A healthy diet is essential to maintaining good health. Sometimes our ability to eat well is challenged by events beyond our control, and unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic may be one of those times. Our lives have changed overnight, and as a result, we may be feeling unprepared and anxious. Our regular food shopping routine has been disrupted, and we are having to cope by changing our habits and social distancing.
A well balanced diet is important to provide us with energy, protein and other nutrients to keep our bodies fit and healthy and to support our immune system to help fight infection and disease.
If you are in good health, follow the guidance provided by government dietary recommendations. In general, you should eat a variety of foods, including more fruits and vegetables, and less foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
For more information visit the HSE Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme at https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/healthwellbeing/our-priority-programmes/heal/
'Eating Well - Advice for patients and carers' is another useful source of information about eating well, available from The Malnutrition Pathway website at https://www.malnutritionpathway.co.uk/library/pleaflet_green.pdf.
Fruits & vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are important because they provide vitamins, minerals and fibre in our diet. We should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables, as well as those in other dishes (such as tinned tomatoes in pasta sauce or onions in stew) all count. Choose a variety of different fruits and vegetables.
Cereals and grains: Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy carbohydrates (including chapattis, breakfast cereals, noodles and oats) are an important part of your meals and snacks. Aim to include one food from this group in every meal. Choose wholegrains whenever possible.
Meat, fish and other proteins: These foods are important because they provide good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Choose lean cuts of meat and lean mince, and eat red meats such as beef, pork and lamb and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages in moderation.
Aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week, including one portion of oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel.
Pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils, are good alternatives to meat because they're lower in fat and higher in fibre.
Dairy and alternatives: Dairy-based foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, provide good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals such as calcium. Aim for three portions a day to meet most calcium requirements and choose lower fat varieties where possible..
Stay hydrated: It’s recommended that you drink between 6–8 glasses of fluid a day. Water, tea, coffee, juices and smoothies all count towards your intake, however drinks that contain caffeine or sugar should be drunk in moderation.
Use a visual guide like the the Food Pyramid (https://www.safefood.eu/Healthy-Eating/The-Food-Pyramid-and-The-Eatwell-Guide/The-Food-Pyramid.aspx) to help you plan your meals For each of the seven days in the week write down what you will eat at each meal. Working out in advance what you are going to eat will help you keep your diet interesting and varied and will help you know how much and what types of foods you need to buy. There are lots of easy, quick recipes available online e.g. https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/recipes.
Saving leftovers can be a useful way to make groceries go further. Leftover meat and fish can be used as fillings in sandwiches or jacket potatoes. Cooking an extra couple of portions of a dish that freezes well is a useful way of having a stand-by ready meal should you fall ill.
Remember it's important to follow good food hygiene practices for storing and re-using leftovers
For information about food safety, visit https://www.safefood.eu/Home.aspx.
Seeing pictures of empty supermarket shelves can be very worrying, but it’s important to think about others when shopping and only buy what you need. Make a menu plan for the week to help you with your shopping list. Remember to use what you have in the freezer or pantry and only shop for the items you need. Start your list with the basics that you use most for example fruit, vegetables, milk and bread.
Think about what recipes you want to cook and add the ingredients to your list. It can be helpful to work through the day from morning to evening in your head, so you don’t leave anything out. A list also helps you do your grocery shopping quickly, to avoid lingering in the store unnecessarily.
If your usual foods are not available, it can make cooking your regular recipes more challenging. Try some of these tips:
Substitute one starch for another: Can’t find pasta? Use rice or polenta.
No baguettes? Try pitta.
Many recipes can be adapted to use different sources of protein:
Chicken can be substituted with fish; beef mince can be replaced with lentils.
If fresh foods are unavailable you can use frozen, dried or tinned ingredients instead.
Dried, tinned or frozen foods may be useful to replace fresh ingredients in cooking if they are in short supply. Now is a good time to check what foods you have in your store cupboard. It may be useful to check best-before dates and use up foods nearing the end of their shelf-life first. Make note of anything that is running low to add to your grocery list. There is no need to stockpile foods - you should only buy as much as you need.
Enjoying our food is a really important part of healthy eating. But when we are worried or under stress we sometimes eat for comfort, which may lead to weight gain. If you are concerned about weight gain during this time, visit the HSE Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme at https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/healthwellbeing/our-priority-programmes/heal/.
Alternatively, during social distancing, you may not be eating as well as you usually do, either because you are unable to shop for the foods that you usually eat or because your appetite and interest in food has been impacted by isolation. It is important to be aware of your weight and appetite, particularly if you are older or have a medical condition, as you may be at risk of becoming malnourished.
Malnutrition is a serious condition which can increase a person’s risk of infection as well as slowing down their recovery. Malnutrition can also lead to frailty, where our bodies become weaker and more vulnerable to infections, falls and needing extra care.
Having extra snacks, nourishing drinks and adding cream, butter and cheese to your meals whilst you have a poor appetite can help to increase the nutrition you get from your food. Specially formulated milkshake powders are also available to purchase from supermarkets or pharmacies, for those with a poor appetite who are struggling to manage to eat and drink enough. When this isn’t enough, oral nutritional supplements (ONS) may be prescribed by a healthcare professional. ONS are foods for special medical purposes and must be used under medical supervision. They provide additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals which may be helpful when you are unable to get everything you need from food.
If you have serious concerns about your appetite or weight, or that of a family member, you should speak to a healthcare professional.
For more information, visit:
* Malnutrition Pathway patient information resources at