Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 29th December 2020 08:50 EST

During this pandemic, many of us have found eating healthy as a challenge. We spoke to Rohini Bajekal about how to make simple changes to our routine and eat well to stay well. Rohini is a Nutritionist with her own practice as well as a team member at Plant-Based Health Professionals UK. Rohini also volunteers as a cookery teacher at Made in Hackney, a plant-based community cookery school and charity. She is an International Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional. 

Seven steps to keep healthy:

1.      Don’t live in denial and guilt There's often the idea that good health results from what you eat, how active you are or how you manage stress in your life. While these are all important, what matters most are the words you feed yourself on a daily basis. All-or-nothing thinking (also known as black-and-white thinking) can be destructive. For example, "I had a biscuit, I might as well finish the whole packet." Celebrate the steps forward you're making and don't compare your journey to others. Self-compassion is far more motivating than shame or guilt when it comes to making positive changes. Try to put aside judgemental thoughts and remember that kindness starts with yourself.2.      Set realistic goalsSet goals, ensuring they are SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, aim to incorporate 30 different plant foods into your diet every week to promote a diverse gut microbiome as recommended by the American Gut Health project. Put up a chart in your kitchen and add up how many different plant foods you eat every day to stay accountable and help you meet your goal. Breaking down big goals into smaller ones will make them appear less daunting. For example, to achieve this goal, aim to eat two portions of fruit with your breakfast, enjoy a salad with lunch, nuts or seeds as a snack and an extra portion of greens and beans with your main meals. You'll be there in no time! 3.      Plan aheadMy top tip for a healthy lifestyle is to plan ahead. For example, you can batch cook whole grains, lentil dals and chop vegetables as part of your Sunday routine so that you always have healthy meals for the week ahead. Most soups and dals keep really well in the freezer. Plan your workouts in advance as well as your relaxation time. Set a date to meet a friend during the week for a socially distanced walk and carve out time in the diary for a long evening bath. Planning ahead is the key to creating healthy habits that last.4.      Benefit of healthier choicesOnly 1 in 10 UK adults are meeting the daily recommended intake of fibre which is 30g. Eating a fibre-rich diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, bowel cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Did you know that fibre is only found in plant foods? Swap meat and dairy for fibre, protein, iron and zinc-rich foods such as lentils, tofu and beans. The Plant-Based Health Professionals website has lots of excellent, easy to follow advice about a whole food plant-based way of eating with free webinars, factsheets and articles. A colourful plant-based diet reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 25%, cancer by 15%, type 2 diabetes by at least 50% and helps you maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. For plant-based Indian recipes, check out Vegan Richa ( and my website ( 5.      Maintain a drink diaryThe risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol regularly. For those who do drink alcohol, always stay within the recommended limits and avoid drinking more than 1-2 units per day. Have several drink-free days per week. Keeping a drink diary to record how many units of alcohol you consume every week can help make you more mindful and set limits. Try to opt for sparkling water with slices of lemon, orange and fresh mint as a healthier alternative. Remind yourself of the financial, social and health benefits to be gained from eliminating or reducing alcohol.6.      Keep activeRegular movement plays a crucial role in keeping the immune system strong. Most adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week - or a combination of both. Try to build movement into your day to make this a habit. Take frequent breaks from your desk to stretch and regular 5-10-minute walks. Find a form of exercise you enjoy and incorporate it daily. For example, this could be a morning run, a brisk walk with your dog, a yoga routine from YouTube or an online strength training class with a friend7.      Track your progressIt might sound simple but tracking your progress when it comes to lifestyle changes is a great way to notice changes over time and keep yourself accountable. Keeping a food diary or using a pedometer for example, are tools that can be really motivating and make you more aware of your habits. It's important to create a plan in advance and set achievable and realistic goals so you don't feel overwhelmed. Remember, progress not perfection. Apricot and Coconut Healthy Laddoos  (servings 20 balls)Maintaining a simple and easy approach to healthy cooking and regular exercise can improve our mood, wellness and fitness.INGREDIENTS1 cup unsulphured dried apricots1/2 cup of medjool dates nice and squidgy4 tbsp of tahini – 1 cup desiccated coconut1/2 cup raw cashews1 tablespoon water1 tbsp chia seeds1 tsp vanilla extractPinch of sea salt – Dash of cinnamonINSTRUCTIONS 
  • Add the dates and apricots to the food processor and pulse for a minute until finely chopped.
  • Add coconut, cashews, water, chia seeds, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon. Process for a couple of minutes or until well combined
  • Add 4 tablespoons of tahini and combine well. It should be perfect but if it is too dry, add a little extra tahini. If too wet, add in some more coconut.
  • Take tablespoon amounts of the mixture and roll into balls in your hands.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.
Why is taking Vitamin D supplement important? (photo of Dr Sreedhar Krishna)Dr Sreedhar Krishna is a Consultant Dermatologist at Skindoc in London. He read Public Health at the University of Cambridge and is a keen proponent for Vitamin D in the BAME population. Should I start taking Vitamin D?Yes, current national guidance during the pandemic is that all people should consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day.How much should I take?There are two different units of vitamin D. You should aim to take 10 micrograms or 400 IU per day - you’ll need to read the label on the box carefully. This is usually the amount contained in multivitamin capsules.Do people from the Asian community need more Vitamin D than others?Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in the South Asian population with studies suggesting that 80% of us are deficient. There is no data that implies that we require a higher vitamin D level than others - simply that we’re more likely to be deficient.Does Vitamin D help fight coronavirus?A good vitamin D level is related to a number of favourable health outcomes and better immune system function. There is robust evidence that vitamin D supplementation is effective at reducing respiratory infections - which are the prime issue in coronavirus infection.For more advice on vitamin D see: for positive information to eat healthy Dr Omara Naseem is a psychologist who offers specialist advice on a wide range of issues including eating disorders, stress and anxiety, depression, relationships and self-esteem. She has over 10 years of experience within a variety of settings which includes the NHS, private healthcare at The Priory, charity sector and the leading Eating Disorder Outpatient Unit at the South London and Maudlsey Hospital. During the pandemic, we have seen an increasing number of eating disorder cases, many driven by anxiety which is exacerbated by social media posts.  Social media channels are often used to sharing information, influencing others and projecting misplaced value on the ‘perfect body’ and physical appearance. As people remain indoors more and more social media has been facing growing criticism for triggering eating disorders, and even over-exercising. Speaking to this newsweekly Dr Naseem said, “We have seen an increase in people relating social media to anxiety and body image dissatisfaction. In younger patients that’s more prevalent. They tend to use social media in a harmful way rather than a helpful one. We have our resources to steer patients and help them understand how to choose better and healthier relationship through social media.  “We ask them to use healthier apps and question the impact that certain images can have on their mental health and mood. Then we encourage them to change their relationship with those images, especially during lockdown when people tend to use apps more.  “However, we are now seeing people getting mindful about what they are looking at on social media. There is a huge platform of body positivity and they are challenging staged images. There is definitely a helpful way to use social media and look for positive information to educate people and I help my patients to do that.” In the Asian community eating order is often not associated with mental health issues and Dr Naseem thinks that needs to change. “Mental health generally has a stigma in the Asian community. Engaging with the community is important. People need to understand that Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. They can often present alongside with anxiety and depression. Our community may not understand what bulimia or anorexia is, and what binge eating could lead to. It is important to alert people if they notice a change in their loved ones’ relationship with food. If they are not eating with you in the same way as before, are hiding things or seem unhappy, then you should talk to them and offer support and seek help from the GP. May be reach out to community leaders, who can help fight the shame and stigma within the community and help you to get to a specialist.” Emphasising on the crucial role of NHS to help you eat well to stay well, she added, “With growing health fears around Covid-19, staying connected, checking on each other is super important. If you are struggling with your mood or any issues related to food, please reach out and seek support.”  

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