Healthy eating is more important now than ever

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Jenny Craft

With the coronavirus-induced closure of restaurants across South Carolina, you might find yourself spending more time in the kitchen trying to figure out what to fix for dinner.

Now more than ever, it's important to eat a healthy diet to support your immune system should you be exposed to any nasty virus.

Planning well-balanced meals requires more work than picking up burgers or pizza for dinner, but your body will thank you for the healthier choices you make. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it's the extra time we now have to focus on nutrition.

Start by building a weekly meal plan and then make a grocery list with the ingredients you'll need for each meal. Having a list will keep you from making impulse, and often unhealthy, purchases as well as unnecessary trips to the grocery store.

You can find a wide array of easy and nutritious recipes at diabetesfoodhub.org. While the website is sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, the recipes work for all those trying to improve their diet.

Whether you choose to follow recipes or just wing it, you'll want to pick up some shelf-stable nutritious foods like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, bulgur and quinoa that can serve as a base to create meals. Up your vitamin and mineral intake by adding fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables to your base of choice. They're loaded with antioxidants and are a good source of fiber, too.

If you prefer fresh produce, choose those that are less perishable, like broccoli, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, apples and citrus fruit. You'll also want to stock up on plenty of frozen and canned fruits and veggies to have on hand. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutrient dense as fresh. Look for canned vegetables with no salt or low salt. If they're not available, just rinse beans and veggies well before eating to remove the salt.

Include a protein with every meal, since protein deficiency can be a risk factor for infections. Good protein choices with a long shelf life include canned tuna and salmon (packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), nut butters, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Hummus and eggs also are longer-lasting protein options. And, of course, you can freeze fresh chicken, fish and lean beef or buy them already frozen.

I recommend staying away from processed meats, like sausage and bacon. If you want to buy cold cuts, choose the turkey or chicken variety.

For a healthy snack, mix dried fruits like raisins, cranberries and apricots with nuts. Omega-3 walnuts are my top choice, but almonds, cashews, pistachios and pecans are nourishing options, too. Popcorn is also a good source of fiber and can be mixed with dried fruit or mini chocolate chips for a sweet treat.

If you're used to eating on the run, now you have the time to gather the family around the table for a delicious and nutritious meal. And when these crazy times are behind us, maybe our new healthy eating habits will stick.

Jenny Craft, RD, LD, CDE is a registered dietitian and the diabetes quality coordinator at Beaufort Memorial Hospital's LifeFit Wellness Center. She and sees clients in both Bluffton and Beaufort.

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