Put the right food on the table


Apr 17, 2020

Urban eating habits are not ideal at the best of times. In this challenging lockdown, a menu that boosts immunity is what doctors advise

“The country will go into nationwide lockdown for 21 days”. As soon as he heard this, Vishal, a UPSC aspirant, rushed to a nearby shop to stock up on food items. The provisions he bought included significant quantities of packaged foods like Maggi in case the shops too were shut down in the future. 

The question that troubled him and his two roommates the most was, “What will we cook?” Domestic workers would not be taking care of their meals from the next day. The plan was that they would cook rice and one vegetable or dal every day. But the resolve crumbled and the trio ended up eating whatever packaged food they had. They also turned to ordering meals online on a daily basis. To make matters worse, the anxiety of the lockdown induced the habit of binge eating. 

Even in one month, the lockdown has brought behavioural changes in people and that has influenced the kind of food — and the quantity — they consume. This is a matter of concern as  robust is an important factor in the fight against the virus.  

WHO has advised people to quit smoking, avoid alcohol consumption and maintain a healthy diet plan as all these can actively determine the rate of recovery of individuals if infected. 

But due to the stress of the lockdown, even those who have the luxury of maintaining a healthy diet and sticking to a good sleep pattern are facing difficulties. Many professionals who are living away from their families are relying on rice or instant noodles for their nutrition. This does not augur well for their immunity.

Dr Shalini Singhal, nutrition and dietetics specialist, considers it part of a common problem when people indulge in emotional eating. She says, “The first step is diverting yourself if you had already had your meal. Fix up eating, exercise, work, sleep time like always. Emotional eating due to anxiety and boredom is common. Means of self-entertainment, indoor exercising, keeping oneself busy with hobbies and household work will help.”

Those already on a diet due to obesity and other diseases are finding excuses not to stay with the programme. Take Manish, a website designer. Before the lockdown, he was on diet to lose weight. Now he feels less motivated, and is unable to exercise as directed. To which Dr Singhal says, “First you should try exercising at home like walk/spot jogging/stepper/skipping/dancing/planks etc. As far as diet is concerned, you need to drastically reduce the intake of simple sugars like sugar, jaggery, honey and dishes made with them.”

She believes that limiting the intake of simple carbohydrates which are found in maida, white rice, bread, biscuits and potatoes is important. Instead, smart carbohydrates which include fibre rich vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains and pulses should be taken. “Proteins should also be taken in proper quantities, so including eggs, chicken, paneer, sprouts, milk and its products, select nuts and pulses are a good idea,” she adds.

Dr Singhal warns against processed foods and suggests properly cooking meat products and eggs before consumption.

Since the lockdown is already a challenge to mental well-being, food habits should not  adversely affect the mood. This will have a crucial impact on overall wellbeing. For them Dr Singhal suggests a strict diet plan, “Diet has to be low in carbohydrates and should have moderate proteins and fats. Good quality and quantity of protein in each meal also help. Milk at night in achieving better sleep. Too much tea, coffee should be avoided as they are sleep inhibitors. A small piece of dark chocolate, a few nuts might help de-stress a little.” 

Along with that, she stresses the need to focus on indoor activities which make one happy and on yoga, meditation, indoor exercises. She says that people can try their hand at cooking for themself some new dishes that might relieve stress and help develop a new skillset.”

The Prime Minister in his address on 14 April mentioned how immunity can help to fight this virus. He also asked people to follow traditional methods of homoeopathy and follow guidelines issued by AYUSH ministry to increase immunity. 

Food is an important factor that influences immunity. Those who are trapped at their home and have the luxury to decide their diet can fight infections like this novel Coronavirus by bringing changes in their food habits.