Eat and shop smart during the pandemic
April 17, 2020
IRONWOOD — With all the information going around about how to boost the immune system during the coronavirus pandemic, it is the balanced diet that still works best, according to a local nutrition specialist.
There are misconceptions about fitness, nutrition and prevention priorities during this pandemic, according to Anna Mooi, manager of nutrition and education at Aspirus Ironwood Hospital.
“A lot of people are worried about gaining weight while staying at home,” Mooi said.
The stay at home order is really not the time for restrictive diets or extreme physical activity, she said. Both of those things actually decrease the body’s immunity, she said.
“They’re stressors on the body,” Mooi said. “When you’re putting your body in a higher stressed state your ability to fight off infections is actually lowered quite a bit.”
Extreme physical activity means just that, she said. It is still highly recommended that people stay active in activities that burn calories testing the body too much.
“Get outside, do home workouts, yoga and stretching,” Mooi said.
The opposite extreme is just as bad, she said. Avoid the urge to indulge every craving or to spend the day on the couch with snacks. That also has a negative effect.
“You still need to care for your body and mental health and the best way is to focus on good, balanced meals,” Mooi said.
This is a time to set aside dietary restrictions while also making sure that meals contain good, lean protein sources such as meats, eggs, canned tuna and whole grains, whether that is brown rice, noodles or baking your own bread.
“Doing something like that,” Mooi said. “Make sure that you have lots of vegetables and fruits, whether fresh or frozen.”
If that is difficult to do then even some of the lower sodium canned vegetables are recommended, she said. In the absence of fresh fruit then canned fruit in light syrup will do, she said.
A lot of people are concerned about the potential for spreading coronavirus infection through fresh fruits and vegetables, she said. Washing fruits and vegetables before consuming them was already recommended and it is still a good idea now, she said.
“That is something that we should have been doing beforehand anyway, but right now it’s very important to do that,” Mooi said.
A balanced meal with lots of fruits and vegetables will contain the many natural sources of vitamins and minerals that the body needs to be in “top notch condition” to help with immunities to fight off infection, she said.
The stay at home order has a lot of people at home with more time on their hands, she said. This presents an opportunity to spend a little more time in the kitchen and to be a little more creative.
“Experiment with different foods and different cooking methods,” Mooi said. “Bake your own bread or try some of the different ethnic foods. Have a little fun there.”
Some parents are going stir crazy, especially with the kids in the house all day, she said. Try making some muffins or other kid-friendly recipes that can be found online.
“Make it a whole family thing,” Mooi said.
The most effective prevention is avoiding close contact with other people, she said. Thinking ahead about grocery shopping is very important.
“The main thing is to please stay at home unless you really need groceries,” Mooi said.
Try to shop just once a week and send just one person from the family, she said. There is no reason to bring all the kids or a bunch of other people.
The guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommend wearing a mask, she said. When out in public it’s important to have a mask, whether it’s homemade or bandana, a ski buff or anything that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“For your safety and mainly for the safety of others and our community please do that,” Mooi said.
Have some wipes handy when out in public to wipe down disinfect the grocery carts, gas pumps or other objects that need to be handled. The grocery stores and other businesses that are open right now present an infection risk and people need to be prepared, she said.
“Try to be aware of what time you are going to the store,” Mooi said. “If you see that the parking lot is super full then come back later. There’s no use going in and standing in line with a bunch of other people. Be very cautious about all of that.”
The CDC has adjusted its guidelines regarding the sanitation of groceries, she said. Early on the recommendation was to sanitize all packaging but now there isn’t a need to sanitize the entire grocery bag.
“The main thing is not the food itself,” Mooi said. “The risk of getting infection is minimal, even from the packaging.”
People fear picking up an item that someone may have touched who was infected. The updated guidelines now show that risk as minimal.
“So, if you’re going to focus energy on some of these preventative measures then get a mask and stay 6 feet apart from people and be careful about the interaction,” Mooi said.
Another topic of the pandemic is with people chasing down items they think will help them boost the immune system, she said. Some people are overdoing it with vitamins, she said.
“A lot of the vitamins are water soluble,” Mooi said. “That means if you have too much of them in your system you’re just going to have very vitamin-rich urine.”
That can also cost a lot of money that isn’t really helping like people think it should, she said. The sun and dairy products are good sources of vitamin D, along with fruits and vegetables, she said. If someone believes they might be vitamin D deficient then a general multivitamin would be preferable to overdoing it on supplements, she said.
“Check with your physician to see if a supplement really is necessary,” Mooi said.
The staff of Aspirus Ironwood Hospital are in preparation mode, Mooi said. The staff feel they are doing everything in their power to keep themselves, the patients and the community as safe as possible.
“I usually see quite a few outpatients and since we are not doing that right now I am doing a lot of consultations over the phone as are the other clinic providers,” Mooi said.