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A healthy and balanced diet is essential for life. Get enough nutrition through your meals and your immune system functions well, you stay within your ideal weight range, and avoid a number of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and even heart disease

Giving your immune system a good boost and staying fit is especially important when a highly contagious disease like COVID-19 has spread all over the world, and been deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). With 177 regions and countries, including India, struggling to contain this novel coronavirus infection as of 28 March 2020, most governments are imposing partial or complete lockdowns.

India entered a 21-day long lockdown due to COVID-19 on 24 March 2020. And while essential services, including the supply of food, have been ensured by the government, many of you might be worried about staying indoors for a long period of time, eating the same food every day or running short of food items - let alone eating wholesome, balanced meals.

And while it’s difficult to focus on a healthy diet right now, it’s of the utmost importance and deserves every attention you can spare. It might seem like an impossible task, especially if you were not used to cooking prior to this lockdown. But working on your fitness and food habits now may help you avoid COVID-19, and come out of this public health emergency with your immune system and overall health in better shape.

  1. Is COVID-19 passed through food?
  2. Shopping to stay healthy during a lockdown
  3. Tips to cook healthy meals during COVID-19 lockdown

According to the research available as of 28 March 2020, eating fish, meat, chicken, eggs, and other cooked food does not cause COVID-19. The main mode of transmission of this infection is through close contact with infected people, especially since India is still in the second stage of transmission. 

Nevertheless, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has asked all food businesses to maintain good hygiene practices while packing, transporting and selling all food items. Current research and information suggests that cooking all food items thoroughly is likely to kill bacteria and viruses, so as long as you cook your food properly and maintain all other preventive measures against COVID-19 - including washing hands regularly - you have a chance at avoiding COVID-19.

There are bound to be difficulties in supply during a national lockdown, so don’t expect to shop for fancy or exotic healthy ingredients. For most people, this is the time when even essentials are difficult to obtain and store. So, take this opportunity to be minimalistic yet healthy.

The following are basic kitchen essentials you need to maintain a healthy diet during a lockdown.

  • Rice, flour and carbs: Don’t think about avoiding carbohydrates completely during this period of lockdown. You need energy and you need to feel full. You can also store whole grains like barley, pearl millets, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, etc., to prepare healthy meals. Keeping a few packets of whole wheat or quinoa pasta, beaten rice (poha), sago (sabudana), chickpea flour (besan) and semolina (sooji) at home can also help you prepare quick meals.
  • Lentils: All types of lentils and legumes are great sources of fiber, protein and essential vitamins and minerals. These are also easy to store over a long period of time, so get a variety of dals.
  • Salt and sugar: Consuming these in large amounts is not healthy, but you need both salt and sugar to maintain sodium and glucose levels in the body. Stock enough salt and sugar to last you a month, but limit your consumption of both if you can.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like peanuts, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, etc are very easy to stock for long periods of time. They’re also packed with nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
  • Spices: Cooking and eating simple food is a good idea, but spices are also nutrient-dense and easy to store. Stock up on easily available yet healthy spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, etc.
  • Oil: Stick to consuming very little oil, and try switching to the healthiest varieties like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, etc.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables whenever they are available in your locality or online. You can also buy and keep dried fruits like cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc., but make sure they don’t have added sugars.
  • Tea, coffee and dairy: Caffeine should not be consumed in large amounts, but you should stock up on green tea, black tea and coffee - especially if you’re working from home and need a boost every morning. Storing fresh milk can be difficult during a lockdown, so get a can of milk powder - just in case.

Maintaining a healthy diet throughout the period of a lockdown might seem difficult, but you can go a long way in achieving this goal by following the tips mentioned below:

  • Pick the right foods. Stock up on healthy ingredients only, and you’ll inevitably make sure that every meal is healthy. Use very little oil and limit the use of unhealthy ingredients as much as you can.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to make elaborate, cumbersome recipes that take a lot of ingredients and time to prepare. Stick to the basics.
  • Plan ahead. Take a stock of all the foods you have in your pantry and refrigerator, and if possible devise a meal plan with enough variety for a week at a time. This will reduce your anxiety and help you stay mentally healthy as well.
  • Mix and match. Instead of focusing on traditional meal combinations, go with nutritional balance, i.e. make sure every meal has the right proportion of carbs, protein, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
  • Portion out. It’s natural to eat too little or too much when stressed out and at home. Practice portion control by dividing your meals into mason jars, bowls, tupperware, etc. This will also make meals easier to have if you’re working from home.
  • Try new things. Even if you’re cooking with the same ingredients every day, you can try a number of healthy recipes from around the world. 
  • Cook together. With most families and people living together under lockdown, it’s important to involve everybody in creative tasks. Cooking healthy meals together can help you accomplish this.
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References

  1. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India [Internet]. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Government of India. New Delhi. India; MYTH BUSTER
  2. Food Safety Authority of Ireland [Internet]. Dublin. Ireland; COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
  3. Food Standards Australia New Zealand [Internet] Canberra. Australia; Novel Coronavirus and Food Safety
  4. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [internet]; Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  5. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; VIRUSES IN FOOD: SCIENTIFIC ADVICE TO SUPPORT RISK MANAGEMENT ACTIVITIES
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Food Safety and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
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