If there was ever a time that made us pay attention to our health, it has been this one of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year has also made that clear that not everything in the world of health is under our control. However, many of us are lucky enough to have a say in one important element and that is what we eat. Healthy diets play an important role in our overall health and immune systems. The food we put in our bodies directly affects the way that we feel and the way our bodies function. This is as true during an illness as it is before or after.
Diets vary widely around the globe, influenced by access, incomes, habits and culture. Yet, there are some common truths about how to maintain a healthy diet regardless of where we live.
Here are 6 healthy eating habits and FAO resources to help you out:
- Mix it up!
Eat a variety of foods within each and across all the food groups to ensure adequate intake of important nutrients. National food-based dietary guidelines can help you. FAO assists Member Countries to develop and implement food-based dietary guidelines in line with current scientific evidence. More than 100 countries worldwide have developed food-based dietary guidelines that are adapted to their population’s health situations, food availability, culinary cultures and eating habits. Find your country’s advice here.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables provide loads of vitamins and minerals as well as the fiber that we need for healthy diet. Minimally processed frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are a good choice for limiting your trips to the market or supermarket. However, be sure to pay attention to the ingredients. In the canning and processing of these products, sometimes sugar, salt or preservatives are added. In fact, 2021 is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Check out this story to expand your horizons about fruits and veggies you may never have heard of. You can also consult these FAO cookbooks to learn how to use them!
Fruits and vegetables provide loads of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that we need for healthy diet. While whole grains, nuts and healthy fats, such unsaturated oils, can support your immune system and help to reduce inflammation. Photos Left/Top: ©FAO/Miguel Schincariol Right/Bottom: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti
- Take the pulse of the situation, be wholesome and go nuts!
Pulses, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats such as in olive, sesame, peanut or other unsaturated oils can support your immune system and help to reduce inflammation. Pulses, in particular, are environmentally friendly and a generally inexpensive source of protein. Beans, peas, lupins and other pulses are full of vitamins and minerals that, when part of an overall healthy diet, can help reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and coronary conditions. Read all about the enormous variety of pulses and recipes to go with them in FAO’s Pulses Cookbook.
- Limit fats, sugar and salt.
In times of high stress, many people turn to comfort food. Unfortunately, these are often high in fat, sugar, salt and calories, which as part of an unbalanced diet can over time affect your overall health. As a good habit, check the labels of all the foods you eat to learn about their ingredients and nutritional value. Food labels are there to help you limit the amount of certain ingredients or increase the levels of beneficial ones. Learn more about food labels and how to read them correctly in this story and this web page.
- Practice good food hygiene.
Hygiene in all forms is particularly important in this time of pandemic. However, it is good to remember that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. It is not a food-borne disease. Yet practicing food hygiene and safety is always important. Remember these five tips: (1) keep your hands, cooking utensils and cooking surfaces clean; (2) separate raw and cooked; (3) cook thoroughly; (4) keep food at safe temperatures and (5) use safe water. More details on food safety can be found can be found at this web site.
Being active is important for both our physical and mental health. Specific recommendations depend on your age and lifestyle but 30-60 minutes a day is a good goal. Photo:©Pep Bonet/NOOR for FAO
- Be physically active and drink plenty of water.
Exercise is important for both our physical and mental health. Obesity and overweight have been significantly increasing in the last years. Particularly now, when people are staying at home more due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is important to find other ways of being active. You should aim for at least 30-60 minutes of daily exercise depending on your age and lifestyle. This children’s Nutrition activity book gives plenty of tips on how to help kids maintain a healthy lifestyle, from ideas on exercise to lessons on hygiene and food safety. FAO also has plenty of e-learning courses for adults if you want to learn more about the fascinating world of nutrition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the daily lives of people around the world, causing many people a lot of stress, sickness and pain. Amidst these difficulties and changes, it is all the more important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Firstly, to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 infection and transmission, we all need to follow national rules and World Health Organization advice. Even with the introduction of a vaccine, these rules remain fundamental to help end the pandemic. Equally important, however, we need to take care of ourselves, and eating a healthy diet is one great way to do just that.