Guest Expert Author: Sue Baic, RD
During this difficult time many of our clients self-isolating or working from home may be changing their eating habits. It’s useful to remember that a healthy diet can promote good physical and mental health. These top nutrition tips may help support people at home.
Tip 1: Eat and drink to stay well
No one specific nutrient, food or diet can prevent us catching COVID- 19 or any other viral infection. However we do know that a range of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals in the diet can act together to support normal immune function. These are best obtained from variety and balance from the main food groups shown in Figure 1.
This is more effective than taking large doses of any single nutrient or unproven herbal remedies. The exception is vitamin D which is normally made when skin is exposed to the sun and is found in relatively few foods. A daily supplement of 10 micrograms for adults is useful.
Figure 1: The Eatwell Guide
Tip 2: Include plenty of plant foods in the diet
To provide a wide range of immune supporting nutrients and promote healthy gut bacteria it’s useful to aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
A variety of types and colours is important but they don’t have to be fresh, organic or expensive superfoods. Frozen, canned, dried and juice all count. It’s a great idea to fill half the plate with vegetables and have fruit as a healthy dessert or snack. It’s also helpful to include more plant proteins such as nuts, seeds, pulses and beans as well as some wholegrain cereals.
Tip 3: Make good use of convenience foods
Food can play a key part in enjoyment of life so it may not be helpful to be unnecessarily anxious or restrictive with food at this time. Including a range of healthy foods is important but so too may be including some treats of favourite foods, even if they are high in fat and sugar.
Many convenience foods can be nutritious as well as useful for saving time if people don’t feel like cooking. They often have a longer shelf life meaning fewer shopping trips. Examples include canned beans or vegetables, pasta sauce, tinned soup, quick cook pasta or noodles, tinned fish, tinned fruit, long life milk and UHT fruit juice.
Microwaveable ready meals can have a useful role at this time too. Extra vegetables or salad can be added if desired and the front of pack colour coded labelling will highlight those lower in saturated fat and salt if this is a concern.
Tip 4: Save money on food where possible
Eating healthily doesn’t need to be expensive. There are lots of ways to save money if the budget is tight at this time. Some ideas include:
• Eating less meat and choosing more plant based proteins such as beans and pulses to extend meat dishes
• Buying canned, frozen or economy brand and own label products
• Home cooking of more meals using simple recipes, especially if there is more than one person in the household.
Reducing food waste will also save money. Useful strategies include:
• Planning meals and shopping with a list
• Buying some fruit ripe and some to ripen
• Careful portioning to cook only what is needed
• Using leftovers
• Storing food safely and well
The Love Food Hate Waste website has some great ideas for reducing waste: www.lovefoodhatewaste.com
Tip 5: Prevent malnutrition in vulnerable older adults
Malnutrition can impair the immune system and reduce muscle strength which can reduce mobility, increase falls and even affect respiratory muscles as well as slowing recovery from an illness.
Social isolation is a strong risk factor for impaired food intake. It can be helpful to screen and identify individuals at risk of malnutrition. Reporting unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite or trouble eating are all red flags. Useful healthcare professional and client facing nutrition checklists can be accessed via the Patients Association.
Tip 6: Strategies to help manage or prevent malnutrition include:
• Advising on regular meals, snacks and nourishing drinks.
• Encouraging eating with others where possible. It may be possible to share a meal using technology online at these times if are using it.
• Accessing home delivery of shopping and/or ready to eat meals
• Fortifying food to increase calories and protein alongside other nutrients. For example 4 tbsps. of milk powder can be added to a pint full fat milk for daily use.
• Recommending over the counter or prescribed supplements nutritional supplements.
• Reviewing and monitoring weight and food intake
Tip 6: Avoid overeating when self-isolating
It can be easy to comfort eat when stressed, anxious, sad or bored. Now may not be a time to plan on losing weight but many people may wish to avoid excess gain. Finding other ways to stay busy or provide self-care such as relaxation, activity or meditation may be useful for some.
Mindful eating may also be helpful. Some strategies include:
• Slowing eating by taking smaller bites, chewing well and putting cutlery down between mouthfuls.
• Paying attention to the smell, taste and texture of the food and stopping when comfortably full
• Limiting portion sizes and second helpings of high calorie foods, snacks and drinks
• Avoiding eating or snacking on the run or from the packet. Sitting at a table to eat
• Removing distractions such as screens while eating
Tip 7: Try some mood boosting strategies
Dehydration affects mood and concentration making us feel tired. For good hydration we need at least 6-8 mugs or glasses (1.6 to 2 litres) of fluid per day. Water counts but so too do tea, coffee, milk, fruit juice and low sugar squash.
Alcohol can be relaxing and pleasurable in moderation but it can impair mood and sleep as well as being high in calories. It’s good advice to stay within the recommended guidelines of 14 units per week.
Eating regular meals and breakfast with a mix of the key food groups in Figure 1 ensures a good intake of mood enhancing nutrients and fuel to the brain and the body.
What we eat and drink is really important but the other pillars of a healthy lifestyle – activity, sleep, relaxation, stress management and social connection – are important too.
For more information
The Association of UK Dietitians (BDA) website is regularly updated with COVID-19 / Coronavirus advice for the general public:
The website also has a range of free food fact sheets written by dietitians on the best ways to eat and drink to keep fit and healthy: