Never before has a strong immune system been of such paramount importance.
YEI gets top-notch advice on how best to optimise your health and become fighting fit through good nutrition,
from Dietitian Sandi van Zyl
The word pandemic has been on everyone’s lips recently and has left many people feeling helpless and out of control. Visiting family and friends has become a thing of the past and we are relying on WhatsApp, FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch. Visits to the shops for many people, especially those classified as ‘high risk’, is off-limits and we are relying on online deliveries and/or family/friends to drop off groceries.
Good nutrition during this time is of paramount importance, not only to ensure that you’re ‘fighting fit’ should you become infected with the coronavirus, but also to ensure that your immune system is at its best to fight off any other unwanted ‘bugs’ that might come your way, especially now as we enter the colder, winter months. Some individuals live with co-morbidities, conditions that might increase their risk of severe illness if exposed to the coronavirus. These include high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
So, what can you do to optimise your health over the next few months and beyond? As a starting point, ensure that any chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and/or COPD are well managed. This is done through good nutrition, healthy lifestyle habits and medication, where necessary. If you need to lose weight, seek the advice of a professional, rather than embarking on a fad diet or quick fix that jeopardises your immune system at a time when a strong immune system is of paramount importance.
When it comes to good nutrition,
it is important to follow these three basic rules:
- Eat a well-balanced diet, providing sufficient protein, healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates.
- Eat whole-foods where possible, to maximise the nutrient content of the meal.
- Eat a variety of food, to ensure an optimal intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Be wary of over-the-counter supplements that claim to boost your immune system and/or protect you from the coronavirus. Supplements are not tightly regulated in South Africa and so companies often write whatever they want on the packaging, without sound evidence to back it up, in order to boost their sales. If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough in the way of whole-foods, including fruit and vegetables, perhaps take a general low-dose multivitamin. Avoid high doses of vitamins and minerals without first running it by a medical professional.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep a good stock of fresh fruit and vegetables, opt for frozen veg and berries as alternatives. There are also quite a few small businesses offering affordable delivery of fresh produce, with minimal waiting period.
If you’re struggling with appetite, try and include smoothies and/or soup (for the colder days). Add legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) and oat-bran to your soup to add both protein and fibre. Be cautious of some of the packet soups which are very high in sodium/salt. Rather make your own soup or purchase a ready-made soup. You can also add oat-bran to your smoothies to get an extra boost of fibre. Instead of trying to meet all your nutrient requirements in 3 meals per day, split up your daily quota into smaller meals/snacks every 2 to 3 hours.
Remember to keep up your intake of fluid throughout the day, even as it gets cooler. Perhaps swap chilled water for a herbal tea like Rooibos tea or alternatively hot water with lemon.
If you’re living on your own, cooking might not always be front of mind. To make sure that you’re eating sufficient healthy food, perhaps set aside one day in the week to cook in bulk and then freeze portions of the food. Start off by cooking 2 different meals and then each week add something new so that you don’t end up eating the same meal 3 or 4 days in a row.
Some other options that don’t involve a whole lot of preparation, would be to make yourself a platter of food, including slices of cucumber, tomato, peppers and any other salad ingredients you might have, as well as some whole-grain crackers and/or a slice or two of whole-grain bread and a protein-rich food like egg, tuna, pilchards/sardines, cheese or cottage cheese. Another relatively easy meal to prepare is some whole-wheat couscous, canned lentils or kidney beans, some chopped up salad ingredients and a sprinkling of feta cheese. You can also find pre-cooked whole-grains at a number of grocery stores – good to keep stock of in the pantry cupboard – you simply heat them up for 90 seconds in the microwave.
Ensuring a good intake of healthy food is really important during the pandemic and it is, for many of us, the one thing we still have control over. Even with finances being stretched in many house-holds, there are foods available that will give you the nutrients you need, without breaking the bank. These includes legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and the likes), pilchards, eggs and oats, to name but a few. Also stick to seasonal fruits, as they will naturally be a lot cheaper than those fruits that are imported.
Keep safe, take care and focus on the things you can control,
as we ride the storm that is re-shaping the way we live
and making us appreciate the simple things in life.
Sandi van Zyl is a dietitian living and working in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. She has a real passion for helping people achieve their health and wellness goals and she believes that it’s important to look at the ‘bigger life picture’ when devising a meal plan for an individual or family.
You can visit her website at www.sandivanzyl.com
or alternatively email her on firstname.lastname@example.org
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