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6 Min
Nutrition

Meal Prep During Covid-19

Written by
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Kara Collier
RDN, LDN, CNSC
three jars of grains, veggies and mushrooms

At Nutrisense, we are usually nose-deep in current research on ways to increase our longevity. However, in rare situations, such as the current global COVID-19 epidemic, it is important to shift our attention away from optimization and instead focus on helping everyone make sense of the current situation. As COVID-19 continues to affect us, we wanted to share some practical advice with regards to your diet and meal prep. This very real epidemic is affecting everything in our daily lives, including how we work, how we interact with others, and of course, how we eat.

Today, we are talking about how to choose and prepare the healthiest meals during the COVID-19 crisis.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around regarding diets that might be protective against COVID-19. We urge you to remember that all of these are anecdotal. There is no scientific evidence that any “diet” will protect against a virus. Instead, the most evidence-based and sensible approach is to focus on the basics. The best plan is to stock up on whole foods with minimal processing and focus on consuming foods that keep us generally healthy, reduce inflammation, and do not suppress our immune system. We know for certain that the “Standard American Diet” (aka, SAD) will not be of benefit to anyone, particularly under these circumstances. Now is not the time to be stocking up on processed or low nutrient foods such as frozen pizza, chips, cookies, and soda.

Research brief: Elevated glucose levels (hyperglycemia) have been shown to dampen the immune system. Even short-term high glucose levels (from poor dietary choices or constant stress) can inhibit neutrophil migration, phagocytosis, superoxide production, and microbial killing, causing our immune system to not work as well - yikes!

Calculated meal prepping pays off in two ways. First, it ensures you’ll have enough of the right foods if supplies dwindle. Second, it keeps you from having to make repeated visits to the supermarket, thereby reducing your risk of catching the virus. The primary goal is to purchase as many high-quality calories as possible, as cheaply as possible. Aim to stock for at least 1 month’s worth of food, balancing between foods that don’t require refrigeration and foods that can be frozen.

Okay, first things first - protein. When going through your grocery, focus on getting enough protein. This is the most important macronutrient. Knock out two birds with one stone by choosing full-fat protein options to ensure you are getting your essential fats as well. Pairing protein with carbohydrate-rich foods helps keep your glucose stable and the immune system strong.

  1. Fresh (or frozen) meat. If it is available, prepare it and freeze it. Choose full-fat, non-processed meats whenever possible. Focus on meat that is as close to its living state and avoid protein sources such as hot dogs, salami, and processed lunch meat.
  2. Do a quick google search to see if there are local farmers in your area. If you have the freezer space, consider purchasing ¼-½ an animal.
  3. Canned and/or pouched fish and seafood. Stock up on low-mercury canned fish such as sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies. Afraid of canned fish? Throw it in a pan with some stir-fried vegetables and herbs, we promise it’s good.
  4. Ask your grocery butcher if they have any left-over organ meat, such as liver and hearts. Organ meat is nutrient-dense and often skipped over by others.
  5. Full-fat, unsweetened Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. Both of these are delicious on their own, or can be repurposed into a creamy condiment or sauce.
  6. High-quality protein powders. Double-check the label to avoid added sugars and a lot of additives. Protein powders can be used for more than just shakes; you can make mug cakes, protein pancakes, protein oatmeal, and even protein coffee.

Next, shelf-stable food:

  1. Dried beans and legumes may become your new best friend in the upcoming month. One small bag of dried beans costs approximately $1.50 and offers 10-15 servings of protein and fiber. Explore different types of beans, lentils, and peas for maximum nutrient variety.
  2. Whole grains such as brown rice, steel-cut oats, and quinoa are classics, but get creative. Now is the time to try the less popular grains such as freekeh, farro, or spelt.
  3. Nuts and seeds are staples! Use them as a snack, try making your own low glycemic nut granola, or sprinkle them in stir-fries and yogurt for a boost of protein and fiber.

Other:

  1. Cooking fats such as olive oil and butter.
  2. Frozen vegetables. All vegetables can be turned into purees, salsa, dips, soups, etc and then frozen. Buy all of the fresh vegetables and fruits you can afford, prepare them, and freeze them for later.

Also, don’t forget coffee ;)

It is important to keep in mind that there is no one size fits all diet. COVID-19 or not, there are general guidelines that apply to everyone, but your personal results will vary. It is important to self-experiment and learn about your body’s responses to a variety of foods. Have an open mind and try different things!

Things we are paying attention to this week

Micronutrient spotlight

Vitamin B1 / Thiamin

  • Thiamin is involved in many of the enzyme functions that help break-down our food and turn it into usable energy, along with other B vitamins. Thiamin is uniquely highly involved in providing energy from carbohydrates.
  • If we are deficient in thiamin but consuming moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates, we will not break down the energy from carbs as well. This results in elevated glucose levels. Due to this, thiamin is sometimes called our “carb-burning vitamin”.
  • Thiamin is also needed to make neurotransmitters, protect us from oxidative stress, help recycle other vitamins, and synthesize many essential compounds such as cholesterol and DNA.
  • The recommended intake for adults is between 1.1-1.4 mg/day (approximately ⅔ cups of dried black beans)
  • Thiamin is a vitamin that is hard to “over-do”! There is very low toxicity or side effects from high doses. We simply excrete excess levels in our urine.
  • The bioavailability of thiamin tends to be good. People with alcohol dependence, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and those who have undergone bariatric surgery are the most likely to have inadequate levels.
  • The best natural food sources of thiamin include legumes, whole grains, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, seaweed (such as spirulina) and pork.
Related Article

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