While under quarantine in her native Madrid, Siobhan Colgan is sharing her experiences and offering advice on how to stay fit when you’re stuck inside, how to keep your kids engaged during this tough period, how to eat healthy when supplies are limited, and more.
The spread of COVID-19 isn’t showing signs of slowing down any time soon. And as more and more people are forced to stay home and work from home, it’s important that they’re including smart and healthy eating as part of their "new normal."
Photos of people panic buying bulk packs of pasta and rice have gone viral as countries began imposing social distancing guidelines or full-on lockdowns.
But according to nutritionist and fitness coach Cheryl Engels, stocking up primarily on staples with long shelf lives isn’t the healthiest approach to take when you’re stuck at home and trying to eat smart.
Eat Smart With Fresh Foods
“Of course it’s important to have those foods, particularly legumes, healthy grains, and snacks like dried fruits, seeds and nuts,” Engels says. “But I would recommend people still focus on eating fresh foods where possible.”
Engels, who was born and studied in the Netherlands, now lives in Madrid. Though Spain is currently in lockdown, its citizens are allowed to leave their homes to go to the supermarket, as long as they practice social distancing.
“We’re not in war,” Engels stresses, “even if it feels like it. So we can still access fresh food, which means that, where possible, we should be buying real fruits and vegetables. The reason this is important is because these foods, more than any others, will give us the energy and the strength we need to stay physically and mentally fit during this extraordinary time.”
Think Vitamins C, D, and B
Foods high in vitamin C — such as oranges, lemons, kiwi, peppers, and tomatoes — are particularly important as they’re known immune boosters, notes Engels.
“Eating these foods doesn’t mean you won’t get the virus, but they will help the immune system to stay strong, which better prepares you to fight off any virus, whether it’s the new coronavirus or not," she says.
Vitamin D, which regulates bone-building calcium in the body, is another micronutrient we should be conscious of when wondering how to pack up our carts at the grocery store.
“Since we’re not going out much now, this vitamin might be missing,” says Engels.
She suggests fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, and fortified dairy products like cheese and different milks, alongside mushrooms, which are the only plant source of vitamin D.
“Vegans and vegetarians should also make sure to eat foods with high vitamin B content," she says, "as most people easily obtain this from meat and other animal products. Legumes, whole grains, dark green vegetables, and citrus fruits are a good source.”
Overall, Engels advocates keeping to a balanced diet, as well as sticking by the old adage of "eat less and exercise more" when you’re stuck indoors. While many people reach for comfort snacks when they’re stressed, it’s important to try and resist the temptation.
Don’t Succumb to Stress Eating
"Stress eating," she says, "will affect your mood as well as your physical energy and ability to resist infection."
To minimize emotional eating, Engels recommends maintaining structured eating habits.
“By that I mean have a normal breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner, and keep snacks like fruit or nuts on hand to have in-between. It’s vital to be prudent with food," she advises.
“The biggest difference we’re experiencing,” she notes, “is the fact that we’re not moving as much as before. So eat a little less than you normally would and try to incorporate at least two half-hours of exercise per day into your life.”
These are difficult times, but we don’t need to make them more difficult by our choices.
“Move more, eat well, and focus on a healthy, balanced diet," she says. "It’s about the basics, really. But the basics is where we are right now.”