Quarantine can be an unexpected stressor for many, especially as it disrupts your routine. We’ve all had to find ways to rearrange our daily lives — and part of that has had to do with our eating habits.
As many around the world struggle with a drop in expendable income and fewer food options, it’s important to remember that it’s a blessing to have food on the table.
Nonetheless, with less structure, you might find yourself asking, when should I eat? What should I eat? How can I avoid overeating due to stress or excess downtime?
With Ramadan upon us, finding a proper balance has become increasingly important.
We speak to Sakina Mustansir, a clinical dietitian at Prime Hospital, who gives us her top 12 tips to maintain healthy habits while staying at home. Plus, a food technologist tells out what to keep an eye out for while grocery shopping. Finally, how you can donate meals to vulnerable individuals and families in need this Ramadan.
A CLINICAL DIETICIAN’S TOP 12 TIPS TO STAY HEALTHY AT HOME
1. You’re moving less, so stay aware of your metabolism’s limitations. “Most of us are working from home, so the physical activity level has gone down. We definitely have to eat less than what we would usually eat,” says Mustansir. “You need to make sure that you’re eating only when you are hungry and not eating because you are bored.”
2. Before reaching out for a bag of chips, attempt this. “Avoid snacking. If you feel that you’re hungry in between your meals, try to first half a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes. After that, if you still really feel that you are hungry, then you can have a healthy snack. But, if after drinking water you tend to feel satisfied, then avoid eating.”
3. Search for healthy snacks. “These can be a fruit or some nuts, like almonds, walnuts or peanuts — even just a carrot or a cucumber.” If you have special dietary needs, such as pre-diabetes, you can look at snacks such as chickpeas, nuts or a salad, says Mustansir.
4. Avoid eating late at night. “At night, your digestion slows down. Our metabolism is low. So, the body needs to work harder to digest food. It’s advisable to eat at sunset — that’s the ideal time as per our circadian rhythm.” Pre-8pm, says Mustansir, is usually the best time.
5. Try to maintain your usual sleep schedule. “These days, we stay up late at night, maybe watching Netflix or scrolling down on our mobile. Make sure that you’re not missing out on your sleep at its regular timings, because it’s very important for the immune [system] to get a proper seven or eight hours of sleep,” says Mustansir. “You should sleep during sleeping hours; you should not be sleeping at 2am and waking up at 11 o’clock. You need to try and stay on schedule, even during these times.”
6. If you don’t want to visit the grocery store often, bulk up on frozen foods. “You also can buy fresh produce and then freeze it at home. For example, onion — chop it up, do a little stir fry, and once it cools down, freeze it. Same with tomato, which you can make into a puree and freeze, or fruits and vegetables, which you can blanche and freeze,” says Mustansir.
7. Avoid ordering meals from outside. “The healthiest option is, as much as possible, to eat your home-cooked, traditional dishes. Junk food and fast food have to be avoided.”
8. Your water intake is important. “You need to be hydrated, and because we’re at home, we tend to not drink so much water. It’s recommended to have eight to nine glasses of water per day.”
9. Deep breathing is highly recommended, says Mustansir. “Coronavirus affects the lungs directly. We need to make sure that we are keeping our lungs very strong. So, do a little deep breathing exercise every day, and make sure that you are able to hold your breath for 20 to 30 seconds, at least, between inhale and exhale.”
10. Keep busy. “Stress eating is psychological, so you need to make sure that you keep yourself engaged in some productive work,” says Mustansir. “During [quarantine], you need to make sure that you keep yourself engaged in creative activities or things that you love, whether that’s reading or watching TV. That way, your mind is diverted from stress and from eating, too.”
11. Build healthy eating habits for kids. “This is a good time do it, because we can avoid stocking up the kitchen with chips and chocolate — we have the option saying the grocery stores are [closed] and that we can’t get out of the house,” says Mustansir. “Make sure that you have more fruits and nuts stocked. For kids, snacking is something that they need in between meals. If healthy foods are the only option they have, gradually they will get a taste for it.”
12. Sit down and enjoy your meal slowly. “We always say we eat too quickly because we don’t have the time, most of our meals are at work. We’re in a hurry, so we spend maybe five to seven minutes to finish a meal. Since we are at home now and we have ample amount of time, we suggest that you make sure that you sit down, eat calmly, and chew your food thoroughly,” says Mustansir. “That will optimise the digestion and it is very, very important.”
FIVE THINGS TO SHOP FOR ON YOUR NEXT GROCERY RUN
Not sure what to look for when you’re grocery shopping? Meera Venu, food technologist at Waitrose UAE, spoke to us about the five things to keep in mind when shopping for food. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Eat more fruit and vegetables:
Eating more fruit and vegetables is one of the most important things we can do to improve our health. Packed with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, fruit and vegetables are naturally low in fat and sodium (the component of salt) and are a good source of vitamins A, C, B6, folate and minerals such as iron, and calcium.
2. Eat more whole grains, beans and pulses
Along with fruits and vegetables, starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta should form the major part of most meals and snacks. Not only do these foods give us energy, but wholegrain varieties also contain fibre, B vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iron.
3. Eat more fish
We should all be aiming for two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Oily fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are a type of unsaturated fat that helps to keep our hearts healthy. Omega 3 has been shown to have a variety of functions that help to reduce the risk of heart disease, such as improving the flow of blood around our bodies, reducing inflammation and preventing irregular heart rhythms. White fish is an excellent, low fat source of protein, which our bodies need for growth and repair. It contains vitamin B12 and the mineral selenium.
4. Choose lower fat meat and dairy
Lean meat such as trimmed beef, venison, chicken and turkey are an excellent low fat source of protein, which our bodies need for growth and repair. They contain many nutrients such as vitamin B12 and minerals iron and zinc. Lower fat dairy products such as skimmed, semi-skimmed milk, low fat yogurts, reduced fat cheddar, cottage cheese, low fat fromage frais and crème fraiche provide us with protein, important vitamins such as A, B12, riboflavin and calcium, a vital mineral for healthy bones.
5. Choose lower fat dressings and sauces
Dressings and sauces are a useful way to add extra flavour to your meals. They can contain large quantities of fat, sugar and salt, but don’t worry — you don’t have to give them up completely. Simply choose lower fat varieties to keep your total energy and fat intake within healthy quantities, or use smaller amounts.
GIVE BACK WITH MEALS TO THOSE IN NEED
While it’s important to focus on our health, it’s also crucial to find ways to support the community around us who may be struggling. There are several ways to donate meals to a family or individual in need this Ramadan. Here are two ways you can help.
1. ‘10 Million Meals’ — in cooperation with Social Solidarity Fund Against Covid-19 — allows you to donate online, through a text message or bank transfer, to those who have been impacted by repercussions from Covid-19. It is part of the ‘Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives’. It allows people and businesses to “make financial contributions towards providing meals or donate food items and parcels to be directly distributed to families and individuals across the UAE. The ’10 million meals’ campaign comes in response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the biggest threat currently facing humanity, that caused a paralleled health crisis with multiple economic and social repercussions,” according to their website.
2. Dar Al Ber Society, a charitable organisation in Dubai, allows you to donate by text message: You can simply text the word ‘Iftar’ to 6025, to donate Dh20 and help someone with a meal.