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Eating in the time of COVID-19: 5 tips to stay healthy at home

May 8, 2020. 

Maintaining a balanced diet is key to a healthy lifestyle and strong immune system. Although angst and uncertainty in times of COVID-19 may lead to stress eating, consuming too many salty snacks or sugary desserts may actually make you feel worse. Foods with high levels of simple carbohydrates mess with our blood sugar levels which in turn lead to mood swings and increased anxiety.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables, as well as spices and certain seafoods, contain nutrients that stimulate the production of serotonin and dopamine – neurotransmitters that play a vital role in the body’s “pleasure” system. In addition, these will boost your immune system, making your body stronger versus infections and illnesses.

The following tips come from health professionals who give us their advice on what and how to eat in order to stay healthy during the current pandemic:

    1. “Consume unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats”, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Foods that are high in unsaturated fats – such as avocado, fish, nuts, soy, canola oil and olive oil) – stabilize heart rhythms, ease inflammation and improve HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” kind). Try to stay away from saturated fats that increase triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” kind). Saturated fats are found in pizza, cheese, whole and reduced milk, butter, dairy, meat products (such as sausage, bacon, beef and hamburgers), cookies and salty snacks.
    2. Citrus fruit, such as oranges, tangerines, clementines, mandarins, pomelos, lemons and limes, are an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as potiassium, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reminds us that although vitamin C does not prevent the onset of either COVID-19 or the common cold, it plays a key role in the formation of collagen. essential for strong ligaments, blood vessels, bones and tissue repair. It also aids in the treatment of anemia and stress.

    3. Writing for the Harvard Health Blog, Uma Naidoo, MD recommends adding spices such as ginger, garlic, turmeric and capsaicin (found in chili peppers) to your meals. Spices have a range of health benefits, including reduction of brain inflammation (linked to Alzheimer’s disease and depression), relieving nausea and diarrhea, keeping blood vessels flexible and reducing blood sugar levels. They are great way of adding some zing to your diet, while keeping your meals healthy and nutritious.
    4. Throw in some antioxidants to your diet in the form of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, sweet cherries, plums, prunes and cranberries, as well as pecans, small red beans, artichokes, potatoes and dark leafy greens. Antioxidants eliminate free radicals from the body, which cause cell damage and serious illnesses such Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and strokes, says Christopher T. Reilly from St. Johns’ Heath. Swap the high-sugar sodas and juice with naturally flavored water containing berries and citrus fruit.
    5. Legumes (eg. peas, lentils, peanuts, alfalfa, tamarind, chickpeas and soybeans) and whole grains (like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta, millet and barley) also reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Additionally, they reduce the risk of weight gain by improving our metabolism. New Zealand’s Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) recommends them as part of heart healthy diet.

Remember, no foods or supplements prevent COVID-19, but certainly add to a healthy lifestyle that reduces anxiety and keeps your immune system in top condition. In addition to nutritious meals, cooking and eating in company is a great way to strengthen ties with our loved ones and teach children about food safety. Making online dinner dates, staying at home and exercising are all excellent ways of keeping our bodies and minds strong.