COVID Isolation: Expert Advice for your Nutrition and Health

Published on: Mar 23 2020

Comfort and stress eating are on the rise during the COVID-19 outbreak with many of us now spending much of our time at home. However, food also plays a key role in helping us stay well and healthy during isolation. We sat down with a panel of experts to bring you their perspectives on nutrition, exercise, and culinary ways to stay well during isolation.

Our panel of experts include:

  • Dr. Lisa Ryan, nutrition scientist and Head of the Natural Sciences Department in the School of Science and Computing at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
  • Ed Daly, M.Sc., exercise researcher and former coach with Munster Rugby in Ireland.
  • Ian Mansfield, Kerry R&D Director, culinary expert and former Head Chef in top hotels in the UK, USA & France

Woman cooking in kitchen

COVID-19 has brought about an abrupt change of life and behaviour for millions of people all over the world. Home-working, home-schooling and self-isolating means the home is now the center of our world and likely to be for some time.

In this new ‘always-at-home-hub’, we are likely to move less and eat more. What can we do to support our health and promote a sense of well-being?

During isolated situations like a quarantine, food has a key role for physical as well as mental well-being. Food and mealtimes can connect us in a positive way to each other as well as give us an outlet for stimulation and creativity. The food we cook and enjoy at home is something we can influence and, in the COVID-19 isolation new normal, this is an important thing.

Nutrition for COVID-19 Isolation

Dr. Lisa Ryan

We asked Dr. Lisa Ryan for her advice on ways to use food and nutrition to stay well during this time.

Lisa Ryan, Ph.D., is the Head of the Natural Sciences Department in the School of Science and Computing at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on the effect of functional foods and phytochemicals on human health. She is also a Scientific Advisor to the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute.

 “There are currently a lot of myths doing the rounds online about miracle foods and cures. No such magic pill exists and the general recommendations around a healthy diet still stand. Food is there to be enjoyed and, in times of uncertainty, food can be the very thing that brings a sense of calm and security to us all.”

Lisa’s advice is threefold:

  1. Add more colour to your diet by adding a new fruit or vegetable
  2. Think about probiotics and prebiotics
  3. Structure your mealtimes.

Red and orange bell peppers

Try adding colour to your diet

“Do you tend to eat the same fruits and vegetables most days? Maybe you are getting your five servings a day, but they’re all coming from the same types and you don’t vary much? Aim to get extra colour on your plate by trying new fruits and vegetables. Different colours of fruits and vegetables have different plant chemicals in them which can have beneficial effects on health.”

Worried about immunity? Think about probiotics and prebiotics

“One question I keep getting asked is ‘what foods can I eat to boost my immunity?’ A variety of different nutrients support the immune system, which is why a varied, balanced diet is still the best advice. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is one of the most microbiologically active parts of the body and plays a key role in immunity. Both probiotics (either naturally occurring, like those in yoghurt, or strains added to foods and drinks) and prebiotics (foods that naturally support our own bacteria that can be found in bananas, apples, or oats, for example), may have a positive impact on the GI tract on immunity.”

What simple steps can we take to balance comfort eating with good nutrition? Put structure to your eating

“Many of us have recently gone from a very structured work environment to now predominantly being at home. Just as you now may have to structure and balance your work and home life, you should also try to have structure to when and how often you eat. Some people find it helpful to focus on only eating during certain hours of the day, which some studies have shown can be an effective way to lose or maintain weight.”

Read more about intermittent fasting in this article.

Exercise and COVID-19 Isolation

Exercise also plays a key role in wellness, but how can we take advantage of exercise if we can’t go to the gym?

Photo of Ed Daly, M.Sc.Ed Daly, M.Sc., is a professional sports and exercise scientist, Ph.D. candidate at GMIT and was formerly coach with Munster Rugby.

Ed’s advice for exercise during isolation is to:

  1. Adopt an adaptive mindset
  2. Find someone who will prompt you to keep going with your exercise
  3. Use the downtime to focus on some new aspect of your fitness

 “We know exercise is beneficial to our physical and mental health.  It’s a message that can be difficult to implement under normal circumstances, however, in the current global emergency, it can fall off of our priority list completely.

It’s a test of our mental fortitude to locate positives amid a global pandemic – our personal willingness to maintain a meaningful level of activity will be fully tested.”

“With exercise in general, we prefer to choose an activity that we enjoy, and this generally means that we develop personal training goals connected with this activity.  For example, we may usually go to the gym or have chosen to sign up for an adventure race that involves mountain running, kayaking and biking. This race may now be postponed due to restrictions related to the spread of the virus. The adventure race would have been a personal challenge on many levels and provided a highly important component of taking part in physical activity, which is our personal motivation.”

Image of dumbbells and exercise ball

Your goals may have changed: Find a new ‘why’

“With the cancellation of a race or other activity that we normally engaged in, we now need to develop an adaptive mindset that allows us to thrive in the new situation and handle the current uncertainties in our world. An adaptive mindset will allow us to navigate a path that offers us similar personal satisfaction because we will have found ‘whys’ to motivate ourselves.”

Find a motivation mate

“Even though we may have been taking part in a mass participation event, we can now ask others to assist us with our personal accountability. Although we may have to continue training in isolation while following social distancing guidelines, reminders and prompts from others experiencing the same phenomena will provide encouragement. Accountability can come from social media messages from people with shared training goals even though they are temporarily at a distance.”

Use the downtime to focus on some new aspect of your fitness

“Even if we are accomplished at our chosen sport or activity, we can identify ways to improve our performance. For example, we may choose to develop an attribute that we have been neglecting, like mobility or flexibility in our joints and muscular system. This unexpected downtime could provide us with a valuable opportunity to enhance specific components of fitness.”

Using cooking and mealtime to boost health and spirits

How can food be healthy and fun at home? How can meals be more interesting when eating out is off the menu?

Photo of Ian MansfieldIan Mansfield is a Kerry R&D Director & Member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. Ian leads Kerry’s Meal Solutions Business and was previously Head Chef in top hotels in the UK, USA & France

Ian suggests these 3 things for keeping food and meals exciting:

  1. Experiment with new recipes
  2. Discover new foods
  3. Bring the outside in

Experiment!  Food can bring families together

“Food can inspire, so my advice is to take some time to plan in meal times and encourage all at home to play a role in creating the evening meal. This may not be practical everyday, so cooking those family favourite comfort foods and adding a healthy twist for a safe adventure can be a quick way to experiment in a recipe. This might be adding grated carrot or lentils to your spaghetti bolognaise or a bunch of spinach to your tikka masala.

Try new dishes – dust off some of those old cook books or go online to cookery channels on YouTube. Make cooking an event and bring together the family .. explore, challenge & learn … try making fresh bread together.”

If what you usually shop for isn’t available take the opportunity to explore and discover new foods

“For example, Tofu made from soya bean curds is massively nutritious, great to layer flavours onto, and is a tasty alternative to meat. It also has a long shelf life and is easy to cook.”

Bring the outside in

“If you can, get out in the fresh air to pick live herbs, or plant some, in your garden. Or go for a walk around woodlands and you will come across wild garlic this time of year that will boost up any basic soup or pasta dish you’re making. Alternatively, experiment with your spice rack to change up your food.”

To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviours, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.

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