Registered dietitian and nutrition expert shares her advice on how to select nutrient-rich foods, curb snacking, and stay active from home.
As stay-at-home advisories continue to spread across the country to combat the coronavirus pandemic, many people are looking for ways to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle while being quarantined. For some, it’s cooking more meals at home or sweating through a new workout video, while others are attempting to refrain from binge-eating the contents of their cabinets.
We reached out to Joan Salge Blake, registered dietitian and clinical professor of nutrition at Sargent College for her expertise on how to make the best choices for both our physical and mental well-being during this unprecedented time.
What advice are you sharing with individuals looking to stay active and maintain healthy eating habits during quarantine?
When life gives you lemons, you make lemon zest. Personally, I think this is an incredible opportunity for all of us to hunker down and start “retro eating.” What I mean by this is going back to the weekly meal planning and preparation methods that we did generations ago. In years past, your parents/ grandparents would look at a grocery store circular and plan their week’s meals based on what was on sale, fresh, and in season. This was an economical and time-saving way to put food in the kitchen that affordably fed you breakfast, lunch (you packed it to go to school/work) and dinner. Meals were planned ahead rather than adding daily stress of trying to figure out and wasting time making multiple trips to the supermarket each week.
Does good nutrition play a significant role in affecting our mental health? If so, in what ways?
Absolutely. We know that your brain needs to be fed regularly with good nutrition to keep you alert and working at your optimal capacity. Your brain LOVES carbohydrates such as fruit, veggies, grains and low-fat dairy foods. Also, research suggests that folks who eat more fruits and veggies appear to have better overall life satisfaction and happiness!
Should people be monitoring their caffeine intake differently when working from home? How much caffeine is too much?
Coffee is beloved among Americans so we don’t need to necessarily ratchet down during this pandemic, but it is also not a time to increase it if caffeine makes you anxious. Keep to the amount that you typically were doing when working at the office. Research suggests that 400 mg of caffeine daily, about three to four eight-ounce cups is fine for most people. By making your java at home and adding low fat milk to it, you will not only save yourself a boatload of money compared to getting it at a coffee shop, but it will also be a vehicle to get calcium and vitamin D-rich milk in your diet. A double win.
What are some of the best energy-boosting snacks?
If you are not moving much and eating three healthy meals, you may want to minimize the mindless munching that you do during the day. Oftentimes, we snack out of boredom rather than true hunger. If you THINK that you are hungry, do some physical activity in your new “home office.” Put on a YouTube video that makes you move every hour or go out for a walk (social distance and wear appropriated attire) to walk off your boredom rather than releasing it in the kitchen.
With a rise in virtual happy hours, normal work routines out of whack, and heightened stress levels, some people may be indulging in alcohol more than usual during quarantine. What is your advice for enjoying a drink while simultaneously paying attention to your mental and physical health during this time?
Don’t rely on alcohol as a stress release. Instead, bond with friends online, use physical activity inside or safety outside as a way to relieve any stress. I was lucky enough to spend last June abroad with another Sargent College nutrition faculty member helping our Boston University Global Programs update a Mediterranean Diet Study abroad summer program for undergraduates.
On that trip I was introduced to the Hugo cocktail — a light, lower alcohol beverage that Italian natives sip as a summer refresher. I am enjoying a Hugo on the weekend as it brings me back to this magical summer each time I sip this fabulous Prosecco, sparkling water, lime, and mint.
If you’re seeing a shortage of fresh produce at your grocery store, which non-perishable foods make for the most nutritional options?
Another positive aspect of this pandemic is that word has finally reached the American public that canned and frozen produce are equally as nutritious as fresh produce and are available at a very affordable price. Frozen and canned produce comes to the consumer already cleaned, chopped, and ready to use. It’s like having Rachel Ray in your cupboard or freezer.
Any suggestions for online resources with healthy recipes or recommendations?
There are so many wonderful resources for recipes and nutrition information that are free, credible, and online. Three of my favorites are: Have a Plant, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and MyPlate.
For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Joan Salge Blake on Twitter at @joansalgeblake and on Instagram at JoanSalgeBlake. Follow her health and wellness podcast Spot On! on Facebook at @SpotOnDrJSB. Follow Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College on Twitter at @BUSargent.