Beating Corona & its unexpected side effect of diet

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Besides the deadly Covid-19 infection, there are a multiple other side effects of this pandemic which we need to keep a look out for, and tackle head on, before they cause a lot of damage, writes Kavita Devgan

The fundamental factors for eating right, maintaining correct hygiene and leading a healthy, balanced life have always been important. But, these have become even more important in these coronavirus-ridden times. Covid-19 has taken over our lives completely and is affecting our mind and body extensively. Suddenly, every aspect of the way we live needs a scrutiny, and is demanding a complete overhaul, with the sole purpose of staying safe in these scary, toxic times.

The stress this virus has added to our lives and the public health system of the country is unprecedented and devastating both on the personal levels, and for the society at large. What is clear is that certain lessons are best learnt fast and need to stay alive in our consciousness.

The most important is the lesson to continuously keep working on boosting our immunity. We all need to keep doing our best to keep our immune system strong to help our bodies fight, not just Covid-19, but a lot of other (mind and body) issues that are cropping up because of it.

Even though the vaccines are now available, the best option before us still is prevention and a strong immunity to win this battle. We all need to focus on eating foods that boost our immune system and make right lifestyle choices (exercise, low stress, enough sleep) to ensure the same.

The second lesson is to strictly follow all hygiene protocols. The rules of maintaining strict social distance, frequent hand washing (WHO recommends washing the hands with soap for 20 seconds), not touching the nose, mouth and eyes with contaminated hands, wearing the mask when stepping outside, using alcohol based sanitisers, detecting and isolating infected people, and avoiding unnecessary risks must be followed. Cleaning and sanitising homes, offices, and modes of transport is a must on a regular basis. The practice of washing vegetables and fruits thoroughly before using and sanitising every bought commodity before getting it inside the house must be religiously followed. It is also important to keep avoiding face to face meetings and restrict stepping out unless extremely unavoidable.

The missed pitfalls of the pandemic

Even as we re-iterate all the points, besides the covid infection (which is extremely deadly), there are a multiple other side effects of this pandemic which we need to keep a look out for and tackle head on before they cause a lot of damage. These include:

Fatigue: Fatigue is a very common side effect that one faces during summer because of high heat and the resultant dehydration. But these days, the omnipresent stress due to the pandemic is adding to it extensively. It is especially common with those who are suffering from Covid-19 or are recovering from it.

In such a scenario, it is important to focus on food that can help combat fatigue. Simple steps help. Ease up on sugar, stay hydrated, pump up protein in the diet, cut down on caffeine, eat magnesium-rich foods, have vitamin B 12 and D supplements. Iron deficiency is also a common reason for fatigue, so focus on iron rich foods like meats, organ meats, beans, such as red kidney beans, and chickpeas, nuts, seeds, whole grains and tofu.

Anorexia: One unfortunate and often being missed side effect of the pandemic (and the constant need to try and eat healthy to boost the immunity, and beat the loneliness, stress and anxiety) is the silent rise of the eating disorders amidst people of all ages. Anorexia is not something to be taken lightly. Disordered eating for a long time can cause serious, lasting damage. If you suspect that you or someone you know might be suffering from an eating disorder, address it immediately. The sooner it is identified, the sooner it will be treated — and the easier it will be for the person to recover

Weight gain and low activity: Lowered activity cannot be helped and as structured exercise — going out for a walk or to the gym is out of question — you need to increase your non-structured exercise. Extra housework is helping many burn some extra calories. But to keep in good shape and keep your circulation going, you must attempt to do some more. Exercise helps release some feel good endorphins. Some simple ways to keep on your toes is to: Play hide and seek with your children; do gardening; join an online dance/aerobics/yoga class; or make trips up and down the stairs. And to offset lowered activity, you may cut down on calories by eating two regular meals in a day. For the third, you may eat just fruits or vegetables. This will help create a calorie deficit.

You may also try intermittent fasting. Eat between an 8 hour window, say from 11 to 7 or 12 to 8 everyday. Or do a fruits and vegetable fast once a week. Make a rule not to eat in between meals and, if at all, then stick to only fruits. Eat sweets just once a week. Same for the fried foods. Most important, make sure to drink enough water.

Multiple deficiencies: Due to change in activity and eating patterns, nutrients deficiencies are common to note. Make a conscious effort to stock up on the following foods to take care of nutrient deficiencies:

To stock up on Calcium, eat dairy, til (sesame) seeds, anjeer (figs); for Iron, consume pomegranate, meats, lentils (chickpeas deliver a lot of iron) and besan. Eat enough fruits and vegetables to score a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals. For vitamin D, sit out in the early morning sun everyday

Constipation and gut troubles: Summer and the resultant dehydration often brings with it constipation, as scorching heat can drain water from your body and make the stools hard and difficult to pass. Absence of exercise and restricted movement due to lockdowns makes the condition worse. To top, over-use of medications (antacids are a common culprit, as they cause the entire digestive system to back up, precipitating a vicious cycle that features heartburn and indigestion) and laxative abuse is something that needs to be checked.

Fibre is the word. We need upwards of 30-35 gm a day. Minus this, there is no bulk. And while you are at it, get the right kind; insoluble fibre (also known as roughage) increases feeling of fullness, stool size and bulk, and thus helps reduce constipation. Shun refined foods and zero in on whole foods. Consciously include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. If you want to know specific foods that work, my top three top picks are: okra (besides constipation-fighting in-soluble fiber, it is also loaded with vitamin B6 and folate, both of which help), prunes (packed with natural laxatives sorbitol and dihydrophenylisatin) and amla (stimulates the secretion of gastric juices and thus has a positive effect on digestion). And of course drink enough water.

The other lifestyle related issues that you must look out for, are:

Ordering in too much: Ordering in is not good for either your waist or wallet. Stick to home cooked food as eating fresh, safe home cooked food is even more important today. Here’s what you can do: twice every week make time to prepare food in advance. Make enough for a couple of dinners and lunches (and freeze some portions). It will save you time and effort.

Junk Eating: This has been on a rise during the lockdown because of multiple reasons — as a way of stress control, or because of their easy availability or simply to kill boredom and loneliness. This sustained wrong eating pattern can have big repercussions, and before one knows, it it has the potential to not just lead to weight gain, but also wreak havoc on the blood sugar and mess up the lipid profile by raising the bad cholesterol and triglycerides numbers.

Here’s what you can do to check bing eating: Before you open that packet of namkeen/potato chips/cookies, have a glass of water first. Best, stop stocking them at home!

Negativity: Stress is the biggest killer of all. Chronic stress lowers the supply of killer immune cells that help our body fight infection, and thus lowers our immunity. Stress and coronavirus combined is a deadly combination. Times are tough, and staying positive is a tall order, but it is something that must be done — by hook or by crook.

Here’s what you can do: Laugh some more. Because, a good laughter can increase infection fighting antibodies in the body, boost natural killer cells and lower immunosuppressive stress hormone cortisol. Find something you can be happy about everyday. Or just force yourself to stay happy and laugh.

Listen to music. This is an easy hack to boost your immunity (it soothes your soul). And if you can, make music. Join online tabla or guitar lessons. Add some joy to your life.

Thyroid damage: Lockdown inactivity, stress and anxiety has been bad for our thyroid gland. All this has made even good glands sluggish. Here’s what you can do to keep your thyroid hormones happy — score these three nutrients daily. For Zinc: Eat nuts, seeds, dairy and eggs; Selenium: Eat dairy, fish mushrooms, sunflower seeds, eggs; and Omega 3: Eat fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Insomnia: Sleeplessness has been on a rise and people of all ages are facing it these days. This is mainly because of stress, frustration and anxiety. Adding to it is the loss and grief that people have been facing for so long now, and lowered activity levels that do not tire us enough to be able to fall asleep quickly at night. Prolonged sleep deprivation wears down our immune protection and thus weakens our ability to fight the infection.

Here’s what you can do: Stay clear of too much caffeine late in the day (such as strong coffee late at night, or cola and ‘energy’ drinks) — it is a stimulant and can keep you awake when you want to snuggle in a cosy sleep.

Try to eat foods that contribute to restful sleep. These are tryptophan-containing foods, an amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin that slows down nerve traffic so your brain isn’t so busy. These include: Dairy products: cottage cheese, cheese, milk; Soy products: soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts; Seafood; Meats; Poultry; Whole grains: bajra, barley, millets; Beans; Rice; Hummus; Lentils; Hazelnuts, Peanuts; Eggs; Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds; Colocasia; Sweet Potato; Cashew nuts; Mango and Papaya.

Keep your dinner light. Eat easily digestible foods. Khichri (the rice and dal combination) is a wonderful seep inducing food. Try it. It’ll help you sleep well. And yes, Haldi doodh helps. Add a pinch of pepper to ensure better absorption. Munching on a couple of walnuts at bed time also helps.

In a nutshell, focus on your health and make note of any changes in your patterns and behaviour. A lot can be controlled by diet and clear mind. Stay healthy, stay safe.

(The writer is a Delhi-based weight management consultant, nutritionist and author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks)

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