Mind for Life

NUTRITION

HOW THE PANDEMIC HAS HELPED US LIVE A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE

Why healthy habits learned in isolation can help us live healthier lives
For adults aged 19 – 50

By Nilofar Dorani

Dietitian (APD), Nutritionist at Mind For Life

It is challenging to think that we are going to live in a state of chronic fear of contracting the virus, impacting mental wellbeing and ability to overcome lifestyle barriers. However, human beings are very adaptable to the new challenges. The fundamental key to tackle these challenges are regularity and consistency. In previous blogs we discussed implementing different lifestyle habits and eating behaviours to better prepare you with a smooth transition to the current pandemic.

According to a new VicHealth survey 50% of Victorians started meal planning during the coronavirus pandemic, and almost 1 in 3 (28 per cent) have been cooking more dinners, as the financial strain of the pandemic hit households.This blog will concentrate on carrying on these healthy changes forward, keeping home cooking and healthy eating normal. Maintaining consistency and making these strategies as part of your everyday lifestyle will potentially help you in optimising self awareness and achieving better health outcomes in the long run.

1. Dining out less, Cooking in more:

People have been taking advantage of the restrictions by eating out less and cooking at home more. Home cooking not only saves money, it potentially also helps you discover healthy eating habits. Most importantly, discovering healthier food choices while incorporating a wider range of healthy food choices into your daily diet will help maintain a stronger body and reduce the risks of inflammations. Healthy eating reduces excess weight gain or stored fat around the abdominal area known as central obesity. Central obesity is linked to reduced risks of metabolic syndrome which is associated with impaired insulin function or Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, High Blood Pressure and potentially Stroke. The other positive aspect of healthy eating habits would be that overtime it is likely you will overcome the tendency to reach out for highly caloric foods when you are hungry or stressed.

2. Developing Healthy habits:

As the pandemic places much needed focus on our health, healthy habits become all the more important in maintaining our dietary health in a practical way. Healthy habits mean obtaining sustainable healthy energy from consuming the essential Macronutrients (Proteins,Carbohydrates, and healthy Fats) and Micronutrient sources (Fruits, Vegetables, Dairy products) required for a healthy body and mind function every day. Majority of the diet you should eat should be composed of whole foods that are low in sodium or salt, added sugar, unprocessed, and low in saturated fats, eliminating foods such as chips, biscuits, lollies, and icecream. You should stay hydrated by choosing water or low fat milk as the only hydration sources. Maintain a healthy eating pattern by following the AGHE, incorporating the recommended healthy food choices from the 5 food groups that are mentioned in the guide into your three regular meal patterns everyday. This will help you maintain a healthy weight too.
  1. Vegetables ( variety and colourful) at least 5 serves each day.
  2. Fruits at least 2 serves each day
  3. Lean Proteins and a mix of plant protein sources (red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, egg, legumes, lentils, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds) at each meal each day.
  4. Grains and Cereals (Brown and wild rice, Whole-grain pasta, Whole-wheat bread, Whole-grain and high fibre breakfast cereal, Quinoa, Bulgur, Barley, Farro, Noodle, oats, Couscous, Quinoa, Wheat) as part of all your meals everyday or at least 6 serves.
  5. Low or skim dairy sources (milk, yoghurt, cheese, milkshakes, and plant sources almond, soy, Rice milk or yoghurt) at least 2 serves everyday.

You should also use small amounts of unsaturated fats (extra virgin olive oil, sunflower, safflower, canola oil) when cooking, and can also be found in avocados, nuts and soybean oils. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels among other health benefits when they replace saturated fats found in discretionary food items and takeaway foods.

Remember to keep healthy you must keep a balanced diet by controlling your portions and daily nutrient requirements.

3. Limiting Discretionary Food Choices:

In stressful times like being in Isolation, it’s easy to crave unhealthy foods. Discretionary foods are nutrient poor but rich in sugar, saturated fat, salt, processed and refined ingredients. Consuming these types of foods can stimulate the reward center of the brain and temporarily reduce negative effects by giving you an acute feeling of comfort and happiness. Limiting access to high calorie snack food choices will also help you establish boundaries around foods.

Instead, choose a handful of nuts or good quality peanut butter spread on a piece of wholegrain bread, or shortbread, which can offer satiating fibre, and essential vitamins and minerals. Prepare plain air-popped popcorn, granola bars with less than 15g of carbohydrates/serve, low or nonfat plain yogurt, cheese and crackers, a piece of fruit, a small sandwich with whole grain breads avocado and salad filling or what.

4. Adequate Resting and Rewinding:

The stress of living through a pandemic is something none of us have experienced before, so it’s important to take the time to rest and rewind. Research study predicts that inadequate sleep may contribute to high cortisol levels (stress hormone), coupled with HIGHER levels of ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger) and LOWER levels of leptin (a hormone that leads to a feeling of fullness). Ultimately, these hormonal effects can lead to overeating and leading to obesity. Therefore, on average a healthy adult is recommended to get 7-9 hrs of sleep each day. During sleep our hormones are regulated, whereby if not enough is achieved, a negative knock-on effect across all other aspects of our life can be observed.

5. Avoiding Sedentary Lifestyles:

Although spending much more time inside has made it more difficult to keep an active lifestyle, finding time in your day to be active for at least 30 minutes can make a huge difference. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to metabolic diseases such as obesity, overweight, diabetes and high blood pressure. Also limiting screen times outside your working and studying hours and remember to take regular breaks during study or work can help better manage your stress levels too.

Conclusion:

While it can be seen that COVID and the restrictions may have impacted your life causing major disruptions and influenced regular discretionary choice making to some extent, looking at it from a different perspective, it has also provided you with extra time in hand to reflect and realise your potentials, unveiled your abilities and cooking skills, and made some changes to your lifestyle and eating habits for a better you.

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