a healthy diet is very important during this COVID-19 pandemic. While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent COVID-19, good nutrition still plays an integral role before, during and after any infection.
How? Firstly, good nutrition is crucial in supporting and maintaining our immune systems to function at its uttermost capacity, thus reducing the duration and severity of infections when they occur.
Secondly, infections take a toll on the body, especially when there’s fever; the body would need extra energy and nutrients from healthy meals to be able to fight off and recover from the infection. And lastly, good nutrition helps boost our immune system back to being strong again.
People who eat well-balanced diets also tend to be healthier and lower their risk of developing or impede the progression of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
This is of great significance because we know that having such underlying medical conditions make one more likely to be seriously ill from COVID-19.
It’s still possible to consume a healthy diet during these difficult times.
Here are five general healthy tips I encourage you to adopt:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide lots of fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy immune system. Fresh produce is almost always the best option.
Fruits and vegetables can also be frozen and will retain most of their nutrients and flavour. However, don’t overcook vegetables as this lead to the loss of vitamins.
If using canned fruits or vegetables, choose varieties without added salt or sugar.
Fruits and vegetables provide lots of fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals
Limit intake of salt, sugar and fats
Generally, processed foods are high in trans fats, salt or sugar, which isn’t great for the body. In terms of oils specifically, let’s reduce their intake and opt for cooking methods that require little to no usage.
In terms of salt, lessen its amount when cooking and experiment with natural spices. And in terms of sugar, watch your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks.
Also, decrease the quantity of sugar and honey you add to food.
Stay hydrated regularly
Water, and particularly good hydration, is crucial for life and optimal health. Staying well-hydrated, mainly through drinking ample amounts of plain water (six-eight glasses daily for most adults) also helps our immune system.
Plain water is the best choice, but you can also consume other drinks (e.g. lemon-infused water, coffee, tea etc.), soups (e.g. light soup), as well as fruits and vegetables that are high in water.
Prepare and enjoy home-cooked meals with family
During regular daily life, many individuals often don’t have enough time to prepare home-cooked meals, and so would rather prefer eating out.
Spending longer periods at home may now offer the possibility to make those delicious and healthy recipes you previously didn’t have time to make. Besides, you’d also know what exactly is going into your meals.
These times have also meant that many families are spending more time at home together, to even share mealtimes.
Try as much as possible to make cooking and eating together a fun and meaningful part of family routines.
Family meals are a great way to strengthen family bonds whilst creating an opportunity for parents and other elderly to be role models for healthy eating.
Additionally, during this period, whenever possible, involve children in cooking healthy foods – from planning menus and sorting food items to offering them nutrition and food safety lessons. These can help them acquire important life skills that can be carried into adulthood.
Practice food hygiene and safety
Food hygiene and safety are prerequisites for food security and healthy diets. A nutritious food that isn’t safe isn’t healthy.
Currently, there’s no evidence of food being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, it may be possible that people can become infected from being in close contact with other people while food shopping or receiving food delivery.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing and eating food
As such, it’s still necessary to observe good food hygiene protocols to prevent food contamination and many common foodborne diseases when preparing food for yourself and others.
The following are key recommendations for safer food:
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing and eating food.
• Always use clean utensils and keep your kitchen clean.
• Separate raw and ready-to-eat food during food preparation and storage.
• Wash unpackaged produce, like fruit and vegetables, thoroughly under running water.
• Recycle or dispose of food waste and packaging in an appropriate and sanitary manner. Packaging like cans can be wiped clean with a disinfectant before being opened or stored.
• Cook food thoroughly.
• Where possible, keep perishable items refrigerated or frozen, and pay attention to product expiry dates.
• Keep food at safe temperatures: either below 5 °C or above 60 °C.
• Use safe water.
I hope these help you to develop healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy lifestyle for not only for this period but to last a lifetime!
The writer is a registered dietician and a member of the Ghana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics