Nutrition and wellbeing for post Covid recovery.
We are only just beginning to understand all the different ways Covid can affect individuals in the long term. What we do know is that everyone is unique as will react and recover from Covid in different ways.
However, we know that taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing by eating nourishing balanced meals and snacks and taking as much physical activity as you are able as well will help you recover as quick as possible. Keeping a check on your mental wellbeing is also important as is seeking help when you need it.
Taking control of your diet and lifestyle can also help you feel empowered, at a time when so much is out of our control. The following notes will guide you through the principles of a balanced diet to aid a speedy recovery from the virus. There are also links at the end to the NHS information and other useful websites.
Your body’s immune system is working hard to recover, and it is important to support that immune system with all the key nutrients it needs.
The key nutrients and good sources for immunity are the vitamins A (liver and the brightly coloured veg like carrots and green leafy veg), the B vitamins, C (citrus fruits, sweet peppers, kiwis, and berries) E (vegetable oils and nuts and seeds) and vitamin D.
The most important minerals are zinc (meats, shellfish, nuts and seeds), iron (red meats and the brown meat in chicken as well as green leafy veg), selenium (brazil nuts and all veg) and copper.
All of these, except vitamin D, can be derived from a healthy balanced diet. Vitamin D has been linked to reduced rates of respiratory infections and prevents the immune system from over shooting – in effect overreacting. If you don’t already do so start taking a vitamin D supplement – the only supplement the NHS recommends during the winter months.
We also need enough omega 3 fats these are particularly important in the recovery phase. They make up all our cell membranes. The best source is oily fish -tuna (sorry not tinned) mackerel, salmon and sardines, but if you are vegetarian think about including ground linseeds (same as flaxseeds and great for gut health) and a range of other nuts and seeds. If you don’t like oily fish, take a fish oil supplement.
Finally make sure you eat some protein at each meal, the body likes to use it in pulses during the day. It’s a key part of the recovery process (see below for sources of protein)
If you don’t regularly include these foods gradually, start introducing them to support your immune system.
If you eat a healthy balanced diet you really don’t need supplements, however vitamin D3 – 10 ug/day in the winter months and omega 3 – fish oil (or vegetarian equivalent) supplement would aid recovery, for the reasons stated previously.
A high dose supplement may not only be costly but can do you harm. For example high doses of vitamin A are toxic.
You can’t overdose on food and the amazing chemical interactions that happen when we eat, cannot be reproduced by a generic chemical.
You feed the billions of bacteria in your gut with the fibre you can’t digest and the more variety they get the more benefits you will get – the metabolites that they produce are constantly educating our organs and our immune system.
If you combine the past 3 points with enough sleep, exercise/being active and managing your stress levels and you are doing everything you can to keep immune system supported and give yourself the best chance of a speedy recovery.
Aim for 30 different types of fibre a week – and 30g fibre a day. This make take a few weeks to achieve.
Here are the five fibre groups.
Aim for at least 7 different types of veg and fruits every day. Variety is key and fresh and frozen all count.
Every different type of fruit and veg, grain and pulse (like lentils) contain different nutrients and fibres to nourish us and our microbiome. – EAT THE RAINBOW!
Constipation has been a common symptom of long Covid so try to eat more fibre – you need to aim for 30g/day alongside drinking enough water.
If you have had to take antibiotics much of your microbiome in your gut may have been affected and if you are suffering from bowel symptoms a course of probiotics (the live good bacteria in your gut) may well be a good idea. IBS symptoms have been on the increase throughout the pandemic, due the stress we are all under and the link between the gut and the brain is well known now. Eating a balanced diet with lots of different fibres can really help your mood.
Two probiotics who have the evidence base to prove the bacteria survive to the gut are Vivomixx and Symprove. All the evidence is on their websites.
Keep hydrated – dehydration affects your all your bodies metabolic processes.
Be aware of the effects of alcohol.
You may have been drinking a bit more to relax and to reduce your anxiety level, but your body will react to alcohol.
Its known as the ‘Seesaw’ effect – your body maintains a careful equilibrium and alcohol blocks certain anxiety receptors – the more you drink the more it blocks – to keep the status quo the body compensates, and you will feel more anxious and stressed out the next day.
Your body also uses alcohol as fuel before fats, protein or carbs - so it will run on these empty calories first before burning your food as fuel. It also increases your feeling of hunger and dampens your resolve to eat better…It also disrupts our sleep patterns and too much affects the gut microbiome.
Caffeine affects us all differently – we are as unique in our metabolism of different foods as we are in our personalities. If you have sleep issues – which are very common with long Covid - be aware of how much you are drinking. If you are constantly tired it is simply your body making you rest so listen to it and nourish it.
Your body is working hard recover and you need to give it all the nutritional support to do that. If you exclude a food group for any other reason than a medical one you are more likely to be deficient in one or more nutrients to Unless you have an allergy like coeliac disease, include all the food groups. The first 3 food groups (see below) should contain around a third of what you consume over a day with the addition of good fats at @10-20% of your daily intake.
Proteins – meats, fish, dairy, eggs and pulses, etc protein is needed to help your body repair and you may well have lost muscle. Your body likes pulses of protein throughout the day – so make sure you included it at every meal.
Carbohydrates – rice, pasta, breads, potato and grains – do make sure you eat the wholegrain version of all of these – they give you more fibre key for digestive health and often post Covid can mean constipation, particularly if you are not able to be active. Carbohydrates often get a bad press but like most things in nutrition there is a spectrum with wholegrains and pulses as complex carbs at one end to refined sugar and syrups at the other end.
Carbs are your brains preferred source of energy and they also are needed to mobilize protein round your body – did you also know that insulin – the hormone that is released when you eat carbs is also responsible for enabling protein to repair the muscles and tissues throughout the body?
Eating wholegrain versions and including pulses in dishes like soups or sauces is a great way to keep your body well fuelled and your gut bacteria happy.
Vegetables and fruits – variety is key, frozen and tinned are fine but try and eat the rainbow in a week as each colour has a different vitamin, mineral or antioxidant.
Fat – fat is important to include in your diet. Once again, it’s about the type of fat – good fats are key for keeping your cardiovascular system healthy as well as helping repair and recover.
Good fats to include – oily fish, nuts and seeds like linseeds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil and avocados.
Saturated fats and those found in processed foods should be eaten in moderation.
Again, processed foods have a bad press but there is a spectrum. Tinned beans and tomatoes are processed but are cheap and useful ingredients in many dishes. However, the ultra-processed foods like doughnuts and biscuits are really just providing what is termed as ‘empty calories’, energy without any nutrients. We all need to eat less of these, no foods are off limits but to help support your recovery process your body needs all the nutrients it can from a balanced diet.
That said food gives us pleasure and a great sense of joy, particularly sharing it with our loved ones so do have that occasional biscuit or chocolate, whatever it is you enjoy, but make sure you savour it and keep it to one, not half a packet. It may also be that you are eating out of boredom not hunger – will that chocolate bar actually entertain you or do you need to take a break?
To enable you to eat a balanced nourishing diet you need to manage your food environment and plan your meals. We eat for convenience and with our eyes – so if there is a half open packet of biscuits or a full fruit bowl makes a difference to what choose.
Put out bowls of fruit and nuts or have some frozen berries with yogurt or houmous. Make sure you have easy to grab nourishing and tasty snacks and meals.
You have control over your food environment now more than ever – what you don’t buy you can’t eat!
Planning is key – it make take time but as we are all having to cut down on trips to the super-market, we need to put in more thought about what we buy. This is a habit that will enable you to continue eating well after you are fully recovered as well as benefiting the whole family.
If you are back at work take a break for lunch and make sure it satisfies you - include plenty of fibre (from grains and fruits and veg) and protein to help keep you alert in the afternoon. Your meals should satisfy your true hunger.
Sleep is really important for recovery, but insomnia has been a common symptom with post Covid. Have a look at the NHS website at the end for some good tips, and further help if you need it.
Be as active as you can even though you may feel tired but don’t overdo it. If short walk is all you can manage then leave it there.
I truly believe healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless, or take you ages to prepare.
Recipes in a slow cooker are ideal as are soups with lots of veg and easy to grab snacks like Greek yogurt and frozen berries or some peanut butter and apple. Perhaps roast a chicken and use the meat in sandwiches, risottos and soups? Or roast extra vegetables the night before which you can use at lunchtime.
The NHS resource for Covid recovery is below and has some useful information.
These notes are generic if you have any specific nutritional questions or issues do get in touch.
Evidence based optimum nutrition for optimum immunity - a fresh start for your health and wellbeing?
The past 6 months have not been easy. While some people have taken advantage of more time to cook and exercise, others have found this more challenging, with working at home, having the kids around, and needing to produce three meals a day – sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation!
The numbers of cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and lots of people are asking whether the immune system can be "boosted" through diet.
This is a very relevant question for all of us wanting to give ourselves and our loved ones the best chance of fighting off the coronavirus as we move into the Autumn. There is a lot of misinformation about a boosting our immune systems, simply what you want is a healthy immune system, operating at its best. If you have a boosted immune system, it’s in ‘overdrive’ and this state is associated with conditions like autoimmune diseases. What we do know is that optimum nutrition is the key for optimum immunity.
There is also clear evidence that maintaining a healthy weight, an active lifestyle and a balanced and varied diet has huge benefits - reducing risk of cardio-vascular diseases, certain cancers, diabetes, improving your mental health – and even leading to better outcomes for Covid patients.
With the kids finally returning to school and our work life finding a new normal and winter approaching, this may feel like a good time to reassess your health and well-being.
I am now offering consultations on ‘optimum nutrition’ for individuals or families which will look at your diet and lifestyle and help you make sustainable and lasting changes.
I feel passionately that this does not mean you have to have a restrictive boring diet, food is one of the pleasures of life, and eating a balanced varied diet means no food is off limits - moderation and balance are key. I have a range of delicious and healthy recipes to suit even the fussier eaters.
Any ‘Optimum Nutrition’ consultations booked in September will only cost £55 for individuals and include a 45 min remote or socially distanced consultation and personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations. (Please get in touch for family rates – remote consultation)
5% of all consultations will go to SOFEA www.sofea.uk.com in Didcot, which distributes Fare share food waste to those in need around Oxfordshire, runs the Community larder in Didcot and supports disadvantaged young people with education and life skills.
If you would like further information, on ‘Optimum Nutrition’ consultations or any other nutritional consultations please do get in touch for a free initial chat.
The UK’s obesity plan – a view point
Covid has highlighted our country’s growing obesity problem. With c.60% of UK adults overweight or obese the evidence based link between Covid, obesity and poor outcomes has led our Government to produce an obesity strategy ‘designed to get the nation fit and healthy’ and ‘protect themselves against Covid-19’. So what’s in the strategy and will it work?
The strategy recommends is the end of promotional offers on ‘junk foods’, changes in advertising for junk food and an extension of access to free weight loss programs, referral via your GP. I think the first two are positive moves for all of us, to change our food environment by removing the commercial nudges for eating more junk food, whilst encouraging food companies to develop healthy food alternatives. We also know that formal and supported weight-loss programs have good results. However, it’s complex and there are so many different drivers that contribute to obesity – physiology, psychology, culture, education, socio-economic status, as well as the food environment. Providing generic public health strategies is challenging (and often confusing), as every individual’s case is different.
I would like to emphasise that any notion of blame or guilt around the topic of obesity is unhelpful and can lead to disorder eating. We are all unique in our physiology and for some weight management is much more of a challenge, so we need to be more compassionate and less judgmental. I also believe obesity should be defined by a person’s overall health not just their weight. Whatever your weight you will benefit from a more active lifestyle and a healthier balanced diet.
As most of us want to eat well and no one wants a nanny state telling us how to live our lives, these moves should improve the food environment for everyone by reducing the active encouragement of eating junk food and give everyone more information about the food we eat, helping us all live healthier and longer lives.
For more information see the Achieve Oxfordshire's website www.achieveoxfordshire.org.uk or our phone is 01865 338119 and individuals can self-refer.
Should I snack?
Snacking has very much become part of our culture, the market for snack foods is huge, you only have to stand in the queue at a petrol station to eye up the hundreds of snacks on the market, but is snacking as beneficial as it is enjoyable? As with many topics in Nutrition the answer to this is all about context and the individual in question. What your activity levels are, age, medical conditions, nutritional goals etc. and of course the snack itself.
Snacks can be really useful for young children who need a consistent intake of nutrients and energy to support growth and development. Often the same is true for the older adult who may suffer from low appetite and conditions such as acid reflux and then small snack meals have real benefits, as well as providing the extra nutrients in manageable quantities. For athletes and anyone involved in regular sporting activity, particularly endurance sport, snacks are essential pre and post exercise for topping up glycogen levels in muscles, as well as repair and rehydration.
Snacks can also be useful if you simply haven’t had the chance to have a meal, but probably the most important thing is snack choice. Of course, the occasional bar of what you fancy is fine, enjoy it don’t infuse it with guilt but try and make it a treat and not a daily occurrence. If you are you are trying to have a healthier diet and know you are susceptible (known as more food responsive) to the eyelevel ‘snacks’ available in so many food outlets, planning is key. So, arm yourself with a piece of fruit and some nuts, or similar snack that you enjoy and will keep you satisfied and isn’t just a rather expensive bar of ‘empty calories’. Finally watch your portion control, those family size treats may seem good value but we know we eat far more than we think without realizing it!
I’ve put some tasty snack ideas on my website – enjoy!
Eat better in lockdown – Tips on how to curb those cravings
Food and drink have been one of the few pleasures that we have still been able to enjoy during this lockdown and although the odd treat is fine, many of us are finding ourselves eating and drinking more, and have gained a few unwanted inches. Commercial weight loss programs simply don’t work long term, with most achieving limited and/or temporary weight loss. So here are a few practical tips on how to eat better in lockdown.
For more information see my website and please do email any questions