Nutritional advice and recommendations during quarantine

Due to the strict government measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, both healthy people and those with symptoms of acute respiratory syndrome have found themselves in quarantine. Restaurant operations are restricted, people are buying more non-perishable foods and stocking up.

Good nutrition is essential for human health, especially in times when we need our immune system to be in top strength. Quarantine and the temporary interruption or limitation of work can affect our usual eating habits, meaning a reduced consumption of fresh foods and, on the contrary, an increased intake of highly processed foods, which tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt. WHO has prepared a range of tips to maintain a health lifestyle even when in quarantine.

Plan – buy only what you need
Over-purchasing can subsequently lead to the overconsumption of food, but also to an increase in food prices and an unequal distribution of products. Assess what you already have at home and plan your meals. Utilize what is already in your pantry, prioritising the use of foods with shorter shelf lives. This way you can avoid food waste and allow others to access the food they need.

Be strategic about the use of ingredients – prioritize fresh products
Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first. If fresh products, especially fruits, vegetables and reduced-fat dairy products continue to be available, prioritize these over non-perishables. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also conveniently be used over longer periods of time and often have a similar nutrient profile to fresh foods. To avoid food waste, you may consider freezing any leftovers for another meal.

Prepare home-cooked meals
During regular daily life, many of us often do not have the time to prepare home-cooked meals. Spending longer periods of time at home may now offer the possibility to make those recipes you previously did not have time to make. Many healthy and delicious recipes can be found online.

Take advantage of food delivery options
Although home-cooked meals should be prioritized, some cities have rather advanced delivery systems for ingredients and ready meals. During self-isolation and quarantine, it is a good idea to prioritise companies that offer contactless services and maintain strict operational hygiene requirements. For food transportation, it is important to keep food at safe temperatures (below 5 °C or above 60 °C).

Be aware of portion sizes
It can be difficult to get portion sizes right, especially when cooking from scratch. Being at home for extended periods, especially without company or with limited activities, can also lead to overeating. Seek guidance through your national food-based dietary guidelines on what constitutes healthy portions.

Follow safe food handling practices
Food safety is a prerequisite for food security and a healthy diet. Only safe food is healthy food. When preparing food for yourself and others, it is always important to follow good food hygiene practices to avoid food contamination and foodborne diseases.

  1. Keep your hands, kitchen and utensils clean.
  2. Separate raw and cooked food, especially raw meat and fresh produce.
  3. Cook your food thoroughly.
  4. Keep your food at safe temperatures, either below 5 °C or above 60 °C.
  5. Use safe water and raw material.

By following these five key recommendations for safer food, you can prevent many common foodborne diseases.

Limit your salt intake
The availability of fresh foods may decrease and it may therefore become necessary to rely more on canned, frozen or processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt. WHO recommends consuming less than 5 g of salt per day. In order to achieve this, prioritize foods with reduced or no added salt. Rinse canned foods such as vegetables and legumes to remove some of the excess sodium. Experiment with fresh or dried herbs and spices for added flavor instead.

Limit your sugar intake
WHO recommends that ideally less than 5% of the total energy intake for adults should come from free sugars (about 6 teaspoons). If you crave something sweet, fresh fruit should always be the priority. Frozen fruits, canned fruits (in juice rather than syrup) and dried fruits with no added sugar are also good options. When other dessert options are chosen, consume small portions.  Limit the amount of sugar or honey added to foods and avoid sweetening your beverages.

Limit your fat intake
WHO recommends limiting your total fat intake to less than 30% of the total energy intake, of which no more than 10% should come from saturated fat. To achieve this, opt for cooking methods that require less or no fat, such as steaming, grilling or sautéing instead of frying foods. If needed, use small amounts of unsaturated oils like rapeseed oil to cook foods. Prefer foods that contain healthy sources of unsaturated fats, such as fish and nuts. To limit saturated fats, trim excess fat from meat and poultry and choose skinless options. Cut down on foods such as red and fatty meats, butter and full-fat dairy products, palm oil, coconut oil, solid shortening and lard.
Avoid trans fats as much as possible. Read nutrition labels to ensure that hydrogenated oils are not listed in the ingredients. Foods which commonly contain trans fats are processed and fried foods, like doughnuts and baked goods – including biscuits, pie crusts, frozen pizzas, crackers and low-quality margarine. If in doubt, minimally processed foods and ingredients are better choices.

Consume enough fiber
Fiber contributes to a healthy digestive system and offers a prolonged feeling of fullness, which helps prevent overeating. To ensure an adequate fiber intake, aim to include vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrain foods in all meals. Wholegrain foods include oats, brown pasta and rice, quinoa and whole-wheat bread, rather than foods made of white flour (white pasta, white bread) or white rice.

Stay hydrated
Good hydration is crucial for optimal health. Whenever available and safe for consumption, tap water is the healthiest and cheapest drink. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is a simple way to limit your intake of sugar and excess calories. To enhance its taste, fresh or frozen fruits like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries or slices of citrus fruits may be added, as well as cucumbers or herbs such as mint, lavender or rosemary.

Avoid alcohol or at least reduce your alcohol consumption
Alcohol is not only harmful at any level consumed, but it also weakens the immune system. Thus, alcohol use undermines your body’s ability to cope with infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
It is recommended that alcohol in general be avoided, but especially when in self-quarantine. Alcohol consumption not only fails to suppress symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear and panic – symptoms that can intensify during isolation and self-quarantine – but actually intensifies them.
Alcohol also makes certain medications less effective, while increasing the potency and toxicity of others. Do not consume alcohol in combination with pain medication, as alcohol will interfere with your liver functions and might cause serious problems, including liver failure.
Under no circumstances should you consume any type of alcoholic products as a preventive or treatment measure against COVID-19. Alcohol is not a necessary part of your diet and not part of a healthy lifestyle and should therefore not be on your shopping list.

Enjoy family meals
The social distancing associated with the COVID-19 outbreak has meant that many families are spending more time at home, which provides new opportunities to share meals together. Family meals are an important opportunity for parents to be role models for healthy eating for their children, and for strengthening family relationships.
Increased time at home during this period may also present new opportunities to involve children in cooking healthy foods, which can help them acquire important life skills that they can carry into adulthood. Letting children choose what vegetables to include in your meal may encourage them to eat them at the table. When involving children in cooking, it is important to keep meals simple and to teach children about proper food safety (including hand washing, cleaning surfaces and avoiding the consumption of certain raw ingredients).

Source: WHO Europe, www.cant.cz