Navigating Food and Nutrition During the COVID Crisis
We are facing new and unprecedented challenges in society right now, and chances are it might be affecting your nutrition. We can’t grocery shop when and how we usually do. When we do go, the shelves are empty, and people are stocking up on the most unusual of supplies (the toilet paper and chocolate aisle were most raided last time we were there!). You might be struggling to find the foods you usually buy. You might be stressed. You might be struggling with motivation because your season or race got cancelled. All these situations certainly make it harder to eat healthfully and especially hard if you’re trying to follow a specific meal plan! Factor in how the added stress and anxiety impacts hunger and fullness cues and hormones and you can see why you might be struggling right now. Even with these challenges, now more than ever, it’s important to take care of your physical and mental health. Nutrition plays a big role in that.
Nutrition and The Immune System
Nutrition is vital for a strong immune system. Although no specific food can prevent you from getting sick, having a strong immune system will help you fight off anything that comes your way! One of the most important things for a healthy immune system is that you are eating adequate calories as well as adequate vitamins and minerals to prevent any nutritional deficiencies. Focus on eating lots of whole grains, lean meats, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Use your hunger and fullness cues to guide you on amounts, as well as the plate method. For the average person, half your plate should be fruits and veggies, ¼ whole grains, and ¼ lean protein, especially if your activity level is lower now than usual. Vitamin C and zinc are especially important micronutrients for the immune system, although mega-dosing on supplements of them is not recommended. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. Meat, beans, nuts and oysters are good sources of zinc. Focus on getting these important nutrients from foods, and pack in antioxidants by getting 5-9 servings of fruit and veggies daily.
Food Storage Safety
You might be buying more food at one time than you typically would due to limiting grocery store trips. If you are stocking up on perishable food, pay attention to the “best if used by” dates on the product. “Best by” is an indicator of food quality, and many foods can safely be eaten past that date, although the quality may be lower. Be sure to promptly store perishable foods such as meat, poultry, and dairy in the refrigerator as soon as possible when returning from the store. Also, many foods, including meats, breads, and milk can be stored in the freezer to prolong freshness.
For refrigerated items keep the following in mind, and remember, “when in doubt, throw it out!”.
Dairy: Milk, yogurt, and soft cheeses are usually still safe for about a week after they’re opened (regardless of the “best by” or “sell by” dates, which don’t apply once a product is open). A sour smell will often tell you when milk has gone bad. Hard cheeses will stay fresh for up to 3-4 weeks. Usually visible mold will tell you when the cheese has gone bad. For hard cheese, you can cut off a large portion around the mold and the rest of the cheese will still be edible. If unopened most dairy products are still safe to eat for about one week past the “best by” date.
Meat: should be stored on the bottom shelf. Cooked meat should be eaten within a few days or tossed out. Meat can easily be frozen to prolong freshness.
Eggs: raw eggs will be fresh for up to 1 month in the fridge, but hard-boiled eggs need to be eaten within a week (and will start getting smelly after even 3-4 days). Eggs can be frozen for up to 1 year!
Produce: most fruits and veggies will stay fresh for several weeks in the fridge, especially if you use the produce drawer. Keep an eye out for obvious signs of spoilage, such as mold or mushiness. Bananas and avocados should be stored at room temperate, not in the fridge. Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and veggies thoroughly with food cleanser and water (bleach and dish soap are not appropriate for food). Canned or frozen are great options right now since you can store them much longer.
For more information on food safety and storage:
If you can’t find the specific foods you need to follow a meal plan or recipe, fear not! There are always substitutions you can make. Here at Active Fueling, we make meal plans based on the Exchange System, because it’s flexible and allows you to make equal substitutions as needed. For example, if you are out of rice, you could sub quinoa, couscous, orzo or even potato as a grain/starch. Starch/grain exchanges are 1/3 cup rice/quinoa, 3 oz potato, or ½ cup pasta (all cooked). If the meat aisle is empty, try beans or lentils as your protein, or experiment with vegetarian proteins such as tofu and tempeh. One protein exchange of meat is 1oz versus ¼ cup beans/lentils or ½ cup of tofu.
Now is a great time to purchase outside of your comfort zone: either different types of foods or different forms of the foods you usually buy. For example, buy dried beans instead of canned, or frozen/canned fruits and veggies instead of fresh. The nutrition profile will be similar, and you’ll be more likely to find these items.
Need help navigating your nutrition during this stressful time? Active Fueling is here to help! We are available for phone or video sessions.