Many of us have a love-hate relationship with healthy eating: we know we should be doing it, but sometimes the siren call of pizza is just too loud to ignore. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, we may feel as though we deserve extra treats and comfort food right now. And while there is definitely a time for those, there’s no getting around the fact that eating healthy for the larger part is good for us.
This month we saw the results of a new study looking at how foods rich in Vitamin C lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes (opens in new tab), and how something as simple as adding a small glass of pure fruit or vegetable juice, in addition to your five-a-day, could lower your risk of developing this health condition. Considering how the CDC’s updated list of who’s at risk from coronavirus (opens in new tab) includes people with Type 2 diabetes, what you eat is important.
As part of its advice on coping with stress (opens in new tab) during the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises ‘maintaining a healthy lifestyle – including a proper diet’, with a handy guide to food and nutrition tips during quarantine (opens in new tab). Featured foods include frozen fruit and vegetables, dried and canned pulses, canned fish, eggs and whole grains.
To help us with healthy eating at home, we spoke to Registered Dietitian Stephanie Snell, of UCHealth (opens in new tab), to get her tips for healthier snacks and meals to make quickly and cheaply.
Is it possible to boost our immune system with food and supplements?
“I would say that you are not boosting your immune system by eating any one specific food," says Snell. "With that being said, nutritional diversity is always good for your health. Think about eating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish… the list goes on.
"I typically steer patients toward eating whole foods for their nutrition, rather than relying on supplements, unless otherwise specified by their doctor."
Snell continues: “So there isn’t a particular food that I would associate with benefitting our health to stave off coronavirus. I would say focus on the hygiene and social distancing recommendations that are being released.”
What are your go-to healthy snacks?
“I recommend foods that are nourishing and filling for snacks. These are often fiber-filled, like a fruit or vegetable, with a side of protein or fat. I’m a fan of veggies and hummus. Be mindful of the frequency of snacking at this time, as food may be more easily accessible than usual. I also recommend drinking water throughout the day.”
WHO Europe has produced a recipe for a green pea stew (opens in new tab), which uses canned vegetables, eggs and cupboard staples, and you can find plenty of bean soup recipes online, including The Conscious Dietician’s easy vegetarian bean soup (opens in new tab) and Martha Stewart's vegetable-bean soup (opens in new tab).
What nutritious, easy-cook meals could we make at home?
“Bean-based soups and stews are always a fallback of mine for nutritious and budget-friendly meals, and beans are typically inexpensive. You can add lots of vegetables – even frozen vegetables – to these recipes.”
You mentioned frozen food… Is it good for us?
“Frozen food is great to have on hand. To be clear, I am referencing frozen ingredients and not frozen meals. I recommend frozen vegetables to patients even when they aren’t stocking up on food. It’s a good way to have vegetables on standby when you do not have access to fresh vegetables.
“I steer my patients toward any frozen product that is the frozen food itself (a vegetable, fish, and so on) without sauce. This way they are getting just that food without any additional ingredients. Frozen vegetable mixes with peas, corn and potatoes are going to be higher in carbohydrates, as these are starchy vegetables. This is primarily something to be mindful of if you are counting carbohydrates for diabetes management.”
If you can't afford one of the best freezers (opens in new tab) right now, The American Society for Nutrition has also produced a guide to nutrition-packed foods that will stay fresh (opens in new tab) for a week or longer. These foods for the fridge, freezer and cupboard include:
- Grains – instant oatmeal, quick cook pasta, frozen brown rice, couscous
- Fruits – sturdy fresh fruit (apples, citrus), plain frozen, canned in juice/water
- Vegetables – sturdy fresh veggies (celery, broccoli, onions, potatoes), plain frozen, low sodium canned, sun-dried
- Soups and broths – canned, frozen, shelf-stable cartons
- Beans/Legumes – canned beans (black beans, chickpeas), dry beans
- Nuts and seeds – bagged, canned, nut butters
- 100% juice – refrigerated, frozen, canned, boxed
- Milk – fresh, canned, shelf-stable packages
3 gadgets to aid healthy eating at home:
There are plenty of kitchen gadgets to help you cook better at home, including the best slow cookers for one-pot meals, and the best blenders for making everything from smoothies to nut butters and soups. If you're a fan of fresh juices, also take a look at our guide to the best juicers. Here are three go-to gadgets to help you make healthier snacks, drinks and meals at home, during lockdown and beyond...
Cuisinart Hurricane Blender
Use this blender to make your own fruit and vegetable based smoothies, as well as to blend fresh or frozen ingredients for homemade soups, dips, dressings, sauces and desserts. The Cusinart Hurricane Blender sports a double housing design to reduce noise, and has an LCD display with programmable countdown timer.
It blends smooth, hard and fibrous foods, from celery, apples and banana to spinach, kale and broccoli, and can handle nuts and seeds too, as well as pre-bought smoothie mixes. The Hurricane Blender has a puree function for making baby food, plus Low Pulse and High Pulse functions to chop a variety of soft and hard foods. Handily, the included 60oz BPA-free jar sports both US and UK measuring indicators.
Crock-Pot CSC031 Slow Cooker
This 5.7L-capacity slow cooker is ideal for those who want to make their own bean-based soups and stews – check out Crock-Pot’s Tuscan Bean Soup recipe (opens in new tab) that uses canned beans and cupboard staples, and produces 6-7 portions.
The Crock-Pot CSC031 is dishwasher safe and simple to use thanks to two heat settings. After the slow cooker has finished cooking, it automatically switches to a ‘keep-warm’ setting to maintain your dish at the ideal serving temperature until you’re ready to eat.
Breville Juice Fountain Compact Juicer
If you enjoy making your own fresh fruit and vegetable juicers at home, a blender could be a brilliant addition to your kitchen, and this Breville offering puts in a decent juicing performance for its lower price tag.
Its compact size means it won't take up much countertop space in your kitchen, while its three-inch feeding tube will accommodate larger chunks of nutrient-packed fresh fruits and vegetables. The juicer is relatively quiet in use (though not as quiet as a slow juicer), though we did experience a hike in noise when juicing leafy greens like kale and spinach, and chunkier fruits like pineapple. It’s also easy to rinse after use, so clean-up won't take forever.
Other ways to boost your wellness at home
In addition to healthy eating, there are other lifestyle changes you could make to enhance your general wellness at home, plus some that will take a little more time and dedication, but that could make a difference to how you feel mentally and physically.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to worsening mental health for many Americans, with anxiety, stress and depression on the rise. Learning how to manage anxiety (opens in new tab) is entirely possible and begins with simply breathing properly, and creating ‘worry time’ early in your day. That means you won’t take anxious thoughts to bed with you and can hopefully stop anxiety from ruining your sleep (opens in new tab).
Like healthy eating, getting consistent good quality sleep will do wonders for your health. A recent study looked at the link between broken sleep and heart disease (opens in new tab), and how getting over seven hours a night helps lower your risk.
What you sleep on may be causing you unnecessary comfort, so it’s worth checking if you have the best pillow (opens in new tab) for your sleep position, and which of the best mattress online (opens in new tab) brands could have your dream mattress. Also take a look at our guide to the best Purple mattress deals (opens in new tab) and the best Saatva mattress discounts (opens in new tab) for luxury sleep for less.
Easing your mind and body also enhances your wellbeing, so consider regular self-massage at home to soothe your muscles and relieve built-up tension. This is easy to do with the best handheld massagers (opens in new tab), while regaining emotional calm and a greater sense of inner peace is possible with mindfulness and meditation exercises. Here we’d recommend the best meditation apps (opens in new tab), many of which offer free trial periods. As a bonus, they offer soothing sleep sounds too.