We’re living in extraordinary times. With India on a 21-day lockdown to fight against COVID-19 coronavirus, we are all confined to our homes.
Not only are we working from home, dealing with household chores while self-isolating in the absence of house help, and managing bored kids, we are also struggling with limited availability of groceries and fresh produce. In times like these, most of us have one question – what can we eat to help boost immunity?
Truth be told, now is the time to make a few changes to your diet. Even if you are otherwise healthy, it’s important to make some key diet changes that help strengthen your body, give you some much needed energy and also keep unwanted infections at bay.
The human body is designed to crave homeostasis – which means balance, stability and normalcy.
But considering these extraordinary times, nothing feels normal. The two big changes most of us are currently dealing with are:
1.The fear/stress/anxiety that many of us feel because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of us are on multiple WhatsApp groups, each of them shelling out confusing and conflicting information (which btw, is rarely accurate or even correct). This information overload throws the human body into fight or flight mode — which not only increases stress and anxiety levels but also, hampers digestion. When the body is under stress, it downregulates digestion. This is because digesting food requires the maximum energy consumption. When the body anticipates stress that puts it into that fight or flight state, its only job is to protect you and cut out all unnecessary physiological functions —- of which digestion is among the first.
2. Secondly, as most of us stay at home in self-isolation, our energy expenditure has gone down. Simply meaning – we are not burning as much calories as we used to before this pandemic. Gyms are closed, and most of us are avoiding morning walks and runs. Even simple tasks like walking to your car, taking a flight of stairs to your office, or going to the bus stop to pick up kids have disappeared from our lives. In such a case, there’s no need for us to eat as many calories as we did earlier, as we simply will not be able to burn them.
Hence, the diet that worked for you for years may not be the best right now. In this changed environment, there are some simple yet effective diet changes that can help your body achieve homeostasis and also boost your immunity. Also, this will help you avoid diet mistakes that could unknowingly make you gain weight. The idea is to help you eat better with whatever groceries you have available at home, so that your diet nourishes and protects you in these uncertain times.
What are nutrient dense foods? These are foods that offer you maximum amount of nutrition with every mouthful. Think healthy carbs, protein rich foods and good fats. Essentially, this means you should focus on eating a balanced diet instead of resorting to instant noodles, biscuits and packaged foods.
They don’t just offer you energy to better handle the stressors of your everyday life, but are also chock full of essential vitamins and minerals. Opt for whatever fresh produce you can find, the more local and seasonal – the better. Don’t stress that you can’t find iceberg lettuce and kale at local vendors; instead focus on eating readily available vegetables like spinach, carrots, bottle gourd, okra, brinjal and cabbage. If possible, eat at least 2 veggies in each meal. The more green or colourful they are – the better.
Proteins help your body build antibodies to fight infections and also build haemoglobin. Also, they are calorie dense foods that help you feel full for longer, keeping cravings at bay. Add a good source of protein to every meal. Dals, chana, rajma, eggs, chicken and fish are all good options.
Pls Note: The coronavirus is very different from bird flu. As of date, there is no evidence that chicken or other poultry items transmit the virus. So chicken is safe. Additionally, it’s easier to store chicken and eggs in the fridge/freezer to cook a balanced meal on days fresh produce isn’t easily available.
Yes, I know you are sitting at home all day and probably want to eat a low-fat diet. But Fats DON’T make you fat!!! Instead, fats are a dense source of energy. In fact, they have 2.25 times more energy as compared to carbs and protein. In these stressful times when we are constantly worrying and also handling all household chores along with work pressure, we can do with a little extra energy! A small amount of good fats can help keep you satisfied for longer.
While wheat and rice are the most widely available and consumed grains in India, remember that these are simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates get digested very quickly and lead to a rapid post-meal sugar drop. If you are working from home and need to stay at your computers post a meal, you are likely to feel more sleepy and tired after a big meal containing rice and roti. So what can you do?
Ayurveda says that our digestive fire is highest at noon, but wanes or drops as the evening progresses. When you stay at home all day with limited movement, this digestion process is likely to be even lower. When you just aren’t burning enough calories, there is no need to eat a heavy dinner. Our recommendation: Have just a soup n subzi for dinner, or a fresh salad when possible. Avoid grain if you can.
This is to not
just add more flavour to your food, but also boost your immunity. Every Indian
home is stocked with spices, herbs and masalas that are great for health.
Turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, clove, dhaniya seeds and ajwain (carom
are just a few great examples. In times of the coronavirus scare, these spices play a star role in your diet.
Spices are high in antioxidants which help fight infections. Many boost digestive health and offer anti-inflammatory benefits as well. Haldi (or turmeric) for example helps release mucus. How can we have them?
In these times when we have limited groceries and time (hello, mothers trying to feed a full house while also working from home!), the smartest thing to do is to make One Pot Meals. One Pot Meals are both nutritious and convenient. You can add a variety of healthy nutrients to a single pot meal that cooks fast, and you have fewer utensils to wash later!
Honestly, I always feel Indian should make their cooking simpler by opting for one pot meals. And there is no dearth of options! Get creative!
It’s worse when everyone is at home. And honestly, the task becomes more challenging with kids and adults – all at home. Avoid succumbing to the comforting delights of pakoras or onion bhajiyas. This doesn’t mean you can’t have your favourite fried foods at all – but make sure these are only occasional treats and don’t become an everyday affair. Since our focus is to build immunity, pick on several healthy options instead.
Some easy tips:
This is one BIG caution. Do not lower your immunity by damaging your throat or stressing the respiratory system. Avoid chilled water and keep away from ice-creams and sodas. Opt for room temperature water at all times.
And that brings us to an important point – How to avoid putting on weight when housebound? Here are some tricks to keep moving and avoid mindless snacking:
Many of us experience sugar cravings. And it’s much easier to succumb to it when you’re at home, and the kitchen is within your reach. At a time when our focus should be on building immunity, sugar is a villain. Sugar raises blood sugar levels and also triggers an inflammatory response in the body.
So, what can you do to keep sugar cravings at bay?
At Sepalika, we believe Food is Medicine. And our hope is that in such vulnerable times, this is what each of us can do – USE food to protect ourselves.
I will sign off with one advice I give each and every client we work with: 5 deep belly breaths before each meal. In…& Out…In…& Out…This Gets the body into parasympathetic state where foods digest well and is absorbed better.
Stay Calm. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.