With everyone adjusting to life in a COVID-19 world that requires more time inside than before, it is easy to slip into some unhealthy, or at least unwise, eating habits that can challenge your efforts to stay focused on a healthy lifestyle. While we will all have to cope with the foods we have, there are two simple steps you can take to assist your body in keeping healthy.
Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats.
Natural sugars include fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose). Added sugars are the various forms of sugar that are added to processed foods, sweetened beverages, and snacks that are readily on hand at most food stores. Foods high in added sugars have very little nutritional value – think empty calories that your body will have to work off. While you ideally want to keep added sugar as low as possible, you should try to keep your total daily intake to no more than 10 % of your calories.
Saturated fats are associated with an increase in the total of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. That’s right, the “bad” cholesterol. Moreover, increases in LDL are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Major sources of saturated fats include items such as full-fat cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts, fried foods, sausages, franks, bacon, and ribs.
Trans Fats are even less healthy. They are naturally found in some foods, but mostly come from processed foods (“artificial trans fats”). These increase LDL and contribute to increased cardiovascular disease risk. While low levels of Trans Fats can appear as zero in nutrition labels totals – watch out for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated…” – which means Trans Fat is in your food, just at a low level. And remember, low level here, low level there… it adds up.
You should look for foods with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, as these promote high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels – this is the “good” cholesterol.
Reduce sodium intake.
Sodium (think salt) is typically related to blood pressure. As we know, maintaining a normal blood pressure level keeps cardiovascular risks low. But there are variances in the recommended levels of healthy sodium intake: low-risk and high-risk individuals do not need the same amounts. We recommend you check with you health provider, or your national dietary guidelines for specifics on how much sodium you should consume.
What makes it hard to manage your sodium intake is how much it is used in the food manufacturing and processing cycles. Notably in canned, processed, and even restaurant prepared meals.
Steps to help manage your sodium intake:
- Read nutrition labels and pay attention to sodium contents
- Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods
- Do not add salt to your food; but rely on its natural sodium content
For individuals with hypertension, following a low-sodium dietary eating plan is recommended. Ask your healthcare provider for details.
As you can see from these two areas, the ready to eat, simple, and often comfort foods many turn to when they are at home for long periods are likely to contain excessive sugars, fats, and sodium. This is not to say never have pizza night on the couch. Far from it. Rather, we need to be smart, use healthy guidance for our food selections, and keep processed food snacks and other items to a minimum.
In the end, be mindful that our eating habits are likely changing as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, and it will be easy for us to slip into foods that while easy to obtain or prepare, undermine our efforts to maintain our healthy goals. Remember, you can never out-train your diet. Being fit always includes your diet.
Train Hard (and Eat Smart)!