Dossier: Healthy eating

Eating healthy when working from home

We’re all moving less due to working from home and spending less time in public. So how can we still maintain a healthy and practical diet?

Text: Julie Freudiger, photo: Ivan Timov, Unsplash

With the kitchen table taking the place of an open-plan office, the sofa instead of the cinema, and home schooling instead of school, our movement has been drastically reduced in the last few weeks. But alas, the path to the fridge isn’t long, and that’s always a temptation when working from home. And now we really need to think about eating healthily. 

Less movement means we require fewer calories

Our bodies don’t need as much energy when we’re not commuting to work, climbing stairs, walking to the printer or the canteen. “Everyday movement also affects our calorie balance,” says nutritionist Esther Haller. It’s easy to do the maths: if, at the end of the day, your body hasn’t burned all of the calories you’ve consumed, you will put on weight. “If you’re not moving very much at the moment and aren’t doing any sport, you can reduce your carbohydrate intake. This is fuel for your body,” says Esther Haller. Carbohydrates should only make up a quarter of your meal.

Fresh vegetables and salad should make up at least half of your serving at the moment. Protein such as dairy products, pulses, eggs and meat help you feel full for longer. Low-fat methods of preparation such as steaming or oven cooking and low-calorie alternatives such as cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, dried meat instead of salami can help to keep your calorie count down. Esther Haller’s tip: “If you eat three balanced meals a day, you’re are less likely to suffer from hunger pangs.” 

“It all starts with food shopping”

Snacks will ruin your waistline. They make your blood sugar levels shoot through the roof which stops your body burning fat.  What’s more, they also contain additional calories which your body is unable to burn, warns Esther Haller. Ready meals and sweetened soft drinks are no good either. A glass of apple juice or Coca Cola both contain five cubes of sugar. “Anyone who struggles to limit their consumption of snacks and sweetened soft drinks should refrain from buying them in the first place,” recommends Haller. Speaking of which, how to outsmart yourself: Drawing up a weekly menu plan can help you stick to your guns. “It all starts with food shopping” – one weekly shopping trip is also recommended by the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), to avoid contact with other people whenever possible, for example in the supermarket.

Vitamins and minerals to boost your body’s defences

Eating to stay healthy: a fresh, healthy and balanced diet can have a hugely positive effect on the immune system. Vitamin C is a classic. Found in fresh citrus fruits, but also in vegetables such as cabbage and peppers  , vitamin C is packed full of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Ginger and garlic also help to boost your immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Haller advises against taking vitamins. Eating a balanced, healthy diet full of fresh food is much more beneficial. “It’s no good taking vitamins if you’re eating fast food the rest of the time.” Although she does admit there are a few exceptions. Haller recommends taking vitamin C and zinc supplements for a short time only if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or your immune system is in desperate need of a boost. Zinc can be found in porridge oats, eggs, nuts and seeds. You might want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement at the moment, as our bodies are only able to produce it if they are exposed to the sun. It makes sense to take vitamin D drops in a lot of cases especially during the winter months and during the current pandemic as a lot of people are staying at home. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium, which is vital for bone formation and helps support our muscles and the immune system.

Digestion and the immune system

In recent time, the bowel has become a particular point of interest for scientific researchers. “The microbiome, or intestinal environment, affects the body’s own ability to defend itself,” explains Haller. She therefore recommends incorporating foodstuffs that are rich in probiotics into your diet, such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut as they help to build up essential bacteria in the gut. Haller also recommends foodstuffs that act as ‘food’ for the bacteria (prebiotics) such as pulses, wholegrain, fruit and vegetables.

Eating to ease your troubles

Research has also proved a link between what we eat and the psyche. Natural anti-depressants? We could all do with some of these at the moment. According to an Australian survey, turmeric and saffron are natural anti-depressants and help to ease anxiety. This also applies to foods which are rich in magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B, according to the psychiatrist and dietician Uma Naidoo, writing on the Harvard Medical School platform. These can be found in leafy green vegetables, pulses, wholemeal, oysters, fatty fish such as salmon or almonds and avocado.

Esther Haller’s top tips for eating fresh food at home

Tip 1: Incorporate pulses into your meal plan. These are rich in protein and dietary fibres and low in carbohydrates. “Chickpeas from a jar or small red lentils can be cooked in ten minutes.”
Tip 2: “Cook larger portions so that you have leftovers to eat at another time.” Then all you need to do for a healthy lunch is warm it up and lay the table.
Tip 3: “Store-bought spätzli (pasta), ravioli and gnocchi are ready made meals that are totally acceptable.” They can be part of a balanced meal if combined with a fresh salad, tomato sauce and a little grated cheese.
Tip 4: “Make a weekly meal plan and stick to it.” Cook vegetables in the oven, pre-boil eggs, marinate beetroot for a salad and wash your lettuce — all of these things can be kept in the fridge.

Tip 5: “You don’t need to cut anything out of your diet, simply adjust your menu.” For example, add lots of fresh vegetables to the tinned tomatoes and cut back on the amount of pasta. Or make baked potatoes instead of chips.