The rush on supermarkets has created chaos in the wake of COVID-19. Stop for a moment and think about what you’re buying, because it’s going in your body.
Although there is no need to stockpile, people are panic buying foods which will last for long periods and neglecting their dietary needs. White rice and pasta may keep for long periods, but they lack nutritional value.
Fortunately there are plenty of other foods you can also stock up on to make sure you are eating right during these difficult times. Plus, these foods also support immune system health, both directly and by helping your gut microbes too.
At Atlas Biomed, we specialise in gut microbiome testing for health, and in these times of crisis, we want to help you make the right choices within the limited food choices available. We’ve also tried to give you some ideas to creatively source your food when the supermarket is empty.
☝️DISCLAIMER☝️ Always consult a GP before changing your diet or taking probiotics, especially if you have a medical condition.
Table of contents
- What is the coronavirus?
- Where to shop when supermarkets are empty
- How to shop and what to buy - avoid beige foods
- How to make sure you have enough during the pandemic
- Other ways to improve the immune system during the coronavirus UK outbreak
- Vitamins for the immune system
- Coronavirus and loo roll
Most people know that the new coronavirus is highly infectious, but some underestimate it’s lethal potential.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness in humans. That’s right, the coronavirus is nothing new. In fact, the common cold and seasonal flu are also examples of illnesses caused by a coronavirus. However, this new one causes a highly infectious disease called COVID-19, characterised by a fever and dry cough.
- shortness of breath
The new coronavirus is not the seasonal flu and the extreme measures to stop the transmission are designed to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. However, the self-isolation precautions have spread panic throughout the population, fearing they may be left without essentials.
Supermarkets across the UK, Europe, and North America have repeatedly stated that they can supply the population during this time. And that it’s essential to stop panic buying, as this is the main reason why goods are no longer on the shelves and why your favourite shops are reducing or changing their operating hours.
Alternative places to shop
- local farm shops
- local ethnic food shops
- smaller convenience stores
- petrol garages
- food banks (for low income or financial difficulties)
Alongside the alternative places to shop above which also benefit local independent retailers, who really need your help right now, there are other options. If you’re worried about the virus, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are in the older age group, why not try online services like click-and-collect, great for social distancing guidelines.
☝TIP☝Boosting the immune system during coronavirus isolation: eat lots of plant-based, unprocessed, home-cooked foods.
People are stocking up on non-perishable goods like pasta, rice, and tinned beans. Diversify your isolation diet to stay healthy during your time indoors.
Many people don’t get their 5-a-day even when everything is normal. But being stuck at home with limited opportunities to get out and moving, combined with energy-dense, nutrient-poor dietary choices, is a guaranteed recipe for sluggishness, and, dare we say, weight gain, not to mention suboptimal health and immune system function.
Stop a second and think about it. How many vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and pulses have you stocked up on? Because they are there, waiting for you on the shelves in tins, in jars, and in the freezer section.
Seeing as you’re stuck at home with limited sources of entertainment, explore your culinary talents. After all, the internet is still working (more or less) and it will keep you busy for hours with a tasty (hopefully) delight at the end.
As the fight against the coronavirus outbreak continues, it’s clear that more items are becoming scarce by the end of the day in the local supermarkets. The good news is there are other ways to make sure you have enough healthy foods in your cupboards.
For example, when you think of fruit and veg, the first thought will be fresh, but there are alternatives that are packed with nutrients too, especially the frozen kind, but tinned and dried varieties are also good in a pinch. As for wholegrains, white pasta doesn’t count and there are lots of healthier alternatives.
Fresh foods to boost immune system
According to our Director of Nutrition and Health Research, Miguel Toribio-Mateas, these are the top foods for your immune system if you can get your hands on them:
Everyone should aim to eat 30g of fibre each day, and you’ll be pleased to hear that vegetables are a great source of fibre. There are also many which are prebiotic, so they nourish the health-promoting bacteria in your gut. If they’re healthy and happy, you will be too! They also contain many of the vitamins the immune system needs to fully function.
Although you might think of fresh as best, at times like these it is increasingly difficult to get your hands on them (and they won’t last forever), so choosing frozen and tinned options is cool too. Bear in mind that frozen veg is the better of the two because they contain the most nutrients. But right now, any veg is better than none!
☝FACT☝Prebiotics are substances found mostly in plant-based foods that nourish the beneficial microbes in your gut. Plus, these are foods to boost immune system.
Frozen veg ideas
|broccoli||Brussels sprouts||butternut squash|
Veg in tins and jars
|green beans||heart of palm||marinated aubergine|
|marinated peppers||mixed veg||mushrooms|
|mushy peas||new potatoes||olives|
Wholegrains also benefit your good bacteria, and they keep you fuller for longer without any spikes in blood sugar, which would eventually result in you pillaging your secret stockpile of delicious snacks (yes, that one under the bed where you keep the chocolate bars).
Some people make the mistake of eating lots of fruit and veg and not enough wholegrains and pulses. Fortunately, wholegrains like barley, wheat, brown rice, and oats are not quite as popular as pasta - so you might still be able to find them on the shelves. They take a bit longer to cook, but they have a great, rich taste and chewy texture!
☝TIP☝ Buy flours made from different types of grain and make some Irish brown bread. It’s filling, it’s full of fiber, and it’s fool-proof. No proving, leavening, or patience involved!
Wholegrains to boost your immune system
Beans and legumes
You can buy them dried or in tins and they are very filling and nutritious for your gut bacteria and your belly. Remember to soak dried beans before cooking (about 6–12 hours), but you can cook dry lentils immediately (they don’t need to be rehydrated).
☝TIP☝Baked beans tend to be high in sugar. But if you have lots of time on your hands and a few tomatoes, make your baked beans in homemade tomato sauce.
There are too many pulses to list
|black-eyed peas||broad (fava) beans||butter beans|
|chickpeas||kidney beans||lentils (red, yellow, green, and brown)|
Immune booster: fruit and berries
If you can't get fresh fruit or want to stock up, frozen fruit varieties are your best option because they are often frozen straight after picking, so retain their vital nutrients. Some tinned fruit is ok, but not those in sugar syrup (the post-sugar crash is a risk to your secret goodies stash and your blood sugar).
Frozen fruit options
Dried fruit is okay in moderation too. Just be careful because it is high in sugar, but it does make a great snack. Choose unsweetened varieties rather than those used for baking. There’s always freeze-dried options as well, don’t be put off by the way they look, they taste great!
|raisins||raspberries (freeze-dried)||strawberries (freeze-dried)|
As well as knowing how to boost the immune system with your diet, there are other steps you can take to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus.
Social distancing sounds boring, but it is an important measure we should all adhere to where possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It basically means maintaining at least 6 feet of space between you and other people.
With summer fast approaching, it may feel like the coronavirus outbreak is ruining everything we were looking forward to, like major sporting events, music festivals, and concerts, but staying at home and avoiding people is the best way to slow down the spread of the virus.
Since it first reached our shores, coronavirus cases have been on the rise and there has been this (new?) phenomenon going around called handwashing. Handwashing is the cheapest and one of the most effective things we can all do to protect ourselves and others from this disease.
☝TIP☝If you’re unsure about how to wash your hands effectively watch this - you need to scrub for 20 seconds with soap for it to be effective.
Exercise doesn’t need to go on hold, it’s super important for your gut microbiome as well as your mental health. At the moment, you can still go to the park or out for a run, as long as you stay 6 feet from other people.
Being physically active has numerous benefits for your gut microbiota, like increasing overall diversity and the abundance of beneficial microbes. That’s also important for your mental health, as bacteria can enhance stress resilience.
With it likely that social distancing measures will be in place for some time, exercise is the perfect way to keep your gut and brain firing on all cylinders and, let’s face it, we need all the ammunition we can get to fight the coronavirus both personally and globally.
Probiotics are food and supplements that are a source of live bacteria that have potential benefits for human health, like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
Probiotics help to keep the gut microbiome balanced and prevent dysbiosis where microbes that negatively affect your health set up camp in your gut and become too abundant, causing inflammation and digestive issues.
Probiotics may even be an immune system booster. Some research shows that probiotic supplementation has been shown to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold.
Vitamins are an essential component of the diet, but some have specific effects on or to strengthen the immune system. Although you can buy supplements, it’s best if you can to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs through your diet, which if balanced, should mean there is no need to supplement.
|Vitamin||Benefits for the immune system||Food sources|
|Vitamin A||anti-inflammatory properties, involved in the development of the immune system and is used to treat some infectious diseases||oily fish, cheese, eggs, milk, liver|
|Vitamin B6||supports biochemical reactions and makes a substance needed for the function of white blood cells||poultry, pork, fish, wholegrain cereals, eggs, vegetables, soya beans, milk, potatoes|
|Vitamin C||potent antioxidant, supports epithelial barrier function against invading pathogens and hormonal regulation||Oranges, strawberries, blackcurrants, red and green peppers, brussels sprouts|
|Vitamin D||helps to protect the body against invading pathogens, promotes protective immunity and limits immune response against self||mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, red meat, liver, eggs, mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereal|
|Vitamin E||potent antioxidant and enhances immune responses||soya, olive and corn oils, nuts, seeds|
☝TIP☝You can have too much of a good thing, so don’t overdo it with vitamins in your diet. Too much of some can be toxic.
Even though the COVID-19 causes flu-like symptoms, loo roll has become part of the coronavirus statistics.
There are many theories behind why people are stockpiling toilet paper. One of which is the fact tissue gets rid of disgusting bodily fluids and the virus is viewed in the same contempt, while others are worried the world will lock down for months, and others fear there might be none left for them.
Fear not, if you can’t get hold of loo roll or you do run out, it’s not that hard to replace. The Europeans are big fans of the bidet, the UK not so much, but adopting cleanliness principles like washing. Equally, limiting the amount you use is also a good stop, let’s face it, do you really need half a roll when you’ve been for a pee?
In these unprecedented times, it’s easy to begin panicking, but there are steps we can all take to reduce the spread of infection, improve the immune system, and ensure there’s enough supplies for everyone. Remember:
- stay at home and social distance if you go out
- wash hands with soap and water frequently
- keep 2 metres between yourself and other people
- eat fruit, veg, and wholegrains
- keep as active as possible
Don’t forget that among all the negatives of coronavirus, there are positives which can come out of it. We are close to growing season and it could be the perfect opportunity to grow your own. Not only will it keep you occupied and teach you to be self-sufficient, but it could also give you the chance to explore the wonders of life.
- Carr, A, C and Maggini, S. Vitamin C and Immune Function, 2017
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), 2020
- Klinder, A et al. Impact of Increasing Fruit and Vegetables and Flavonoid Intake on the Human Gut Microbiota, 2016
- Mora, J, R et al. Vitamin Effects on the Immune System: Vitamins A and D Take Centre Stage, 2008
- Mudryi, A, N et al. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Pulses, 2014
- Tomova, A et al. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota, 2019
- Yan, F and Polk, D, B. Probiotics and Immune Health, 2011
- World Health Organization. Coronavirus, 2020