‘Important for COVID patients to eat small meals at short intervals’

What are the ideal foods to consume during monsoon, a season which brings many diseases in its wake, especially when we are in the midst of a pandemic? National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) Director R. Hemalatha shares her suggestion to keep the body, mind and soul in the right space in this exclusive interview. Excerpts:

What should the daily diet be during monsoon with the COVID-19 pandemic still around?

Nutritionally adequate diet is ideal, through a wise choice from a variety of food groups at all times irrespective of the season. Foods such as vegetables and fruits, nuts, oilseeds, fish etc., are rich sources of good quality fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and bioactive substances. Milk/curd provides good quality proteins and calcium should be an essential part of the diet too.

Non-vegetarians can opt for moderate quantities of fish, poultry and lean meat. Prefer salads dressed with roasted peanuts/ chickpeas/nuts and oilseeds for snacks instead of fried stuffs or bakery foods. Avoid intake of HFSS — high in fats/oils, salt, sugar foods like chips, cookies, pastries, biscuits, puffs, fried stuffs,breakfast cereals, noodles, pastas, ice-creams ,etc. Prefer naans, buns and rotis made with whole grains instead of refined wheat flour.

Avoid commercially available fruit juices, carbonated beverages and extracted soy or almond milk. Prefer consuming whole soy beans or whole almonds because extracted milk is mostly sugar and has very little nutrients of value. Avoid using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like Vanaspathi.

Is there any co-relation with our diet and increasing body immunity to thwart COVID or other common infections?

Many nutrients and dietary intervention studies have demonstrated improvement in immune response and reduction in inflammation, which will lower the vulnerability to infection. Appropriate nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally and this includes the cells in the immune system. Of course, during infection, the demand on nutrients increases further due to activated immune response.

Foods rich in nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6, B12, B9 (folic acid) and minerals such as iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium, copper, essential fatty acids and amino-acids support immune responses, effectively control immune overreaction (inflammation) and scavenge free radicals that are generated in higher quantities during active infection.

What should be the ideal diet for a COVID infected person and later, in the recovery stage?

Since the pandemic is fairly recent, the evidence is still emerging. Nevertheless, it is known COVID patients may experience loss of smell and taste or in a few cases, difficulty in swallowing. It is important to eat small meals in short intervals. The main diet focus should be to consume foods that support immunity, reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar. Patients with COVID-19 infection must avoid foods that cause inflammation — fried food containing excessive fats/oils, food made with hydrogenated fats and processed food containing high sugar, salt and refined grains.

They should also limit red meat intake, which can increase inflammation. COVID patients may have blood glucose disturbances. Consumption of five servings of vegetables and fruits as well as adequate quantities of curd, sea fish along with adequate calories from whole grains, legumes (pulses and beans), nuts and oil seeds can help maintain blood sugar and support immune function.

During recovery, healthy diet with adequate calories, quality proteins and Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) is the key. ‘My Plate for the Day’ developed by ICMR-NIN has been designed on the basis of Recommended Dietary Allowances. Quantity of pulses and milk in the menu provides good quality protein and supply of all essential amino acids. For non-vegetarians, pulses can be substituted with fish or poultry and lean cut red meat in moderation. This, coupled with regular physical activity can improve recovery and reduce the risk of diseases

Will this pandemic force us to make any fundamental changes of our diet?

Many are already making changes to their diet. Preliminary results of studies have shown there is increase in physical activity, higher adherence to healthy diet and more people are consuming fruits and vegetables. Decrease in consumption of bakery products, alcohol intake and smoking has also been reported. Given that 56.4% of the diseases in India are due to unhealthy dietary habits, it is crucial to make a conscious effort to shift to healthy dietary habits and sustain them even after COVID times.

What are the common myths with regard to food habits during this pandemic?

Most common myth is that the virus can be transmitted through food. There is no evidence to date to say that coronavirus is transmitted via food or food packaging. Yet another usual apprehension is if eating meat causes COVID-19. There is no evidence that the virus can spread through meat. However, meat should be cooked thoroughly and safe handling practices must be followed before its consumption.

There is a prevalent notion that adding ginger, garlic or pepper or having green/herbal teas and ‘kadas’ can prevent COVID-19 infections. Truth is there is no evidence to support this. However, all these spices or foods are known to have substances beneficial to health and can even improve immune function. It is good to add them in your routine diet, as most of us usually do in our cuisine, but to assume that they can prevent COVID infection may be a bit far-fetched.

How should we deal with take-away foods?

We need not be wary of these as foods cannot be a medium to carry the virus. However, a sick person should not cook, handle or deliver foods. While ordering food, we can opt for contactless delivery option, where food packets are left outside the door and customer is informed on call. Or, make sure there is one-metre distance from the delivery person. Packages should be opened and discarded safely and hands must be washed with soap and water or sanitised with an alcohol-based sanitiser. We should not let food stand at room temperature for long hours as this can jeopardise safety.

Is it necessary to take nutritional/vitamin supplements?

There is not enough evidence to come up with any guidance on micronutrient supplementation for prevention of COVID-19 in healthy individuals or for treatment. Though micronutrient deficiencies may impair immune function and make one vulnerable to infections, consuming micronutrient supplements when not indicated can cause complications. Micronutrient supplements can be taken when indicated under the physician’s advice. Adequate intake of micronutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and fish can play an important role in a well-functioning immune system and play a vital role in promoting health.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 9:01:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/important-for-covid-patients-to-eat-small-meals-at-short-intervals/article35009956.ece

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