by Margaret Pauly, MS, RD, LD
Good nutrition is important all the time, but especially in times of stress or sickness. With COVID-19 or the coronavirus, people may be experiencing both. There is not one single food or nutrient that can protect you or strengthen your immune system. It’s really your daily diet and lifestyle that determine that.
A Mediterranean Diet can be protective because of its “plant slant” — a way of eating that focuses mostly on plant-based, whole foods, with small amounts of animal products. It is a lifestyle and not a typical diet because these steps are meant to be taken daily, not just for a short amount of time. Here are the recommended foods and quantities to help you stay healthy every day.
- Eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. 1-1.5 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day is the recommended amount to give you a good balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which in turn help your body do its daily work. These include dark leafy greens, carrots, squash, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, berries, citrus fruit, peaches and grapes.
- 2 cups of legumes per week (peas, beans, okra, peanuts and lentils) are not only inexpensive but a tasty source of complex carbohydrates, plant protein and fiber.
- A quarter cup of nuts per day, preferably unsalted, are a great snack full of healthy unsaturated fats and protein. Almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios are great options.
- 5 cup of whole grains per day in the form of brown rice, corn, popcorn, quinoa, whole wheat or whole-grain breads. Corn tortillas and oats give you lots of B vitamins and slow carbohydrates for sustained energy throughout the day.
- If you eat/drink dairy products, less than 1 cup per day of low-fat cheese, fermented yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese add interest and flavor to your food. Unsweetened milk alternatives work for people who don’t want to or can’t consume dairy.
- We get plenty of protein with the foods listed above but can also eat 3-4 ounces of meat or poultry per day or two 4-ounce servings of fish and shellfish per week for extra protein. Be sure to use cooking methods like baking, broiling or grilling for optimal health.
- Some people enjoy a bit of alcohol after work. Recommendations are no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks for men, and the alcohol should be consumed with meals. Just remember that alcohol can enhance the mood you’re in, so instead of relaxing you, it can have the opposite effect. Drinking in excess can also limit your absorption of nutrients from food. Remember though — if you don’t drink now, don’t start!
Finally a note about comfort food. Foods such as Mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese, lasagna, etc. can be enjoyed within the guidelines above in small amounts. Keeping a little social distancing between you and a half a chocolate cake, though, is probably a good idea!