Plenty of fruit and veg at the base of the food pyramid
DURING this stressful time for everyone people might wonder if any particular diets can keep us healthy or if there are any magic foods which can ward off this serious disease.
The answer is there is no specific food guaranteed to protect you from the coronavirus so general healthy eating guidelines are the best advice for now.
A healthy diet is important to maintain a functioning immune system but no single food or natural remedy has been proven to ward off disease.
Nevertheless there are real ways you can take care of yourself and give your immune system the best chance to do its job against any respiratory illness.
It has long been known that an individual’s nutritional status can influence their susceptibility to infection and their response to infection.
A healthy diet and consuming adequate fluids is important to maintain a functioning immune system.
Getting adequate sleep and physical activity are also important in keeping us healthy.
There are many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system such as folate, iron, selenium, copper and zinc, plus Vitamins A, B, C & D so the advice is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods using the food pyramid.
What is a healthy diet?
Using the food pyramid a healthy diet consists of at least five to seven servings of vegetables, fruit or salad a day.
Fruit and vegetables are high in fibre, low in fat and sugar and are packed full of vitamins and minerals.
Try to add some chopped up fruit in with your breakfast cereal in the morning such as strawberries, grapes or mandarins.
Mix it up
It is important to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and not to just stick with the same boring ones every day as we get different benefits from the different families of fruit and veg.
Did you know that an orange is packed full of at least 200 cancer fighting chemicals (antioxidants)?
Likewise the berry family of fruits, for example strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, are also high in Vitamin C and provide different antioxidants.
The same can be said for cruciferous vegetables; cauliflower, broccoli and root veg; carrots, parsnips, turnips, all of which have different disease fighting chemicals.
Don’t forget the greens: green veg such as spinach, cabbage and kale are powerhouses of nutrition.
They are packed full of iron, folate and are rich in calcium, which ensure strong teeth and bones.
So we can see that by including different fruit and veg in our diet we are giving ourselves a wide variety of health benefits.
The next element of the food pyramid is the breads and cereals. Between three and five servings are recommended daily depending on how active we are. A serving is equivalent to – two thin slices of wholemeal bread, two medium potatoes, one-third cup of dry porridge oats or half a cup of unsweetened muesli.
Choosing wholegrain and wholemeal varieties which are higher in fibre aids digestion and keeps us fuller for longer. The healthiest options for breakfast cereals for all ages are wheat biscuits, porridge or shredded wheat as they are lowest in sugar and salt.
When it comes to dairy, yogurt and cheese are the next shelf on the pyramid. Three servings are recommended daily with a serving being equivalent to 200ml milk, 125gm yogurt or 25gm (matchbox size) cheddar cheese.
Low fat dairy varieties are recommended and suitable from the age of two years as they will still provide the same amount of calcium and protein as full fat varieties.
What about Vit D?
Vitamin D, often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, is thought to have a lot of health benefits such as keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Many people In Ireland are shown to have low blood Vitamin D levels particularly in late winter and early spring. Older adults are likely to have lower levels than younger adults.
Vitamin D fortified dairy products, such as fortified milk can also improve our Vitamin D status. Other good food sources are oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, and fortified foods, cheese and egg yolk. It has been shown that supplementing at a dose of 20-50 micograms per day (800-2000IU per day) is safe for adults.
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs beans and nuts
These are our high protein foods and two servings are recommended daily with a serving being equivalent to two eggs, three-quarters of a cup of beans or lentils, 50 -75gm of cooked lean meat or chicken (half size of palm of your hand) or 100gm of cooked fish, soya or tofu.
Protein foods are the building blocks of muscles and keep us fuller for longer. Aim to incorporate any of the above foods into two of your main meals per day for good health. Choose lean varieties and trim away the visible fat and if possible eat oily fish up to twice per week.
Fats, spreads and oils are to be used sparingly and always cook with as little oil as possible. Grilling, oven-baking, steaming, boiling or stir frying are the healthiest means of cooking.
The last point of the food pyramid is the foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt, for example chocolate, crisps, soft drinks and sweets. A Healthy Ireland Study in 2016 showed that a lot of people in Ireland consume these foods up to six times a day!
There are no recommended servings from the top shelf foods and drinks because they are not recommended for good health.
I know this is a challenging time for all of us. Now more than ever we must make the effort to eat more healthily. As we are spending a lot more time at home it might be advisable to take time to plan our meals carefully so we are including as much variety as possible and also cut back on convenience foods and instead eat fruit or vegetables as snacks between meals.
Olivia Kelly is a Senior Community Dietitian with the HSE. For any more information and advice contact email@example.com or Olivia.firstname.lastname@example.org