Healthy Eating for the Stir Crazy in the Time of COVID

I hope that you are coping in these difficult and strange times and that your family are all safe and well! Judi and I have just written an article for the Jewish Chronicle. Please take a look, but I thought I might summarise it here. There is also the first of a group of videos on our Healthy Jewish Cookery Facebook page. 

five spoons

Only a  month ago, Alex and I went on holiday to Gran Canaria. We had relative freedom still. Except at breakfast, when I walked around with about 4 or 5 clean spoons, picked up from the tables. I used them to serve myself granola and nuts, yoghurt and fruit while avoiding using the communal serving spoons. I felt like Niles from ‘Frasier’, short of wiping down my seat with a big serviette. Getting hot water from the large urn necessitated an application of hand gel afterwards, but otherwise, we acted as normal. How times have moved on since then.

assorted vegetable lot

Keeping safe from Corona is clearly mostly about social distancing and hand-washing but there are things you can do to naturally boost your immunity. You can start with as wide an assortment of fruit and veg as you can get your hands on. Cruciferous vegetables have the best credentials, so pick up broccoli, cabbage, rocket or cauliflower when these are available. In addition mushrooms, especially shiitake or porcini can be helpful and are high in the antioxidant, selenium.

berliner dessert donuts doughnuts

Sugar and white carbs are my bugbear. If you have read my blog before, you’ll be aware of this. By white carbs, I mean white bread, white rice, plain pasta and white potatoes and any baked goods using white flour. Those people who have pre-diabetes or diabetes need to keep their blood sugar as low as possible to optimise their condition and minimise its impact on their immunity. Those like me, who don’t have diabetes, should also try to abstain from sugar and white carbs as much as possible. One key way in which sugar affects immunity to infections is by reducing the diversity of our good gut bacteria. Sugar and white carbs also contribute to general inflammation in the body.

It’s so, so tempting to reach for sweet treats all the time when you are stuck at home but all I can suggest is that you use any strategy you can to distract yourself when you’re tempted. Otherwise do what I do, which is fressing on berries or plain nuts with a few raisins. Otherwise, we’ll all come out of this episode carrying an extra spare tyre or two. Remember that the people who’ve done worse with the virus have tended to be overweight, so avoiding this and staying as fit as you can may be life-saving.

bad haircut

Herbs and spices have a special role in boosting your immunity. My favourite spices, which both act as great antioxidants are turmeric and cumin. They are fantastic for roasting cauliflower, together with nigella seeds and olive oil. Fresh ginger is fabulous, e.g. as an infusion in hot water, or finely chopped in your soups, stews of stir fries. If you grow herbs in your garden that’s wonderful, but pots of basil, parsley and thyme from the supermarket can keep for a few weeks on your kitchen window ledge. You can practice your trimming skills on them before starting to cut your own hair!

Watch what you cook with. Even in these times of limited food supplies and approaching Pesach, it is possible to get hold of extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed rapeseed oil and virgin coconut oil. All of these are preferable to sunflower oil or groundnut oil, which are usually refined or over-heated in production i.e. damaged and not so healthy.

red strawberry and raspberry on white ceramic bowl

For resistance to infections, think about boosting your microbiome (the collection of bacteria and viruses which live on and in our bodies). To do this, you can go for fibre rich foods, such as oats, onions, artichokes and garlic, to feed your good gut bacteria or fermented foods like bio-live natural yoghurt, kefir or sauerkraut. Perhaps try making your own kefir- you can get ‘grains’ on the internet, which are added to milk. I tried this but without success. My kefir was watery and sour but perhaps you may have more success? Buying probiotics is possible, but as coronavirus is new, we don’t have strong evidence that they will help. Vitamin D supplements are a bit better proven, to help resistance to most infections. The dose is 400 units daily or 10micrograms daily.

Runner

What we do know is that exercise can boost your immunity. This is why the government is so keen to allow us to keep getting outside for walks or runs. Basically, you want to be as well nourished and as fit as possible. If you find it hard to motivate yourself, find an exercise class on-line that you can take to and make it part of your regular schedule. Breathing exercises may be equally important, so try breathing in for 10, hold your breath for as long as you can comfortably, then breath out really slowly, for the count of 10. Then repeat. This breathing exercise may also help reduce anxiety- so is very important right now.

Here is my friend Sheryl’s green smoothie recipe, a great pick-me-up at the start of the day:  1 tart green apple (e.g. Granny Smith), small stalk of celery, a few inches of cucumber, a small peeled carrot, a large piece of fresh root ginger peeled, a wedge of lemon with skin and peel removed, juice of an orange or small amount of apple juice and 100ml water.

Blend together and enjoy.  (This is an acquired taste!)

Judi and I wish you to stay safe and well throughout this episode. Hopefully, when it is all over, we may come out of our homes and stretch in relief, like so many tortoises emerging from hibernation.

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