By Victoria Avery Registered Nutritionist, Senior Science Officer at Yakult UK Limited
Whilst the UK undergoes another lockdown, the emotional impact people face from the continued pressures can have negative consequences on aspects of their day-to-day lives, including their nutrition and hydration. In a YouGov survey commissioned by the British Nutrition Foundation during the first lockdown, over a quarter of respondents reported that they had been eating less healthily compared to before lockdown (26.6%) with ‘eating for boredom’ (63%), ‘not feeling motivated enough to eat well’ (47.9%) and ‘eating more due to stress, anxiety or tiredness’ (45.1%) being the most common reasons for this change.1
Eating well and drinking plenty is important for overall health, including immune health. Whilst no individual food or nutrient will be able to prevent a person from getting coronavirus, research shows a number of nutrients support the immune system, and many have the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved health claim ‘contributes to the normal function of the immune system’, including; vitamins A, B6, B9 (folate), B12, C, D and the trace elements copper, iron, selenium and zinc.2 Consuming a healthy, varied diet, based on the Eatwell Guide, is the best way to ensure an individual gets all the nutrients that are important for a healthy immune system. Whilst most nutrients can be obtained through the diet, all individuals should be taking a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement from October through to April as we are unable to make it from sunshine exposure during this time, and many of us will have had reduced sunshine exposure last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.3
If an individual is suffering from COVID-19, but remains well enough to stay at home, it is important to maintain good nutrition and hydration – even though they may not feel like it.
A fever is one of the main symptoms of coronavirus, which can induce sweating, resulting in electrolyte and excess fluid losses. Maintaining adequate fluid intake is particularly important during an infection, to prevent the risk of dehydration. In addition to the 6-8 glasses of fluid individuals should consume daily, this may need to be increased to compensate for any additional fluid lost through sweat. Whilst water is an ideal choice of fluid to maintain hydration, other sources of fluids – such as milky drinks and fruit juices – can also provide energy and nutrients, which may be advisable for those who are struggling to maintain their appetite whilst suffering or recovering from a COVID-19 infection, to support adequate energy and nutrient intakes.4
Malnutrition can increase the risk of getting COVID-19, as well as slowing recovery, but it can also develop as a result of the infection.5 If a person has a reduced appetite, it is particularly important to choose nutrient dense foods to make sure they get sufficient nutrients needed for the body to work at its best. Practical tips to support this include to eat little and often, choose foods a person enjoys and are easy to make, and chose ‘fortified’ foods (foods that have extra nutrients added to them) that are higher in calories and protein.4
Whilst consuming a healthy, varied diet is important for our immune system, it is also important to maintain our wellbeing during this difficult time. Particular foods or drinks can bring comfort to an individual. Whilst these may not be considered ‘healthy’, because they are high in fat, salt, sugar, and/or alcohol, the additional stress that may come with eliminating them could be overwhelming at the moment. Instead, it may be more appropriate to take small, realistic changes, such as making gradual reductions in the frequency those options are consumed, or instead focus on including healthier options, such as aiming to consume five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Making small gradual changes can help cement these as long-term habits.
1. British Nutrition Foundation (2020) How has the UK COVID-19 lockdown affected views and
behaviour on diet and fitness?
2. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2016) Guidance on the scientific requirements for health claims related to the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract and defence against pathogenic microorganisms EFSA J 14(1):4369
3. Public Health England (2020) Statement from PHE and NICE on vitamin D supplementation during winter.
4. British Dietetic Association (2019) Malnutrition: Food Fact Sheet.
5. British Dietetic Association (2021) COVID-19/Coronavirus – Advice for the General Public