It’s no secret that eating wholesome, nutritious food has endless benefits. The vitamins and minerals in our foods are considered essential nutrients for good reason. Healthy, whole foods fuel our body – the cleaner we eat, the cleaner our insides are.
And, while bad health generally can’t be attributed to diet alone, optimal lifestyle choices will make a difference, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The AIHW reports that diseases associated with diet are also linked to environmental, behavioural, biological, societal and genetic factors.
However, through good eating, we supply required energy and nutrients for tissue maintenance, repair and growth. The proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals required to maintain the human body in good health are met by eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, the agency states.
Leading Australian organisation The Heart Foundation backs the call, encouraging people to adopt and maintain a healthy diet amid these difficult times.
The foundation’s health strategy director Julie Anne Mitchell says one of the best ways to stay healthy and support your immunity is eating the right mix of foods over the days, weeks and months ahead.
“From now on, many of us will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at home, so a bit of meal planning can minimise food wastage and help reduce cost. It’s also a great time to audit your pantry or freezer to use any foods you already have before they go out of date,” she says.
“We’re encouraging Aussies to adopt a heart healthy eating pattern by filling their plates with a good mix of vegies, fruits and wholegrains, together with some healthy proteins like fish, legumes or smaller amounts of lean chicken or eggs. If you’re choosing red meat, make it lean and have less than 350 grams a week.
“We may face many days in home isolation, so while buying fresh produce is great, frozen or canned vegetables, beans or fruits can be just as nutritious and store well for a long time.
“Shoppers buying any canned or packaged foods should turn the product over and read the nutrition label. It’s best to compare products in the same category and opt for those with lower sodium or added sugar levels.”
The Heart Foundation’s five hearty eating tips for staying well
Prepare ahead, but don’t hoard
Stocking up on a few extra staples is sensible, but there is no need to hoard as supermarkets will stay open during the COVID-19 lockdown. Plan your meals ahead and shop with a list to ensure you’re getting the right ingredients for a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to minimise food wastage and cost.
Fresh, canned or frozen – it’s about the mix.
Frozen vegies can be just as healthy as fresh options. Canned vegetables, beans and fruit have an extra-long shelf life, so they are perfect for your pantry. When choosing canned vegetables and legumes (like beans or lentils), buy no-added-salt, low-salt or reduced-salt versions and choose fruit that is canned in juice rather than syrup.
Choose heart-healthy proteins
Heart-healthy proteins like fish or seafood are an excellent source of omega-3s, which our bodies need but cannot produce. If you can’t get fresh fish, choose canned salmon or tuna in spring water rather than salty brine. Or you can opt for lean chicken or eggs, but if choosing red meat, make sure it is lean and limit to a few meals a week.
Set routine mealtimes and cut the couch snacking
Now the couch and fridge are in easy reach, avoid snacking by establishing a mealtime routine to keep work and play separate. If you do snack, go for a handful of unsalted nuts, a cup of vegie sticks or a small plate of cut-up fruit to curb those afternoon cravings. Opt for this instead of unhealthy foods like chips, biscuits, cake, chocolate or flavoured sugary drinks. While these unhealthy snacks can be an occasional treat, try to avoid stocking them in your pantry in the first place.
Brush up on your home cooking skills
Staying at home for long periods of time is the perfect opportunity to either learn to cook or brush up on your skills. If you’ve stocked up on pantry essentials like tinned tomatoes or lentils and need inspiration, head to The Heart Foundation’s website for some delicious recipe ideas – heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating.
Australia’s food supply secure amid virus
Australia has one of the world’s most secure food supplies, with ample stocks of safe and healthy produce primed to guide the nation through coronavirus.
The federal government’s agriculture forecaster, ABARES, has released a new report looking at farmers’ capacity in response to the global pandemic.
Australia produces much more food than it can consume, with 70 per cent of agricultural produce exported.
“The vast majority of our food is produced here in Australia, and domestic production more than meets our needs even during drought years,” the report says.
A little more than 10 per cent of domestically consumed food and beverages are imported to meet shoppers’ preferences.
“It is unlikely – but possible – that COVID-19 could disrupt these supply chains temporarily, resulting in inconvenience for some consumers,” the report found. “This would not threaten the food security of most Australians.”
Panic buying of some staple food items including pasta and rice have left supermarket shelves bare as concerns about the virus spread.
ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds says coronavirus hastaken Australia and the world by surprise. “Coming after severe drought conditions in eastern Australia, concerns have been raised about Australian food security,” he says.
“These concerns are understandable, but misplaced.”
Beef and wheat are heavily export focused, while most fruit, vegetables, pork and poultry are sold domestically with an emphasis on supply of fresh produce.
Australia ranks in the top 10 per cent of countries under the global food security index defined by the World Food Summit.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says panic buying is not an indication of food shortages.
“Australia will always have enough food. We produce far more food than we consume. COVID-19 does not change that.
“A surge in demand had an impact on the availability of some of our favourite products on supermarket shelves.
“Shoppers were stockpiling and supply chains had to adjust.”
He says the disruptions are abating.
The federal government has ensured agriculture is deemed an essential service during the virus-induced economic shutdown. There’s also been efforts to extend work visas and maintain supply lines.
The ABARES report found global supply chain disruptions had not yet had a widespread impact, but could hit profitability in coming months.
“While action is already in train to address key issues, it will be important for business and government to continue actively monitoring and managing these risks,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds says. – AAP