University of Mount Olive Assistant Professor of Exercise Science Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham shares insights into healthy eating during COVID-19 and beyond.
Here we are, getting that family time that we were wishing for months ago. Prior to the Corona pandemic life was hectic. We were running around getting our little/big people where they needed to be, all while we were wishing we had more time to slow down. Well, now we have been forced to slow down. Activities have been cancelled, we have been encouraged to stay home, and we have family time back. We have more time to cook healthy meals, focus on family dinners at the table, get outside and become more active, and take family bike rides and walks.
While all of these thoughts of increased family time and exercise are great, it seems that the drive-thru windows at McDonalds and Chick-fil-A are busier than ever! Although these type businesses have been deemed ‘essential,’ so are our family kitchens, where the real magic happens. For some, a kitchen is a dark scary place where boiling water can be a life threating task. For others, kitchens represent a place and time to get creative and develop new, healthy habits that the whole family can enjoy.
The good news is that starting the journey to creating new eating habits does not cost additional money. There is no need to buy subscriptions or annual memberships, just take a trip to your favorite grocery store with a well-planned list (a well-planned list can prevent you from straying down the cookie or chip aisle). Two of my favorite places to look for fresh ideas are Pinterest and MyFitnessPal (both require an online account which are free to create). There are many other places you can look for recipe ideas, but I like these two as I can search by preference for things like no gluten or low sugar. Other places like Wal-Mart, Harris Teeter, and Food Lion have recipe databases which allow you to check the availability of items within the recipe. Take this one step further by ordering these items online and showing up to the store for curbside delivery to your car. Talk about convenience!
So what is healthy eating? This can be confusing, as everyone may have a different definition of what is healthy. One person may drink tea sweetened with Splenda and think that is a good choice. But, is that really healthy? Research shows that artificial sweeteners can be just as detrimental to weight gain as regular sugar, and possibly even worse…true story. Another person may choose low-fat products. However, these food items are typically loaded with more sugar to replace the ‘goodness’ that fat brings. Fat is good for us, not the ‘Big Mac’ fat, but the fat that is found in raw nuts, avocados, and even some plant-based oils. Fat doesn’t make us fat. Sugar combined with fat contributes to weight gain. So, you can see how this basic question can be confusing to some trying to make better decisions. It is the same with exercise. Sometimes when we think about exercise, especially if we are staring from ground zero, it can be intimidating. However, great health benefits can be gained from simple basics such as walking. But, keep in mind, no matter how physically active we are, we cannot out exercise a ‘bad’ diet. So, what do we look for? Here are some tips to avoid the ‘Corona Chubs’:
- Eating food in its natural state is best. Easy tip, the more processed the food, the less nutrients. I tell my students that if you eat out of bags, boxes, and drive-thru windows, you can probably assume you have nutritional deficiencies (if not supplementing with additional vitamins/minerals). During the ‘processing’ process of foods, key elements are lost which are the vitamins and minerals. If the food you are buying has high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), put it back. Choose something comparable that does not have HFCS.
- Try eating more colors throughout the day. Green = good. Try smoothies with a handful of spinach thrown in for a boost of nutrients. Not all smoothies are loaded with sugar and milk. Try no sugar added vanilla almond milk or other nut milks for a variety of flavor. Add frozen fruits or veggies to create a more nutrient snack.
- Another key for healthy eating is being prepared at all times. This means keeping healthy snacks with you. Homemade trail mix, minus all the chocolate candies, can add a good nutrient punch in your day. Fruits such as apples and oranges are good snacks that can stay at room temperature. Add some natural peanut butter to those apples, and now your snack is at a different level of nutrients!
- Keep a cooler in your car if you are going to be busy throughout the day. Low carb wraps with left over grilled chicken and veggies can be a better option than a drive-thru.
- Eat only when you are hungry. If you are not hungry, there is no need to eat.
- The little people in our lives learn how to eat by watching us. Include them when cooking and preparing snacks. Let them stir the marinade, teach them how to cut a pepper, and just get them involved. It’s actually lots of fun to get everyone involved!
- Having appliances such as an Instant Pot, Crockpot, and air fryer are key when planning and preparing healthy meals.
- Lastly, drink plenty of water. There is no replacement for good ‘ol H2O. While not exact, a good rule of thumb is to calculate your body weight in pounds, cut that number in half, and that is a rough estimate of how many ounces of water you should drink in a day. The actual DRI (daily recommended intake) of water is 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters from women, not taking into account food and activity.
Some last tips, get out there and get active. Roll up your sleeves in the kitchen and outside (for some Vitamin-D). This time is precious, and life will get back to ‘normal’ soon (whatever that may be). Hopefully, these tips can stick with you longer than the ‘Corona Chubs’!
- Assistant Professor of Exercise Science August 2002 – Current
- MS in Movement Sciences from Florida State University
- MS in Human Nutrition from University of Bridgeport
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
- Precision Sports Nutrition Level 1 Certified