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Eat Well, Be Well, Stay Well


Coronavirus : Nutrition hints and tips for the general public as we face into the current crisis.

Many dietitians are being asked for advice around nutrition during the current coronavirus pandemic. What should we eat to boost our immune system is a common opening question! Simply put, you cannot "boost" your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you catching Covid-19.  Good hygiene practices, coughing etiquette and social distancing remain the best means of avoiding infection. To date, the European Food Safety Authority have not authorised any claim for a food or food component to be labelled as protecting against infection.

However, there are many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system, so we would encourage maintaining a healthy balanced diet in order to support immune function (include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D).  We don't recommend any one food over another, but instead encourage eating a variety of foods to maintain a healthy balanced diet.

There is NO NEED to stockpile or buy more food than you normally would.  Although you should seek to keep shopping trips to a minimum, if you are not ill and are only undertaking social distancing, you can still visit the shops to but pay normal supplies.  

Check out our tips here for eating well on a budget and using store cupboard essentials - more important than ever at the moment!

Remember to :

  • Use up your fresh ingredients first.  You don't want any food to go to waste, so use up perishable ingredients before foods with a longer shelf life.
  • Know what keeps longest.  Fresh foods with relatively long shelf life include root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and onions.
  • Carefully wash, rinse and drain salad leaves and fresh herbs and spin dry in a salad spinner, place into a suitable plastic storage container, cover and keep refrigerated.  By following this procedure your salads and fresh herbs will last for several more days than if just stored in the fridge uncovered.
  • It might seem obvious but make sure you aren't storing things in your fridge that don't need to be in there.  For example, fresh tomatoes, in-peeled onions, un-peeled jacket potatoes, whole butternut squashes don't need to be refrigerated.  Removing these items from your fridge and storing them in a cool dark place will free up fridge space for more perishable items.
  • If you are stuck at home, take the opportunity to tidy and declutter your kitchen cupboards to free up space for ambient food products.  This is a great opportunity to get rid of those unused and unwanted items that end up "living" in your valuable storage space.  Remember to recycle as many of the items you are discarding as possible.
  • If you do get sick, it is worth having a few easy to cook and prepare foods in the house on standby.  Eggs are a great standby food -  easy and quick to prepare.  Keep bread in the freezer sliced and defrost as needed.

Vitamin D

In normal circumstances, sunshine, not food, is where most of your vitamin D comes from.  So even a healthy, well balanced diet, that provides all other vitamins and nutrients you need, is unlikely to provide enough vitamin D if you aren't able to get enough sun.  During autumn and winter months when we spend more time indoors and the sun is weaker, adults and children over the age old one are advised to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Now we are in spring, if you can you should seek to spend some time outdoors in the sunshine (eg. your garden or balcony).  However, if you are having to self-isolate or if you are unable to go outside, you should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms to ensure a healthy vitamin D status (for adults and children over the age of one).

You can also eat plenty of vitamin D rich foods, including:

  • Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and kippers contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D.
  • Cod liver oil contains a lot of vitamin D, but don't take this if you are pregnant.
  • Margarine, some breakfast cereals, fortified milk and some yogurts have added vitamin D.

Should I be concerned about food safety and Covid-19 transmission?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 virus is transmitted when handling or preparing food.  Please continue to follow general food safety advice;washing hands thoroughly, cleaning surfaces and separating raw meat / fish from other foods when preparing food.  Safefood have very good leaflets on this topic.

Why is malnutrition important to consider for Covid-19?

  • Many people who fall into the at-risk group and have been advised to stay at home, are also those considered to be at greater risk of malnutrition.
  • Malnutrition is a serious condition which can increase a person's risk of infection as well as slowing down their recovery.  Those with an infection are also at higher risk of developing malnutrition which slows their recovery.
  • Malnutrition is also more common for older people and those who are already socially isolated.  Social distancing and social isolation could impact a person's access to the wide variety of foods needed to keep healthy and may make them want to eat less.
  • Unintentional weight loss due to disease or infection is not good, whatever someone's original body weight was.  Healthy eating in older age may look different to the general heathy eating guidelines.  This is because older people are more at risk of malnutrition.  Some older people may need reassuring that their diet should be different.

What is the advice for someone at risk of malnutrition?

It is important older people are still encouraged to keep active.  Good nutrition, including eating enough protein, is essential to protect people's muscles including respiratory muscles to help with breathing. Click for some high protein and high calorie tips from the HSE 'Making the Most of Every Bite' leaflet.  The Making the Most of Every Bite Cookbook by Dr Aoife Ryan, UCC also provides lots of recipe ideas here.

Finally getting enough fluid is essential for good health and you will need more fluid than usual if you have an infection.  Adults are usually advised to have 6-8 mugs or large glasses a day, but this may need to be higher for someone with a high temperature.

(Credits: Some material adapted from BDA website)

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