Eating well and staying healthy while sheltering in place

Dietitian Cary Kreutzer, director of the USC Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity program, shares advice for maintaining healthy habits and connections while isolated.

Cary Kreutzer, associate professor of gerontology and pediatrics and the director of the USC Leonard Davis School’s master of science degree program in Nutrition Healthspan and Longevity, joins Chief Communications Officer Orli Belman in a conversation about how to eat healthy, shop smart, reduce stress and stay connected through food as we practice social isolation due to the COVID-19 virus.

Cary Kreutzer quotes from this episode:

On staying connected through food

“I think as we all are sequestered to our homes and may or may not be with extended family, using whatever sources of media to make those connections with family members and reaching out to them to either have them on the line as you’re preparing an old family recipe or having them on the line as you’re enjoying a meal and feeling as if they’re there with you at that meal are all great ideas of how you can bring family in.”

On what food items to have on hand

“I think as we try to eat more at home, or are in a position where we need to be eating more at home, and are less able to make quick trips to the grocery store, which probably isn’t a smart idea, [we should be] looking for foods that have a longer shelf life: those that need to be refrigerated, those that we can store in our freezer, or even looking to canned goods that we can have as a backup plan should we need to grab for those items.”

On canned fruits and vegetables

“A vegetable is a vegetable, and they all are going to provide vitamins and minerals. [In terms of] the processing of frozen and the processing of canned vegetables or fruits, we lose minimal amounts of nutrients in that processing. Many items are either quick-canned or quick-frozen and we’re losing very little nutritional value. … For those that worry about their salt intake, my only caution I would say for canned foods would be to rinse the foods that are canned, that can be rinsed. Many foods like soups or even sauces, you can now buy low salt versions of those just as a way of decreasing and salt intake.”

On choosing prepacked fresh produce

“I would choose bagged or fresh fruits and vegetables that are in containers, whether it’s a bag or whether it’s plastic containers. I’ve toured those food preparation sites where lettuce and other foods are put together, and they’re very sanitary with their practices. In a grocery store, we don’t know whether people are carrying this virus while they’re shopping. If you’re going to buy loose carrots and your plan is to cook those carrots, I think you would be fine. But I would not buy something like a raw head of lettuce that I was going to rinse and then chop and put in a salad. I would probably stick to bagged lettuce just to be safe.”

On safe supermarket shopping strategies

“I would suggest trying to limit the number of times you’re going to a store right now. … It is probably is prudent to try to get what you need once a week, or longer if you can do that. And definitely have a shopping list. Sometimes if it’s the store I always go to, I’ll try to write things on my list in the order of where I pretty much know they are in the store: all the dairy together, all the canned foods together, all the breads together, meats together so that I can quickly get through that list. … [If you can’t find an item], find someone who you can ask where to find that item so that you can get in and get out quickly.”

On take-out food

“With picking up food or even having food delivered, try to stay focused on warm foods that you can reheat in the oven or heat up to 180 degrees, which is a warming temperature in the oven. I would only use raw ingredients that you’re preparing at home to add to those foods. And I definitely would throw out any packaging that comes with those foods. I’d use my own dishes. I would also throw out bags or plastic or things that they come in and make sure I wash my hands well because we do know that the virus can live on some surfaces longer than others.”

On staying hydrated

“Avoid foods that cause you to be dehydrated; coffee, as a natural diuretic, as well as alcohol can be dehydrating. Try to focus more on water. Herbal teas are good. You can add squeezed fruit or frozen fruit to a juice if you need to add some flavor for those. With diabetes, you need to watch the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages you’re consuming. So limit the juices; while those are good in terms of nutritional value, they’re usually pretty high in sugar, and a little bit every day is really all we should be consuming.”

On ways to avoid stress eating

“I think, for all of us, being aware and recognizing that this can be stressful and coming up with plans for activities … to think of ‘What are all the things that I’ve been putting off that I can do around the house?’  [such as] weeding, or planting my garden a little bit earlier. Thankfully, we’re not restricted with our ability to go out. That could be riding bikes, that could be going for a walk. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise. … In my neighborhood, there were some neighbors that were going to have a meet and greet. Many of us have seen the video of Italy and people on their balconies singing together. In my neighborhood, that there were people that were going to go out on their porch and just wave to one another across the street. … You can use all types of social media, whether it’s calling friends or family on phones now we can do video chats, we can do Skype through our computer. So lots of ways to connect with other people. I would also say, I know for my religious affiliation, they have sent lots of ideas of how I can stay connected to my religious beliefs and not feel alone. So, reach out to those resources that are provided for whatever your religion may be and work on trying to destress your environment.”