What a crazy time we live in. This worldwide pandemic is impacting many of us and can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, hopeless, ... All these emotions are valid and it's ok for you to feel these.
I wasn't sure I wanted to write about COVID-19 in relation to nutrition because I feel like we are being oversaturated with news on this. I didn't want to add more stress for people. However, with all the BS information going around, especially about nutrition, I feel like I have no choice to address this to give you the RIGHT information. As a registered dietitian, I feel it's my responsibility to clarify and demystify the various nutrition claims surrounding COVID-19.
Also, I want to give you tips to cope with this stressful time and tips to stay well nourished while in quarantine.
OK let's dive in.
NO FOOD OR SUPPLEMENT CAN PREVENT OR CURE COVID-19
That's right. You CANNOT ''boost'' your immune system through specific foods, diets or supplements. If someone tries to sell you a ''superfood'' or supplement, please run. This is marketing technique based on fear. Companies will often use the urgency technique ''Buy now to prevent COVID-19''. Even if celery juice could boost immune system (which is does not), it would NEVER happen instantly. Most medications take 3-4 weeks before you see any results.
When it comes to the immune system, there are many micronutrients that are involved in the normal functioning such as, vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc. These nutrients are found in a variety of common foods and, unless you are deficient, you do not require supplementation. Also, if you are not deficient, a supplement will NOT optimize or boost functions (more is not better). Actually, too much of any micronutrients can lead to 1- expensive urine (your body won't be able to absorb all of it and will excrete it) 2- toxicity (depending on the micronutrients you are over-consuming symptoms can go from nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea, kidney stones, dizziness, weakness). They are called ''micro'' nutrients for a reason, our bodies do not require a large dose.
So what do you eat?
A healthy balanced diet. Coronavirus or not: all foods can fit. Include a variety of foods, eat regularly (don't need to restrict- see below) and stay hydrated! A balanced nutrition can support immune functions (long term) as you are getting all micronutrients needed. But again, eating all nutrient-dense foods TODAY will not ''boost'' your immune system.
EVEN IF YOU ARE HOME AND MOVING LESS, YOU STILL NEED TO EAT.
This applies for rest days, sick days, vacation days, lazy days, ANY DAY. You do not need to earn food with movement. Your body requires fuel no matter your activity level. Actually, most of your energy spent during the day has nothing to do with your activity level. Most of our energy expenditure (65-75%) is used to maintain normal functioning (liver, brain, muscle, heart, lungs, kidneys, ...). This is why, patients in hospital who are bed bound or in a coma, STILL require food.
Approximately 10% of our daily expenditure is used to digest food. And finally, 15-30% of energy expenditure is for physical activity, which only 5-10% is from exercise thermogenesis (planned workouts, such as weight lifting, sports, running, walks, yoga,..). Most energy expenditure related to physical activity(10-25%) is spontaneous, non-exercise activity such as standing up, getting ready. crushing your teeth, cooking, talking, fidgeting, etc.
All this to say that even if you are not purposefully moving, your body requires nourishment.
IT IS OK IF FOOD IS USED AS COMFORT
This is a stressful time. It is ok if you are coping with food right now. It is an effective way to cope, which is why you may feel inclined to rely on food. Yes, long term always relying on food to soothe emotions is not ideal. However, instead of feeling guilt and shame around it, let's reframe. This is you taking care of yourself. It's not a lack of willpower or motivation. It is actually an act of self care.
I would challenge you to start being mindful of your intake and recognizing your thoughts, behaviours and physical sensations. If you recognize you are stress eating, give yourself compassion and avoid judgement. Again, THIS IS NOT BAD. You are simply trying to soothe yourself. This is where we can start introducing new coping mechanisms. Here a list of a few ways to cope with difficult emotions:
-Check in with yourself and identify emotions.
-Ask yourself: What do I need in this moment to feel better?
-Journal : Write down all thoughts and reframe
- Joyful movement: Dance, walk, stretch
-Stay connected with your loved ones
-Create a flexible schedule/plan your day
-Step outside (if possible!)
You may also recognize that you are eating our of boredom ( being quarantine for 14 days may definitely lead to boredom). Again, take away judgement and reframe. Here are a few ways to combat boredom:
- Make a list of things you want to do in the next year, places you want to go, people you want to see, work goals, life goals, ...
- Make a vision board!
- Play board games or card games
- Write down a list of chores you have been wanting (more like having) to do
- Read a book
- Call a friend or family member
- Make a gratitude list
Planning to stay home for 14 days: here are easy foods to keep at home:
*I would suggest to make a plan and then create a list of what you need. This way you avoid over buying foods (save $ and leaving supplies for others). There are also many restaurants and companies that offer free delivery AND have put into place extra health measures during this time*
Canned fish, poultry, seafood. Frozen fish. Frozen meats/poultry (buy fresh and freeze). Hemp hearts. Tofu/tempeh (Can also be frozen), Edamame beans. Cottage cheese. Greek yogourt (although I have found these hard to find).
Buy frozen if possible. Buy canned fruits (in water) and veggies. Buy fresh veggies/fruits and store them in the fridge/freezer.
Carbs are easily stored :D yay! Rice, quinoa, potatoes, pasta, legumes, crackers, bread(can be frozen), ...
Oils, nuts, seeds, butter.
Because again- All food fits!!
This includes, but not limited to: popcorn, chips, frozen treats, frozen meals, ....
I hope this was helpful for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can support you in any way. We are all in this together.
Marie-Pier Pitre-D'Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Also, get your information for legit sources : Public Health Authorities
Provinces and Territories Website
British Columbia www.bccdc.ca/covid19
New Brunswick www.gnb.ca/publichealth
Nova Scotia www.nshealth.ca/public-health
Prince Edward Island www.princeedwardisland.ca/covid19
Newfoundland and Labrador www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19
Northwest Territories www.hss.gov.nt.ca
Yukon Territory www.hss.gov.yk.ca
(1) Maggini, S., Pierre, A., & Calder, P. C. (2018). Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course. Nutrients, 10(10), 1531. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101531