A healthy diet for a healthy life

Azlan Othman

A healthy diet is important during the COVID-19 pandemic. What we consume can affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections.

The World Health Organization (WHO) while saying no food or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, added that healthy diets are important to support the immune systems as good nutrition can reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

For babies, a healthy diet means exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months, with the introduction of nutritious and safe food to complement breastmilk from age six months to two years and beyond. For young children, a healthy and balanced diet is essential for growth and development.

For older people, it helps ensure a healthier and more active life. WHO said taking more vitamin C during the COVID-19 pandemic helps. A person should consume a variety of food, including fruits and vegetables. For daily intake, a mix of wholegrains like wheat, maize and rice, legumes like lentils and beans, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, with some foods from animal sources (meat, fish, eggs and milk) are recommended.

Eat wholegrain food like unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice when possible; as they are rich in fibre and can help feel full for a longer period. Choose raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and unsalted nuts for snacks.

A healthy diet can be maintained by cutting down on salt. One should limit the salt intake to five grammes (equivalent to a teaspoon) a day. When cooking and preparing food, use salt sparingly and reduce the use of salty sauces and condiments (like soy sauce, stock or fish sauce).

When using canned or dried food, choose varieties of vegetables, nuts and fruit, without added salt and sugar. It is advised to remove the salt shaker from the table, and experiment with fresh or dried herbs and spices for added flavour instead. Check labels on food and choose products with a lower sodium content.

WHO also recommends moderate consumption of fat and oil by replacing butter and ghee with healthier fats like olive, soy, sunflower or corn oil when cooking. Also choose white meat like poultry and fish which are generally lower in fats than red meat. Also trim meat of visible fat and limit the consumption of processed meats.

The public is also advised to slect low-fat or reduced-fat versions of milk and dairy products, avoid processed, baked and fried food containing industrially produced trans-fat. It is advisable to steam or boil instead of frying food when cooking.

Also limit sugar intake such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and juice drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee and flavoured milk drinks.

Choose fresh fruit instead of sweet snacks such as cookies, cakes and chocolate. When other dessert options are chosen, ensure that they are low in sugar and consume small portions. Avoid providing sugary food to children. Salt and sugar should not be added to complementary food given to children under two years, and should be limited beyond that age.

WHO also called to always stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Good hydration is crucial for optimal health. Whenever available and safe for consumption, tap water is the healthiest and cheapest. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is a simple way to limit the intake of sugar and excess calories.

WHO also said breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies helping protect against many common childhood illnesses as breast milk provides the nutrients and fluids children need.

Meanwhile WHO also said that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through contact with food or food packaging. COVID-19 is said to be spread from person to person.

However, it’s always important to practice good hygiene when handling food to prevent any food-borne illnesses.

Follow WHO’s five steps to safer food like keeping clean, separating raw and cooked food, cooking thoroughly, keeping food at a safe temperature and using clean water and raw material.