Guidelines for Food and Nutrition during Covid-19

In the context of the pandemic crisis, the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health (DGS), a body of the Ministry of Health, has made available a manual with guidelines on Food and Nutrition for families in isolation or quarantine, during this critical period.

These are some of its most relevant tips:

  1. Plan and manage ahead

We’re living a difficult moment that demands isolation and social distancing and, as such, DGS recommends that families and households plan their meals, in order to optimise shopping.

Illustration of woman picking dairy in a supermarket shelf.

The Manual encourages families to create a recipe plan and a shopping list. After checking what you have at home, write down the missing products, while keeping in mind that some of them also have a longer shelf life. Please make sure they are on the list as well to avoid food waste.

It is also pointed out that sensible shopping and avoiding excess buying is fundamental to allow supermarkets to manage their stocks and to allow families to manage their household storages.

Don’t forget, keep up with the good hygiene and safety procedures: sanitize your hands before and after going shopping, don’t touch your face, use tissues to sneeze and throw them away, keep safety distances and handle only what you take.

  1. Choose the right food

It is important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. As such, DGS recommends:

Illustration of a man holding a bowl with salad.
  • Don’t forget to include breakfast cereals or bread in your diet;
  • Eat more fruit and veggies. Carrots, onions, courgette, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or garlic are vegetables that last longer. Green leafy vegetables and tomatoes should also be part of your shopping list, but in lesser quantities – and should be consumed in the first days after buying. Apples, pears, oranges and tangerines are good fruit options that will not go bad easily. Other kinds of fruits with shorter shelf-lives are also good options, but in smaller quantities;
  • Eggs, milk and yogurt are also great things to have in the fridge;
  • Drink plenty of unsweetened water throughout the day (1.5 to 2L);
  • As a snack, prefer fresh fruit or oleaginous fruits (like nuts or almonds, without added sugar or salt);
  • Add fibre and nutrient rich grains and legumes (such as beans, peas and lentils) to your meals;
  • Alternate between fish preserves, fresh fish and frozen fish, as well as fresh and frozen meats, keeping in mind conservation times (2 to 3 days for fresh meat and fish, and according to package instructions for frozen fish and meats).
  1. Nutrition matters

Although there is no evidence that a specific food will protect anyone from Covid-19, it is extremely important to maintain a healthy diet during these times, since a balanced nutrition and adequate hydration are factors that contribute to a stronger immune system, as well as to a better recovery of those who are ill.

Besides, families in isolation now have more free time and have less physical activity, which can be a stronger stimulus for overeating. The DGS recommends to lower the caloric intake of your diet, but stresses that people should try and keep the same routines. As such, you should choose foods with high nutritional value over foods with high energy but low nutritional value – such as soft drinks and crisps, which contain high sugar and salt contents.

Always wash and disinfect the vegetables

  1. Hygiene and sanitation

There is no evidence that suggests transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through raw or cooked food. However, it is imperative to reinforce hygiene habits during the handling, preparation and making of meals. The DGS recommends:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before touching food or before starting to prepare it;
  • Washing raw foods thoroughly;
  • Disinfecting counters, tools and tables with adequate cleaning products;
  • Avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.

Additionally, the DGS advises families in isolation or quarantine to avoid sharing food or objects during meals. That is, if possible, each member of the household should have their own unshared plate, cup and cutlery – especially if any of the members is classified as a group risk.

Good hygiene practises are still the most effective way to prevent disease.

  1. The elderly and nutrition

Elderly people are classified as a risk group in the face of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Thus, it is important to minimise all the transmission factors and reinforce personal care and nutrition.

Those who are caregivers to the elderly should stay alert for warning signs that might put these people in nutritional risk:

  • weight loss;
  • reduced food ingestion;
  • loss of appetite;
  • difficulties while chewing or swallowing;
  • reduced ability while shopping or preparing meals.

The nutrition of the elderly should follow the same general guidelines as before. It should include two daily portions of dairy and two to three daily portions of fruit, and one portion of meat, fish or eggs per meal. It is also recommended the intake of three portions of grains and legumes per week and, for those who show no trouble chewing, one to three portions of nuts.

The need of a good hydration status in the elderly is also stressed, since it is common for this population to lose the sensation of thirst. The Manual recommends dividing a total water intake of 1.5 to 2 litres in smaller portions throughout the day – for instance in unsweetened teas or herbal infusions.

Soup is a healthy option

  1. Sun is still shinning

In a situation of isolation or quarantine, individuals with less sun-light exposure might suffer from vitamin-D deficiency. The DGS recommends a daily sun exposure of 20 minutes, both in the face and forearms, as well as the consumption of vitamin-D fortified foods – such as breakfast cereals or milk. Normal before-, during- and after-sun care are required (sunscreen, etc.). In addition to vitamin D, the diet you follow should be diversified to obtain other vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C and D and copper, iron, selenium and zinc.

We know that isolation and social distancing are tough and might disrupt your daily lives, causing anxiety and stress. To avoid that, try to distract yourself with a combination of work activities and leisure. You deserve it.