By Glenn Ellis
As I write this column, state by state and city by city, all across this country “staples” in our lives are disappearing. Restaurants; public events; schools are closing one after another. While we all get used to this “new normal”, while going through the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important things to prepare for is how to eat and stay healthy during difficult times.
The stark reality is that gone are the days of our normal routines. Lunch break at work; picking up takeout on the way home; making a trip to the market to gather ingredients for a special meal at home…all gone.
Even as we stand at the beginning of what will undoubtedly get far worse before it gets better; we are already seeing supermarkets run low on food. It’s time to put some thought and preparation into your plan how you will eat and be healthy during this period of restriction and limitation. Sooner than later, our ability to find and purchase a variety of foods that we have always assumed would be available will be more of a reality. How prepared are we?
Everything is a non-starter without water.
A human can go for more than three weeks without food, but water is a different story. At least 60 percent of the adult body is made of it, and every living cell in the body needs it to keep functioning. Unlike food, the longest amount of time an individual can go without water seems to be a week.
In these challenging times, it will be very easy to forget to drink water. Dehydration is very serious and can affect your heart and body temperature, cause fatigue and possibly result in death. This is why we must all pay special attention to the children, elderly people and ill people who are more prone to dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, fatigue, increased heart rate and decreased urine output. Keep an eye out for these signs.
Most guidelines suggest that you store one gallon of water per day for each person in your household for a three-day to two-week period. Generally, a normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts (one half gallon) of water each day. If you can, store supplies of bottled water, if practical. For me, the most practical solution is a water filter pitcher. They will remove the worst contaminants from your source water (tap or well) without removing the naturally occurring minerals, which are critical for optimal health. As long as we have “safe” running water, filtered drinking water (jugs or pitchers) from your tap or well is the safest, healthiest, and least expensive way to go.
In addition to basic daily hygiene and home sanitation, you’re going to need water. So, whether you’re drinking water by itself, making coffee or brewing tea, a filter pitcher will help deal with worries about running out of bottled water. The water supply is not under any known risk of being contaminated by the coronavirus.
Much of your plans involving stocking up on perishable vs non-perishable food supplies will be determined as this overall situation evolves. However, a couple things I would like to mention that rank right up there with water during this type of situation: grains and legumes (beans).
Whole grains are to be considered a key component of a healthy diet. Whole grains are considered nutrient-dense foods, meaning that they provide a wealth of important nutrients in each serving. In particular, whole grains are generally rich in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds. Grains are easily stored, and affordably priced in bulk.
My particular favorite is Brown Rice. It is high in calories and protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals like iron. As a dry, non-perishable food, brown rice also has a long shelf life making it a great survival food. Although whole grains can be a beneficial dietary addition for most, some people may need to limit their consumption. In particular, those with celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten should stick to gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and millet to avoid adverse effects on health.
Last, but not least, a few words about legumes (beans).
Proteins are fundamental for a survival diet and they are known to build muscle and strength. While meats and nuts also provide such protein, beans are a cheaper alternative. Cheap doesn’t mean a lack of quality. Many nutritionists will tell you that these legumes are a great substitute for animal products. Beans provide nutrients like calcium, carbohydrates, copper, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, protein, selenium and zinc. If you store your beans in polyethylene food grade bags, they have a shelf life of two years or more.
I believe this information can/will be useful to many of us. But the message to all of us is that we must begin to pay more attention our basic needs, not our wants. At some point, some remember a time when this was a familiar mindset; others know of the stories from grandparents; but the message is to hold fast, and this too shall pass.
Glenn Ellis, is Research Bioethics Fellow at Harvard Medical School and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.