'Follow Your Gut' When it Comes to Nutrition in the Time of Coronavirus

Macrobiotic nutritionist, chef and instructor Shonali Sabherwal tells us how we can stay fit and healthy while we are confined to our homes. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live our lives completely. As we work from home and practice social-distancing, putting healthy nutrition, lifestyle and wellness habits into place becomes imperative to keep our bodies and minds healthy. They say we are what we eat, therefore it's important to stick to the right food habits during these times. Otherwise, it will become easy for us to gain weight, develop health issues and get dull and lifeless hair and skin as we stay cooped up indoors. We spoke to macrobiotic nutritionist, chef and instructor Shonali Sabherwal, who works with celebrity clients like Katrina Kaif and Jacqueline Fernandez. She gives us the lowdown on what we should be eating, what nutrition and lifestyle habits we should be following, and why it's so important to watch our gut health during this time. 


Should we change our diet, now that we are at home all day? 


If you are eating home-cooked food, I am assuming that you are eating foods that are healthy.  Having said that, a lot of people expose themselves to contaminants that compromise their gut bacteria health. At a time like this, your immunity is affected, and you should know that your immune barrier is your gut. If your gut is weak, your immunity gets weakened and your gut microbial balance gets disturbed, making you more liable to catch an infection. That is why you are advised to add some immune-boosters to your diet. I would suggest you to stay away from foods that disturb your gut balance. One such food is sugar. A lot of people rely on sugar as a quick fix, to help soothe their anxiety, not realising that it only puts them back into an anxious state of mind.



My whole practice is centred around looking after your gut health. I feel Indians rely only on yoghurt as a probiotic, not realising that the dairy in the yoghurt can trigger allergies, gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria). We need to look outside this spectrum. The Covid-19 virus is a bad pathogen that came from animals and jumped onto humans. We can combat against pathogens by adding fermented foods to our diet.


What are some bad food habits we can guard against? 


While sitting at home adopt a diet devoid of sugar, sugary food and drinks. People are stocking up on chips and junk while sitting in front of the television and binge-watching Netflix. It is important to keep your gut bacterial load in balance. Be mindful of the way you are eating at home. You may be eating three balanced square meals a day, but you should guard against in-between snacking, a lot of which happens out of boredom. Processed, refined and packaged food will impact your gut and your immunity. It is important to eat right.


What are some foods we can eat to boost immunity?


1. Vitamin C from gooseberry, lime shots or an actual supplement. Fruits such as oranges, kiwis, guavas and bell peppers are wonderful natural sources. 

2. I am a big believer in adding fermented foods. Good quality sauerkraut, kimchi or a fresh salad should be added to your diet. 


You can make homemade beet Kanji or squash. This is a natural North Indian drink that is probiotic. Not only does it make a yummy and refreshing pick-me-up, it is known that the HCA3 cell receptor (that regulates our immune function) is impacted positively by the intake of fermented food. 

3. The fibre content in your food should be high. Focus on fibre-rich foods like a good whole grain, or a brown rice, millet, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and vegetables. These are your macronutrients coming in. 



How do we combat the slowing down of our metabolism and weight gain that happens when we sit around.


You have to move. There are many apps out there that you can use to exercise.  Practising yoga is an ideal option right now, and it also helps with aiding digestion.  A lot of people are being free with sharing information online right now. My advice is to tap into these posts and videos and follow them to keep your body moving. If you can walk up and down the stairs, please do so as often as you can.



Stay away from junk and junk food. Be mindful of what you eat. At work, you are on a regimented schedule, but now you need to discipline yourself. Try not to consume excessive amounts of tea and coffee, they are stimulants and will only lead to cravings later. When your insulin levels are out of whack due to sugar, that’s when all the cravings happen. When I say sugar, it doesn’t just come from the spoon of sugar you are putting in your teacup. It comes from bread, buns, biscuits and other food that contain refined flour.

To feel better in any stressful situation, we gravitate towards two things, sugar and alcohol, as these are quick-fix stress-busters. If you consume empty sugar through alcohol, it’s only going to make you crave more sugary food. Eat more natural rather than unnatural food. People are having the tendency to stock up on all the wrong, easy to prepare things you can pop in the micro. Watch out for emotional eating. Fight the need to feed the body with comfort food when emotionally triggered. If you are eating mindfully and working out, you will not gain weight.


Are there any good habits that we can include in our daily routine?


This is a good time to get more focused, go inward and establish some mental balance. Meditation, Pranayama breathing techniques, even apps like Calm can help you centre yourself. Look for a quiet spot in your home. Remember, this is probably the first time your family is being secluded together for a long stretch. This can create a lot of pressure. Sit out in the sun in your garden or balcony, and sip on some green tea (we hardly do this anymore). Carve out a niche for yourself within your home environment. Families should create a space to exercise together and keep endorphins going. 



Can you tell us some foods to help with the following: 


1) Keep our mood upbeat. Whole grains such as millets and brown rice. It brings in good sugar that fires up neurotransmitters like serotonin.


2)Keep our skin lit-from-within. If your digestion is optimum, your skin will glow. A healthy dose of leafy greens works well here, as it keeps your haemoglobin levels high. Tip: Wash your greens in salt or apple cider vinegar to get rid of any contaminants.


3)Help us sleep better. Exercise is the best solution for this. 


Name some superfoods we can add to our diet.


Spirulina is one of my favourite superfoods. Being a sea algae, its a blood cleanser and it brings in an energy of focus, and concentration. You can take it in a tablet form if you are iffy about the taste.  I talk a lot about the energy brought in by food. Sprouts bring in a lot of clear thinking, new, innovative thoughts and ideas. As is have said before,  anything fermented and probiotic beverages like kaffir and homemade kanji are a great idea. The procedures to make these are available online. You can also grate some gooseberries and turn it into a vitamin C shot. 



So there you have it, everything you need to eat to keep you fit, healthy and fine in the time of the Coronavirus crisis. Follow these tips, and you can come out of social- isolation, looking and feeling better than ever!