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Five common questions on coronavirus, diabetes and food

Ask the experts

Coronavirus is affecting normal life in many ways, including what we eat. So we’re putting your questions to our expert in-house dietitian, Emma Shields.

Emma Shields

Taking care of yourself is more important than ever and food plays a big role in this. While we’re all staying home a lot more than we used to, it can be difficult to know how to keep up a healthy diet and avoid grazing on unhealthy snacks, especially when you feel anxious or stressed. 

Emma is a Senior Clinical Advisor and Registered Dietitian with five years’ experience in the food and health sector. She’s previously worked in primary care running a diabetes self-management education programme, and has a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics.

Over 5,500 of you responded to our Covid-19 survey, and we want to keep hearing from you. You can get in touch with us via phone, email, online form or social media to tell us what you need to know right now.

1. Is there a diet that can boost immunity and help fight coronavirus?

Let’s be clear, there are no diets, supplements or special foods that can prevent or cure coronavirus. The best way to protect you and your family is to follow the official government advice, including washing your hands frequently and staying at home. For more on the latest advice on Covid-19 and diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk/coronavirus.

But what we eat does play a role in a normal functioning immune system. Vitamins and minerals such as zinc, copper, folate, vitamins A, B12, C, and D are just some of the nutrients involved in keeping your immune system healthy. That’s why eating a variety of healthy foods, to get all your essential nutrients, is an important way of keeping healthy.  

You might like to consider taking a daily Vitamin D supplement if you’re not getting out as much as you used to. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and muscles, and we normally get it from being in the sun. There have been some news reports claiming that Vitamin D can lower the risk of coronavirus. However, there is no evidence that this is the case. 

2. I want to get into baking, but I’m worried about the carb and sugar content in sweet treats. How can I make them better for my diabetes?

Baking is a great, relaxing way to pass the time while we’re in lockdown, especially if you’ve got kids in the house. And having diabetes shouldn’t stop you from enjoying sweet treats. 

But it’s important not to get too carried away, and remember your baked delights should still be eaten in moderation. That said, here are my top tips to make baking a little bit healthier:

  1. Use wholemeal flour - it’s higher in fibre which is good for gut and heart health. It works in most recipes, but for things like sponge cakes you might want to try a ratio like 70:30 or 50:50 wholemeal flour to plain flour. If you can’t find flour in the shops, there are lots of alternative bakes you could try, like our recipe for apple strudel
  2. Use fruits like bananas, dried dates or stewed apples to provide sweetness instead of table sugar, like what we’ve done with this apple and cinnamon cake recipe. And lots of people are enjoying banana bread at the moment – our recipe is lower in sugar than many others.
  3. Add vegetables. Courgette or beetroot chocolate cake might sound odd, but it works.

Just remember to still think about portion sizes. Even with these healthier tweaks, you should still think of them as a treat. 

Find out more about home baking with diabetes.

3. I have some tinned beans and lentils in my store cupboard, how do I use them in my meals?

Great question. I love pulses, they have so many benefits. They’re a source of protein, they’re versatile, they count towards your five-a-day and they’re cheap. Plus, because they’re full of fibre and have a low glycaemic index (GI), most people won’t need to count them if they’re carb counting.

A great first step is to start by using lentils or beans in meals you would normally use mince - think spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, chilli con carne, and shepherd’s pie.

Check out our recipe for spaghetti bolognese, which replaces some of the mince with a tin of lentils.

Loads of amazing cuisines from around the world make use of pulses, so once you and your family have mastered the basics of cooking with pulses, you can start exploring the world from your kitchen.

4. How can I avoid comfort eating when I feel stressed and anxious during this time?

It’s quite normal to turn to food when you’re stressed or anxious. And during this scary time for everyone, remember to go easy on yourself - sometimes, you might just need a biscuit or two with your cup of tea. But when eating prevents us from normalising, expressing or managing our emotions, it can become a problem. 

Talking to someone is often the best first step, and luckily there’s lots of support out there for you. Our Online Support Forum offers a place to talk to other people living with diabetes. You can also call our helpline to talk to a trained advisor from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday on 0345 123 2399. 

I’d also highly recommend reading our article by psychologist Dr Jen Nash on emotional eating and feasting

5. Now I’m at home a lot more, I’m finding myself grazing during the day - how can I stop this?

I hear you. Here are my top tips to curb grazing:

  1. Set yourself up for the day with a healthy and filling breakfast - that’s one that includes fibre-rich foods like wholegrain bread or cereals, protein rich foods like yoghurt, milk, eggs or nut butter and at least one portion of fruit or veg. Our apple and cinnamon fruity porridge is a great option for a warming start to the day - head to our recipe finder for more breakfast inspiration.
  2. Switch up your environment. You’re more likely to graze what you see, so put your fruit bowl on your desk, and bring healthy snacks like nuts to the front of the cupboard.
  3. Ask yourself ‘Am I hungry or thirsty?’ You might be mistaking hunger for thirst, so try having a glass of water first before reaching for a snack.
  4. If you do have a snack, try to go for things that are healthy and filling like boiled eggs, unsalted nuts or unsweetened yoghurt.

Get more ideas for healthy snacks.

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