The longest walk most of us do now is from the TV to the fridge. Boredom and stress-watching/stress-scrolling the news mean the cravings and snacking are worse than ever, and most of us have watched our eating habits change with a sinking heart. But being cooped up at home all the time with a pandemic raging means now more than ever, your health must take precedence.

As Dubai-based nutrition and life coach Victoria Tipper says, ‘Junk foods cannot only lead to weight gain, but also increased inflammation in the body. Plus, sugar has also been shown to suppress the immune system, something we don’t want at this time.’

Besides the physical aspect, there’s also the psychological well-being to think about as we choose what to eat. Here’s what to shop, cook and eat for overall wellness during the lockdown.

The four food types you should be eating accounting for less activity and less intense workouts

With most of us moving less during these months, we will be burning fewer calories and, therefore, should be wary of the foods we are eating, Victoria says. ‘It is best to avoid empty calories from foods that offer no nutrients, including heavily processed or fast foods. Be careful of portion sizes and avoid mindless snacking, something that can be very easy to do when working from home. Instead our meals at this time should consist of:

1.  Lots of vegetables

2.  Good sources of protein (wild fish, organic free-range poultry, grass-fed beef, beans/lentils, free-range eggs)

3. Healthy fats (olive oil, avocado oil and avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish)

4.  Whole grains (quinoa, wild or brown rice, oats, buckwheat, millet, spelt)

Fibre is key

Victoria says it’s definitely wise to fill up on fibre. ‘The health benefits of dietary fibre are vast – for starters it helps us achieve that feeling of fullness so we are less likely to overeat. It also promotes regular and healthy bowel movements, helping to keep our colons healthy. Ideally, the daily intake of fibre for women and men should be 25g and 38g, respectively. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to boost whole and naturally occurring, high-fibre foods such as legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Go for a variety of foods so that you get all the different types of fibre.’

She recommends keeping the skin on your apple or baked potato, adding milled flaxseeds or chia seeds to yogurt, soup or salad, adding beans or lentils to your meals, and snacking on nuts or high-fibre fruit such as raspberries.

Foods that help build immunity

Gut health: Victoria says one of the best ways to support the immune system is to look after your gut or digestive health and specifically the microbiome – all the microbes such as bacteria that we have in the body. ‘The microbiome helps to keep us healthy and support the immune system. In fact 70 per cent of the immune system is located in the gut. The main foods that support a healthy microbiome are vegetables and research shows that the wider the variety of vegetables we consume the wider the variety of the microbiome and the better our health and immunity.’

Probiotics: Victoria recommends these in particular, with some of the best sources being raw garlic, raw and cooked onions, raw leeks and asparagus, green bananas and Jerusalem artichoke. ‘Fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are also a great way to support the microbiome and immune system as they contain good bacteria or probiotics. Bone broth is another great food to maintain gut health by helping to support a healthy intestinal lining.’

Vitamins: Don’t forget the foods high in vitamin C (citrus fruits such as lemons, kale, broccoli, peppers, spinach, kiwis, strawberries, papaya, parsley) and zinc (meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds). ‘A balanced diet is key to get all the vitamins and minerals required for healthy immune support and overall wellbeing, including B vitamins, vitamin E and A, magnesium, potassium etc.’

The half + quarter + quarter rule: She says the best way to do this is to ensure for every meal, at least half your plate is full of vegetables, then a quarter of the plate is a healthy protein source and a quarter your whole grains, then add some healthy fats. ‘Then add herbs and spices that support a healthy immune system, such as ginger, turmeric, oregano and garlic.’

Tea for anxiety

There are various science-backed food and beverages that can help keep the stress at bay, and tea always makes it to among the top foods in the list. Victoria says there’s interesting research out there on tea having a positive impact on moods and cognitive performance. ‘Within healthy populations, drinking green tea daily over a long period of time has been shown to lower the risk of depression. It has also been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, something that is good for many of us during times of self-isolation,’ she says.

The exact way that tea affects our psychological health is unknown but it is thought to perhaps be related to the amino acid L-theanine, caffeine and the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), Victoria says. ‘There’s also an interesting theory on tea affecting our mental health that is more related to the ritual of preparing and consuming the tea, rather than what’s in the tea. Many will take a tea break or time out to have that cup of tea, time to themselves or with others but it is primarily associated with having a rest from whatever else we have going on in our busy lives.’

3 simple, nutritious recipes to whip up for a quick WFH lunch

1. Eggs: ‘So nutritious, healthy and quick to cook when you are in between video calls.’ Victoria recommends whipping up a vegetable omelette with onions, mushrooms and peppers and some turmeric, and serving it with avocado slices.

2. Vegetable soups with added bone broth and a wide variety of vegetables (onions, leeks, broccoli, sweet potato, carrots, oregano, ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper): ‘Add some protein such as either beans of choice or some tinned sardines/mackerel and sprinkle in a little olive oil or pumpkin seeds on top. You can make a large batch of soup so it lasts a long time.’

3. Quinoa and bean salad with red onions, peppers, tomatoes, olives and some fresh herbs: ‘I love to add some apple cider vinegar, fresh lemon juice and olive oil.’

Eating for vitamin D

Victoria says while some foods do contain Vitamin D – oily fish, eggs and certain mushrooms – they do so in such small amounts that it would be near impossible to obtain the recommended daily intake from food alone, so alternative sources are needed. ‘Hence the best way to boost vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight or by supplementation,’ she says.

Getting the kids involved in eating healthy

Self-isolation is a great time to get the children involved with cooking, and getting them to help out with the preparation of the meal, and Victoria says you can also make it an opportunity to combine cooking and education by getting them to read food labels and recipes.

‘Or bring some maths into it by getting them to add up half a cup and a quarter of a cup. Also take this time to promote mindful eating, asking your children to tune in with what happens when they feel hungry versus feeling full,’ she says. ‘Check in with what the texture is like of their food and what they can taste. Make sure meal times are harmonious and positive, a time the family all get together. Don’t watch television or check phones at the dinner table; when we eat, just eat! This is a great time to start growing some of your own herbs and vegetables too – get the children involved in that.’

More tips to stay healthy during the pandemic