Good nutrition is especially important for overall health during quarantine

Published: May 04, 2020
Updated: May 08, 2020
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With the world under quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is spending more time at home than usual and perhaps even eating foods they don’t regularly consume. Mike Greene, associate professor in the College of Human Sciences’ Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management, offers advice on the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits in quarantine.

Everyone says it’s important to maintain good nutrition during the quarantine, but why? How does good nutrition relate to optimal health?

Many of us are focused on what we eat during this crisis. This is totally understandable. The food we consume plays a role in our health, both physical and mental. Importantly, our immune system is influenced by the foods we eat. A number of vitamins and minerals play an important role in our immune system. Many people focus on consuming Vitamin C and Zinc for immune health because they have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold, but they do not appear to play a role in prevention of the common cold. It’s too early to know if they also help with COVID-19 infections. The best approach to immune health is to eat whole foods and to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables because not only will this provide vitamins and minerals, they also provide plant chemicals, or phytochemicals, which help with inflammation.

Another very important reason to consume a healthy diet is that hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 infections are much higher in people with high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood glucose (diabetes) and heart disease (cardiovascular disease). Obesity is also an important factor in outcomes for COVID-19 patients. A healthy diet will help with these chronic conditions. I recommend any of the top three diets ranked by the US News & World Report: the Mediterranean, DASH and Flexitarian diets.

We are fortunate that grocery stores have remained open and fresh produce is available. Should we be buying and eating this produce? If so, do we clean it more than usual?

Fresh fruits and vegetables eaten in season are the best options. Because the average American diet is low in fruit and vegetable intake, any way you can increase their consumption is great. An important point is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables because no one food contains all of the nutrients we need. The Food and Drug Administration is stating that there is no evidence of COVID-19 transmission from our foods. So, continue with your normal food safety practices.

If we don’t have access to fresh produce, what are the best alternatives?

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option.

What foods should be avoided or limited whether we are in quarantine or not?

The diets mentioned above all emphasize a healthy dietary approach including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein. These dietary approaches also recommend limiting refined grains and added sugars which are common in processed foods. Sugary drinks should also be limited. People with high blood pressure should reduce their salt intake to approximately 1,500 milligrams per day.

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