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During this pandemic, everyone is trying to adjust their lifestyle and eating habits. Childhood cancer patients are no exception, and their nutrition amidst this lockdown is crucial. Our CEO and Founder, Purnota Datta Bahl talked to our Head Nutritionist, Nikita Mahakal, about some important tips on boosting immunity and eating healthy during COVID-19.

Here are some excerpts:

Purnota: Is there a method of washing fruits and vegetables before consumption in the current scenario?

Nikita: Yes, so first things first, as soon as we get any fruit or vegetable from the market, it is essential to wash our hands with soap. We should clean the vegetables only after washing our hands with soap. We can wash the vegetables in the same way as we used to do, just that we need to be more cautious now. It is essential to wash them for at least 2-3 minutes under the tap. We can also clean them with the help of a soft sponge. 

Purnota: Also, a lot of people say that we can wash them with vinegar or baking soda. Should we practice that?

Nikita: There is no specific evidence that if we wash vegetables with vinegar or baking soda, it will be safer than just washing them in plain water. During this time, when we do not have many resources available easily, it will be enough if we wash our hands properly and then wash the vegetables for 2-3 minutes.

Purnota: One question that we get to hear a lot is, can we have non-veg items (fish/chicken) at this time? 

Nikita: Right now, we can eat non-vegetarian items like chicken, egg, or fish because all these foods are rich in protein and help increase our body’s immunity. One thing that we should be cautious about is that we should buy them fresh and from a hygienic place. Whenever we get these food items at home, before touching them, we must wash our hands with soap. We need to wash them in salted water at least thrice. It should be kept separately and made sure it doesn’t come in contact with cooked food. It is advisable to consume it after properly cooking in a pressure cooker.

Purnota: Thank you for letting us know about this because there is a lot of confusion among people about consuming non-vegetarian food during this time. Also, is it safe for us to go get food from outside? If we get food from outside, are there any precautions we need to take?

Nikita: I would like to advise that at this time, we should not consume any outside food as it can be dangerous. We should only eat proper home-cooked food. If we get any food items from outside like milk packets etc. we need to wash our hands with soap first and then wash the packets in water, or with soap if necessary. 

Purnota: We heard that cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19. What type of food should we eat in order to increase immunity?

Nikita: Cancer patients usually have low immunity levels so it is essential for them to take care of their food habits right now. The first thing that we are supposed to do is, we need to increase the protein intake in our diet. Some good sources of protein are all kinds of pulses, sprouts, milk or milk products, soya, eggs, chicken, and fish. Another important thing that we should include in our diet is minerals and healthy fat, which we can consume by eating dry fruits, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc. Vitamin C rich foods like orange, guava, capsicum, are another very important source that increases immunity. Vitamin A-rich foods, red and orange in colour, like carrot, pumpkin, and dark green leafy vegetables, are good for health. So basically, we should include all types of food groups in our diet which are rich in vitamins and minerals. Apart from this, we have a lot of ingredients in our kitchen like ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and tulsi leaves that increase the immunity levels in our body. 

Purnota: It’s for the first time I have heard that drumstick leaves also have the ability to boost immunity in our bodies. How should we consume it?

Nikita: Drumstick leaves can be dried and its powder can then be mixed in our food like dough, milk, dal etc. 

Purnota: You talked about alsi (flax seeds). How do we include it in our food/diet?

Nikita: Alsi, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds can be mixed to prepare a powder. We can consume this powder by adding it to milk, dough, etc. Sometimes it becomes challenging when all of a sudden, we have to include so many food items in our diet. Preparing powder and mixing it in our food makes it easy to consume all kinds of essential vitamins and nutrients. 

Purnota: This is an excellent tip, and it is easy for everyone to include it in their food. It is not only crucial for cancer patients but for each one of us; an increased level of immunity in our body is vital. Lastly, there is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media and Whatsapp nowadays about food. Can you help us bust myths on food? (E.g. Eating garlic to prevent COVID-19)

Nikita: We receive a lot of information through WhatsApp forwards, and we should not believe them. If we want to know about any kind of information about food and diet, we should consult Nutritionists or Doctors. One piece of information which is very common on social media these days is that consuming garlic can cure the Coronavirus infection. I want to tell you that garlic is a very nutritious element with anti-microbial and anti-viral effects. But there is no such scientific evidence that it cures the infection, so do not eat garlic with these intentions, but we should surely include it in our diet.

These were the tips shared by our Head Nutritionist, Nikita Mahakal. If you have any more doubts about food and nutrition during the lockdown, you can write to [email protected]

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