All the right moves
At a time when staying clean and healthy is of the utmost essence, certain measures, lifestyle changes and dietary choices can help one stay safe and fit during the lockdown
At present when we are going through the worst crisis ever witnessed against a pandemic, it is important to have the right eating choices which can act as a deterrent against this newly discovered Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Officially named as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2), it has taken many lives till now. A nutritious and balanced meal eaten while following basic hygiene and quarantine norms, can boost our immunity. Instead of living in stress, fear and anxiety, we should live with better awareness and the right knowledge.
To raise awareness about COVID-19 and certain protective measures that can be taken against it, I shall answer a few commonly raised questions.
How safe is to consume street foods and the food delivered at home during this epidemic?
Certain popular street food items like phuchka, egg roll and jhalmoori can contain bacteria but not virus. People who regularly consume street food gain immunity to such foods. Covid-19 is transmitted through a carrier and surface touching. It can be transmitted through various sources apart from the hygienically or unhygienically cooked food. Such sources include the food packaging box, the cook and the food delivery boy. Even if the food is cooked hygienically at home or ordered from a good restaurant if it served/delivered by a virus carrier, then it can spread the infection. Heat kills the virus and the bacteria in the cooked food but here the main culprit of the spread of the disease is the virus carrier and not the food.
Is eating non-vegetarian food items safe during COVID-19 outbreak?
Coronavirus is an infection that spreads mainly from person-to-person contact and not through consumption of non-vegetarian food or eggs, according to the Director, AIIMS, Delhi, Dr Randeep Guleria. Coronavirus is thermolabile, which means that it cannot survive above 70 degree Celsius. Therefore, as a general rule, the consumption of raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs and raw milk should be avoided. The meat should be thoroughly washed, properly cooked at high temperature and hygienically served.
What precautions one should take while shopping grocery and meat during this pandemic?
According to WHO guidelines, anyone visiting a grocery shop, live animal markets and wet markets, should practice general hygiene measures, including handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitiser immediately after touching animal products. We should limit the number of visits to such markets and maintain at least one meter of distance from others. Older people with underlying medical conditions are considered at higher risk, so they should avoid visiting such market. Once raw meat or milk has been brought home, the product should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
How effective is hot water consumption to keep Coronavirus at bay?
Drinking water and keeping ourselves well hydrated is always good. Hot or warm water provides a soothing effect to cough and cold problem but it has not been proven to have any effect in fighting COVID-19.
Which nutrients are required to keep us safe from COVID-19 disease?
Vitamin C, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, A and D rich food items help in improving our immunity. Garlic, mint leaves, curry leaves, star anise and cloves have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which can strengthen our immune system. Citrus fruits such as guava, orange, lemon, amla, kiwi and vegetables such as tomato, capsicum and broccoli are rich sources of vitamin C. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc., are all high in vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids and zinc. We should consume colourful fruits, rich in carotenoids like carrots, capsicum, papaya, tomatoes, broccoli, watermelon, etc. Fatty fish, milk and milk products, mushrooms, fortified cereals and exposure to sunlight, replenish us with vitamin D. Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, nuts, dairy, mushrooms and legumes are high in zinc and iron. Zinc increases the production of white blood cells and T-cells, which fight infection.
How safe is the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables during these days?
One good thing about this virus is that it can only reproduce when it is inside another cell. It cannot copy itself to survive, according to immunologist Stuart Tangye of the Garvan Institute of medical research. Thus, whole fruits and vegetables for use in salads should be thoroughly washed, either by using soap water or vinegar before eating. They can also be washed with water and kept under the bright sunlight for an hour or so. Fruits and vegetables which are eaten raw should be peeled before eating, maintaining hygiene. All the vegetables to be used for cooking should be soaked in saltwater before chopping and cooking.
Which proteins act as an immunity booster and help us fight off infections?
Vaccines are made of immunogenic proteins which target the viruses. Immunity from such vaccines usually occurs only after several doses of it. We cannot achieve that level of immunity through food but can still try to build up our immunity through proteins which have higher bioavailability e.g., full boiled eggs, properly cooked lean meat and poultry, fish, seafood, pulses, beans and peas, soy products, whey protein, unsalted nuts and seeds, spinach, quinoa and oats.
How to stay fit and maintain weight while stuck at home during COVID-19?
At one end, pollution levels have come down due to the Coronavirus lockdown but one cannot enjoy outdoor activities in such times, on the other end, this pandemic is making us eat more while staying at home. Many of us are doing work from home and students are attending online classes. We should not let this lockdown affect our fitness. In the absence of gym and health clubs, we can always exercise at home to burn extra calories. 10 minutes of no-equipment exercises: spot jogging, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers or 10 minutes of skipping rope can help us burn 100-150 calories. But people above 60 years of age or those having BMI above 30, can do low-intensity exercises including squats, mountain climbers, marching in place and yoga. Apart from these exercises, a few lighter activities like climbing stairs, walking indoors once every hour, trying new recipes in the kitchen and household chores can be adapted as a workout.
Are yoga and meditation helpful in fighting with the Coronavirus fear?
Harvard Medical School has recommended yoga (our age-old exercise) to deal with COVID-19 anxiety. Deep breathing exercises like Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing, belly breathing), asanas and meditation can help mitigate the isolation anxiety which is gripping communities across the world. Those who say they are 'Not a yoga person' can try simpler breathing exercises. Trying new things and discovering new activities in such trying times can bring a lot of benefits. Managing stress and anxiety improves sleep quality which, in turn, boosts immunity. A scented candle, light music, singing, reading and video chats can help boost your mood and save you from the over-exposure to the onslaught of news.
Does alcohol and tobacco consumption affect our immune system?
Excessive alcohol consumption alters the gut microbiome and that can affect the immune system. Tobacco will in time compromise the respiratory system badly. But a cocktail or a glass of wine during the lockdown days, while maintaining social distancing is fine.
The writer is a Clinical Dietitian/Nutritionist