If there was ever a time that made us pay close attention to our health, it has been this one of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sparkled from an almost invisible and mischievous coronavirus, it was active to turn most areas of the globe into “mass fire”. Almost all countries across the world have been greatly affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, more generally known as the novel coronavirus.
Other than the Covid-19 pandemic, non-communicable diseases (NCD) are one of the key players of healthcare challenges. Non-communicable diseases, including heart diseases, hypercholesterolemia, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases, are considered as the lifestyle diseases which are preventable. The two, are threatening human health and well-being of the world populations, including Malaysia. There is no sole panacea and short cuts for the cures overnight, but you can prevent and decrease the complications if you start practicing healthful strategies as early as possible.
Proper nutrition and hydration play an important role in our overall health and immune systems, especially in times when the immune system might need to fight back. People who consume a well-balanced diet are usually healthier with stronger immune system. They tend to have lower risk of infections and developing chronic diseases. Here are some health tips to help you out in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.
1) Balance, Moderate and Variety (BMV)
An important key to healthy eating is: Balance, Moderate and variety. To obtain all the nutrients required by your body, simply ‘Mix it up!’ Consume a mix of food from different food groups (vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, animal and plant proteins, and dairy). Practice balance in your daily food selection and portion sizes, too much or too little are both undesirable to support good health. You may use the Malaysian food pyramid and My Healthy Plate Guide to help you understand how much you need from each food group.
2) Choose fresh and unprocessed foods everyday
- Increase intake of foods in its natural (or nearly natural) state such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, starchy tubers or roots, whole grains (e.g. maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice), and animal proteins (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, milk, dairy products).
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, as they provide loads of important vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and phytonutrients that we need for healthy diet.
- Daily, eat 2 servings of fruits, 2 cups of vegetables (4 servings), 2 glass of milk, with balanced amount of grains and proteins (animals and plant sources). You may refer to Malaysian Healthy Plate for a meal portion estimation guide.
- When using canned or dried foods, select varieties without or with very less added oil, salt, sugar, artificial colourings and flavourings.
- Limit ultra-processed foods that add excess sodium, sugars, artificial colourings and flavourings, saturated fat or trans-fat including:
- Sugary foods and drinks (e.g. doughnut, ice-cream, chocolates, candies, boba tea)
- Fast foods and frozen entrées (e.g. Deep fried French fries, frozen pizzas)
- Bakery products and ‘kuih’ with heavily added fat and sugar (e.g. cookies, most cakes, kuih)
- Colourful cereals and confectioneries with artificial colourings and flavourings
- Processed meats like sausages, deli meat
3) Adopt healthy cooking method when preparing meals
- Choose healthier ingredients (e.g. A lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, lean meats) and reduce oil when cooking. Use healthier cooking methods such as boiling, steaming, air-frying, baking, grilling, and braising rather than deep frying.
4) Limit salt, sugar, and fat
- Reduce the amount of salt and high sodium condiments (e.g. soy sauce, fish sauce) when cooking and preparing food. You may substitute with fresh or dried herbs as the healthier options
- Limit your daily salt intake to less than 1 teaspoon (5g), and use iodised salt
- Check the labels of all the foods you eat to learn about their ingredients and nutritional value. Select varieties that are lower in sodium, sugar, and fat
- Limit your intake of soft drinks, sodas, syrups, and other beverages that are high in sugar (e.g. flavoured yoghurt, boba tea, fruit juice concentrates, flavoured drink and milk)
- Limit saturated and trans fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard, cookies, margarine)
- Instead, choose unsaturated fat and foods high in protein and Omega-3 (e.g. avocado, nuts, olive oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oils, fatty and lean fish, lean meat, eggs)
- For your snack, choose fresh fruits and vegetables (e.g. cherry tomato, baby carrot) instead of confectioneries
5) Include probiotics into your diet
Probiotics are crucial to restore the gut microbiota balance and support digestive health. Besides gastrointestinal health, a large number of human and animal studies also supported the fact that the gut microbiota plays an important role in cognitive development, mood, and immune function. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, natto, and probiotics supplement. Add probiotics into your diet for your gut, immunity, and overall health.
6) Stay hydrated
Plain water is the cheapest and healthiest drink. Water is important because it regulates your body temperature, moistens tissues in the eyes, nose, and mouth, transports nutrients and compounds in blood and to cells, and gets rid of waste from your body. Drink 6-8 cups of water every day.
7) Work. It. Out.
Stay home does not mean you get to be a couch potato. Staying physically active keeps chronic and acute diseases at bay and lessens the risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation and fatality. Regular exercise also helps up your mood and well-being because when you exercise, your brain releases endorphins that makes you feel good, meantime sharpens focus, and promote good sleep. Perform at least a total of 2½ hours of moderate intensity activities every week, with activities such as doing housework, brisk walking, cycling, yoga, practice tai chi, or 1½ hours per week of vigorous intensity activities such as resistant training and stretching.
8) Build your ‘emotional immunity’
Stress and prolong negative emotions can affect our overall well-being. Hence it is necessary to ensure your emotional and mental health. Take a time-out for yourself and explore positive coping ways when you feel stress, lonely or worries. Talking to someone you trust or a counsellor may be helpful too. On top of that, energise your mind every morning by doing activities that give your brain harmony, love, satisfaction, confidence, and insight. They can be your hobby, meditation, a good stretching, focus on your food and exercise while limiting negative news and Covid-19 updates.
Building ’emotional immunity’ in times of COVID-19. (6 August, 2020). Retrieved 25 August, 2021, from The Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/health/emotional-immunity-covid-19-pandemic-mental-health-6538508/
DiGiulio, S., & Elizabeth Millard. (12 May, 2021). 69 Top Self-Care Tips for Taking Care of You During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved from Everyday Health: https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/top-self-care-tips-for-being-stuck-at-home-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
Eating healthy before, during and after COVID-19. (2021). Retrieved from FAO: http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1392499/
Malaysian dietary guidelines key message 3–be physically active everyday. Ministry of Health Malaysia. 2010.
Mediterranean, R. O. (2021). Nutrition advice for adults during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from WHO: http://www.emro.who.int/nutrition/news/nutrition-advice-for-adults-during-the-covid-19-outbreak.html
Rommelfanger, K., & Alvaro Fernández Ibáñez. (13 April, 2020). 3 ways to protect your mental health during – and after – COVID-19. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/three-ways-to-protect-your-mental-health-from-covid-19/