As the first line of defense against the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare staffers are putting in long hours to give people the medical attention they need. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields or goggles, face masks, gowns and gloves, throughout their shifts helps them remain safe while tending to others. However, protective gear stays on for long stretches of time, which can make it difficult for essential workers to get enough food and water to safeguard their own health.
So, when the action never seems to stop, how do doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees meet their nutrition and hydration needs? Here are the measures these workers are taking to stay healthy and strong, as well as how you can work these nutrition best practices into your daily routine.
The Role of Nutrition and Hydration for Immune Support
Nutrition and hydration aren't just important when you're fighting a virus, they're also crucial factors that support your lifelong health.
In the short term, staying hydrated and eating a nutrient dense diet can help prevent dehydration, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms. In the long term, proper nutrition can help you avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies and support your immune system, which is key to keeping you healthy and supporting recovery if you do become sick.
Frontline healthcare workers have a small window of time each day in which to eat and drink, so it's especially important for them to focus on nutrients that both satisfy their hunger and meet their nutritional needs. Here are four nutrients that should be prioritized.
What it does: Regular protein intake can help people feel full for longer periods of time throughout the day. To get more of this nutrient, try spreading your protein intake throughout the day and consuming high-quality protein with each meal.
Where you can get it: Some high-quality sources of protein include poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soy products, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
If you can’t sit for a meal this is where a nutritional shake like, Ensure® comes in. It has complete, balanced nutrition with nutrients to support the immune system and is a good source of protein.
What it does: Fiber contributes to feelings of fullness. A recent study concluded that when compared to participants who consumed a low-fiber scone, participants who ate a scone made with resistant starch (a type of fiber) experienced decreased hunger levels for three hours after eating it. Fiber also helps with food digestion and helps the body absorb critical nutrients.
Where you can get it: A diet should incorporate fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
3. Healthy Fats
What it does: Fat has 9 calories per gram, as compared to the 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. Eating foods with healthy or good fats like nuts, olives, fatty fish and soybeans can help you meet your daily calorie needs more easily, especially when you're on the go.
Where you can get it: Foods with healthy fats include fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and some plant oils like avocado or coconut.
4. Vitamins and Minerals
What they do: Meeting the daily recommendations for vitamins and minerals is an important step when building a healthy immune system. Specifically, vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral zinc can help support the immune system.
Where you can get them: Vitamins A, C, and E can be found in many whole foods, including both plant- and animal-based products like fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat and nuts. And zinc can be found in beef, chicken, yogurt and legumes.
How to Achieve Long-Lasting Hydration
Healthcare workers wearing PPE equipment need to be extra diligent about staying hydrated. However, even those of us who can freely drink water throughout the day can still be at risk for dehydration.
To promote immune health and power through your day, consider implementing some of these hydration tactics that fuel essential workers:
· Drink plenty of water after work. When their shifts are done, healthcare workers should drink ample amounts of water to stay hydrated all day long. Don't overload your body with water though, because that may cause overhydration or too much water and not enough electrolytes. Drink until your urine is clear or a pale-yellow color, which signifies adequate hydration. To ensure adequate consumption of fluids, add flavor to water with fruit slices or fresh herbs.
· Use an electrolyte solution. When it's tough to take a water break, drinking an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® is one way that frontline workers can stay hydrated. Whether you're preparing for a marathon or about to pull a double shift, Pedialyte is an advanced rehydration solution that can help protect you from the mild to moderate dehydration typically brought on by heat, exercise or other fluid losses.
· Eat hydrating fruits and vegetables. One of the best ways that healthcare workers can optimize their hydration throughout the day is by consuming water- and nutrient-rich foods, such as cucumber, celery, peppers and watermelon. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you can get up to 20% of your daily fluid needs from foods alone.
Other Ways To Promote Good Health and Support the Immune System
Beyond keeping an eye on what you eat and drink throughout the day, there are other measures you can borrow from healthcare workers to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. These include:
· Getting enough sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults sleep at least seven hours each night.
· Exercising regularly. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, or 30 minutes per day for five days each week.
· Washing your hands properly. Germs spread easily through our hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
· Practicing food safety. Washing your produce under cold running water and keeping raw meat separate from other foods, can help prevent cross contamination. Additionally, be sure to refrigerate perishable foods and cook meat to the right temperature to kill harmful germs.
Healthcare workers have played the most critical role in the world's collective response to COVID-19. But no matter your profession, following their methods for staying nourished and hydrated while on the go may help you maintain your immune health.
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