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Nutrition and Hydration Week 2021: Has Covid-19 affected the way we’re eating and drinking?

Nutrition and hydration week usually takes place annually in March but this year, due to the pandemic, the campaign has unfortunately been pushed back until June. However, with many individuals losing motivation to take care of themselves, we feel that it is still an important topic to cover.

Since the first lockdown began back in March 2020, we’ve all spent a lot more time at home, allowing for more time to focus on our nutrition. Without the temptation of cake in the office or an after-work pint surely as a nation we’ve all become healthier during this past year, right?

Wrong.

Quarantine, lockdown restrictions and supermarket panic buyers have all had an impact on our normal food habits.

Imperial College London recently released a report on ‘Food and coronavirus’ and noted that ‘foods with longer shelf lives appear to be an adaptive change in food choice…Tinning and curing often coincides with higher amounts of salt or sugar in the final products, which can impact weight and blood pressure…On a positive note, many companies have reformulated their products to reduce both salt and sugar content which may give customers the best of both worlds.’

They also found that with a large proportion of the population working from home, on furlough, unable to work or shielding, snacking behaviours are expected to rise, adding to fat, salt and sugar intake.

Although these foods are fine to be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet, high than normal intake over an extended period of time, combined with reduced activity can contribute to undesirable weight gain.

Poor mental health impacts our food choices

Our mental health can have a huge impact on the way we eat and drink and with many of us experiencing additional anxieties and stresses, it’s no surprise that that has impacted our interest in food.

For some, this could be a loss of appetite and reduced food intake, while for other an increase in stress – or comfort-eating may be seen. Both areas negatively impact our health which can include undernutrition or weight gain and increased risks associated with this.

Alcohol consumption was also expected to rise in this environment, further affecting psychological wellbeing and contributing to increased risk of weight gain.

An article published by alcoholchange.org in November 2020 shows that almost one in three drinkers (29%) have been drinking at increasing or high right levels over the previous 6 months while over half of drinkers (53%) said they had drunk alcohol for a mental health reason within the previous 6 months.

Anxiety, stress, or worry were the most common reasons given for drinking, with four in ten (41%) drinkers reporting this as a reason for drinking at least once in the past six months.

So how can we improve our eating habits?

First of all, when you don’t have a plan it’s easy to aimlessly wander around the kitchen trying to decide what to cook, only to end up snacking or ordering a takeout instead.

Plan your meals

So our first piece of advice would be to plan your meals for the week. On a Sunday afternoon, take some time to find some healthy but easy recipes and plan what you will eat for dinner every day. Depending on how many you are cooking for, you can double up on the servings so that each family member also has some for lunch the following day.

When creating your shopping list, ensure that you have a good selection of fruits, vegetables, meat (or meat alternatives) and non-perishable items such as pasta, rice and pulses. This gives you the base to be able to create almost any basic yet healthy meal.

Don’t be restrictive

There’s no such thing as good foods and bad foods. All food is good when enjoyed in moderation. So when you decide to improve your diet, there’s no need to cut out the ‘junk’.

By completely cutting out the foods that you enjoy (such as chocolate, crisps etc) you can start to build up a bad relationship with food leading to binge-eating or other eating disorders. If you can’t go without your daily chocolate bar, continue to have it, but just make sure that the rest of your food intake is based around nutritionally dense foods.

Drink more water

Do you find yourself eating out of boredom? Eating out of habit when you’re not even hungry? Going to the fridge just to get a couple of minutes away from your screen?

Try replacing that habit with drinking a glass of water.

Although each of us have different hydration requirements, the general rule of thumb is to drink around 2L per day. This doesn’t have to be just plain water as milk and sugar-free drinks also count.

By increasing your fluid intake, if you aren’t already drinking enough, you may also experience decreased levels of hunger and a small amount of weight loss. Since water is naturally calorie-free, it is generally linked with reduced calorie intake.

This is mainly because you then drink water instead of other beverages, which are often high in calories and sugar. Observational studies have shown that people who drink mostly water have up to a 9% (or 200 calories) lower calorie intake, on average.

Start small

If you have acknowledged that your current diet may need a complete overhaul, start small and don’t change everything at once. You could find this quite overwhelming and difficult to stick to. Initially aim to just increase your vegetable intake. Then work on reducing the amount of processed foods – see it as a lifestyle change and something to continuously work on rather than just a diet.

For more nutritional information, please visit our Take5 resource library for free, downloadable videos, podcasts and PDF’s.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Alcohol is commonly liked with poor food choices, and although we can’t stumble into a kebab shop on the way home from a night out right now, you may still find yourself ordering a takeaway (that you probably don’t need) after a few drinks.

Ensure that you stick to, or below, the guidelines of 14 units per week and if you are currently drinking more than this, you should work on reducing your intake and maintaining at least 3 alcohol-free days per week.

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