Sunday, Oct 01, 2023

Good Food: Nutrition during COVID-19

Good Food: Nutrition during COVID-19

Food is life. It is an immunity booster, lowers the risk of disease and makes us more productive. Six experts touch upon different aspects of nutrition and good health.


With the healthcare industry under severe strain, how do you decide the diet for healthcare workers and patients?

Dr Ushakiran Sisodia: I developed a special diet plan, keeping in mind that the food should not cause any strain on the respiratory organs, lungs. It is rich in proteins, low in carbs and has less sugar. We introduced new recipes with paneer, leafy vegetables, healthy snacks include roasted chana and oil-free snacks. Hydration being vital, we have coconut water, lime juice, fresh juices, even simple kadha made of warm water, ginger, honey and turmeric; then turmeric milk at bedtime.

For the patients, the diet depends on the clinical symptoms and varies from individual to individual. Initially, the assessment was via phones due to social distancing norms. Light and easy to digest foods were recommended. It was oats or poha for breakfast. Lunch and dinner comprised rice and dal combinations, khichdi. We also included probiotic foods like curd. My youngest patient was a 6-year-old and we gave the child simple sandwiches, rice and dal, fruits.

How important are multivitamins in the journey of good health? Can we keep having multivitamins over long periods?

Dr.Jnanadeva Bhat: Multivitamins and minerals are essential for any individual. We do get them from our daily diet, but sometimes, we don’t take these in sufficient measures, as everyone has a different diet system and food habit. At that point, we need a dose of supplements. Some vitamins like Vitamin C, B Complex, Zinc are easily available.

All dietary supplements approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), are safe to consume. They are not harmful, as they are made under strict recommended daily intake guidelines.Then there are pharmaceutical products, for which you need a prescription. Those multivitamins are best taken under medical supervision.

What kind of veggies and fruits should we buy? What is the best way to wash and store veggies and spices so that the nutrients are not lost?

Tiana Rodrigues: The Indian Council of Medical Research establishes a Recommended Dietary Allowance, which is approved by FSSAI.This is a guideline on a healthy diet and how much a person can have on a dialy basis to prevent falling sick. For instance, Vitamin C is present in oranges, Zinc and Magnesium can be taken through dairy products, green leafy vegetables. But even a good day out in the sun is not enough to get a full dose of Vitamin D. Similar is the case with Omega-3 and Omega-6. In these cases, supplements help, but you should not go overboard.

The best way to wash vegetables and fruits is with clean water. You don’t need any vinegar or soap, because vegetables, and fruits are porous in nature. And if all these go into the vegetables, then you could have nausea or other problems. More important is personal hygiene--wash your hands before cutting fruits and vegetables, wash your fruits and vegetables green leafy vegetables or cauliflower before cutting them, blanch them, put them in hot water and then cold water. Use a clean board to spread them out. Then wash that also. Don’t cut through the entire peel. People with low immunity can eat fruits with thick peels such as orange and pomegranate.

Spices provide aroma and flavor and it’s best to preserve them in an opaque container, away from light and direct moisture or too much heat. Use them in cooking methods to enhance flavours, and not raw.

How can we explain probiotics to a layperson and which products are easily available in the market?

Anurag Chadha: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines probiotics as ‘live microorganisms, when administered in an adequate quantity confers some health benefits’. These results are primarily in the areas of immunity and digestive health. The interesting part is that the human body comprises 47% human cells and 53% bacterial cells. There are some 5,000 species of bacteria in the human body. Around 97% of them are part of the gastrointestinal tract, that is the gut.

Certain strains have been identified and these are probiotics. These strains come from two large species of bacteria--Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. If they are consumed on a regular basis for a long period of time, then the strains can start giving health benefits.  There are many probiotic products available in the market such as yogurts and buttermilk.  

Which is the best way to cook so that the nutritional value is retained? Any quick meal that people can make while recovering from illness?

Chef Kunal Kapur: Personally, there is no unhealthy food. It is our intake and lifestyle, which starts defining healthy and unhealthy. All of us are aware of what we eat. When we put that butter on the bread, add the extra dollop of cream or order that extra cheese pizza, we know what we are eating. The best way of cooking is to be conscious of what you are adding in your meal.

All foods give nutrition—we need to learn the art of balancing nutrition from every meal. We need to focus on every ingredient and we learn all this from nutritionists and doctors. The right portion also matters.

Anyone who is on the recovery road definitely needs proteins as these are the building blocks in the body. Then they need good fats from almonds or nuts and healthy oils. It is also important to limit the intake of carbs. Overall, fresh food, freshly prepared helps in recovery. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are fresh and easily available in the neighbourhood. Good food requires minimum cooking and can be eaten raw. You can add sprouts to chaat, even microgreens, and eating dinner at the right time is important. 

For snacking, local berries are fabulous. They're small and full of antioxidants. Each region in India has a seasonal produce. For instance, the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh belt has phalsa, in Himachal Pradesh there is kilmora. The pandemic has also highlighted overweight issues, as all of us are at home. You can replace your butter popcorn with these berries while watching Amazon or Netflix. Chia seeds are also a good option as they curb hunger.

Nayara Energy has been aiding rural communities in Devbhoomi Dwarka, Gujarat, through Project Tushti. Please share the journey of nutrition in that region.

Deepak Arora: The reason we thought of looking at nutrition as one of the key areas of intervention in Devbhoomi Dwarka is because it is at the bottom in the nutrition indicators. In the cities, we tend to overlook a lot of wisdom that comes from traditional knowledge, which has depth and profundity. However, before beginning the programme, we did a survey. We were really surprised at the result that showed people in rural communities have also developed the habit of snacking on packaged products such as chips. It is symbol of modernity.

It was quite challenging to teach the community that their traditional foods and habits are good and they should go back to the roots. For this, we took an ecosystem-based approach, as there are farming communities around our refinery in Gujarat as well. We had a project on agriculture, which helped them in generating additional income, and then we helped them with kitchen gardens. We worked with almost 15,000 farmers. We have ensured that there are kitchen gardens in every household. They have the knowledge and the seeds to grow their own produce. We also distributed recipe books, videos on how to make good dishes. Largely, it’s an integrated approach with nutrition on one side, and agricultural income on the other.


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