Healthy Eating During the Quarantine

By Renee Wickliff BSN, RN, RD, CDE

If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for getting very sick if you catch coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s a good idea to stock up on nonperishable goods to avoid additional trips to the grocery store. Consider having groceries delivered to your home or having someone purchase them for you, then leave them on your doorstep. I have included a list of some of the best foods for diabetics that are built to last as well as recipes.

Canned Foods

Canned foods get a bad rap because they are high in salt (sodium). But rinse them off in a strainer until water runs clear and voilà, you just cut the salt in half. Many brands also offer low sodium choices. Beans are a great choice for diabetics because they don’t cause blood sugars to skyrocket after meals and are full of fiber, folate, iron, zinc, and antioxidants [1]. Aim for variety including black, pinto, kidney, navy, white or cannellini, and chickpea.   

There are also lots of canned vegetables available. Vegetables are canned at peak freshness. While stored, they are not exposed to oxygen, so they maintain their nutritional profile until the can is opened [2].  Look for spinach, beets, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, artichoke, and green beans. 

Soups are a quick and easy meal choice. Broth-based soups, such as chicken noodle, vegetable, minestrone, tomato, and lentil contain less unhealthy fat then chowders or cream-based soups. To boost the nutrition, try adding canned vegetables or beans to a soup. For example, you can add diced tomatoes to tomato soup, canned carrots to vegetable and chicken soup, or spinach and kidney beans to minestrone.

Tuna and salmon also come in a can, or you can try them in pouches, which last for 18 months [3]. There are many different flavors available. I have seen lemon pepper, ranch, bacon ranch, and sweet and spicy pouches of tuna. These pouches can be a single serving size, so you don’t have to worry about food waste. Canned chicken is also available as a low carbohydrate, high protein choice. Check the label of canned chicken to see how long it is good for.

When it comes to storing canned goods, low acid options, such as beans, soups, stews, potatoes, pumpkin, peas, beets, and spinach can be stored on the shelf for up to 5 years. High acid canned foods, such as tomatoes, pineapple, fruit, pears, pickles, and sauerkraut last for up to 18 months. When purchasing canned foods, avoid cans that are rusting, bulging, leaking, or have deep dents. Don’t store your cans where they are exposed to high temperatures or moisture, like above the oven or stove, under the sink or in a damp garage or basement. Once opened, canned goods can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. You can leave them in the can or place in a Tupperware [3].

Dried Foods

Dried whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, farro, and barley are high in fiber to stabilize blood sugars and low in unhealthy fats. They may also help improve insulin resistance [4]. Whole grains can also lower the chances of developing heart disease, something many diabetics are at risk for.

You can also buy dried beans. Dried beans and whole grains can be stored for 2 years in a dry, cool location. Once cooked, they will last 3 to 4 days [3]. The packages contain instructions on how to cook these foods.

Another healthy shelf stable option is dried fruits like raisins, apricots, prunes, pears, dates, and figs. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Avoid dried fruits that were prepared with added sugars like cranberries, cherries, strawberries, and blueberries. Look for key words like “unsweetened” or “no sugar added” and check the ingredients to make sure you don’t see the word “sugar”. While dried fruits with added sugars cause blood sugars to rise, unsweetened dried fruits won’t. In fact, most dried fruit contains sorbitol, which can help stabilize the release of insulin [5].

Nuts

            If you store nuts in the fridge, they can last for a year [6]. Not only are they rich in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, nuts also contain phytochemicalswhich act as antioxidants and help lower inflammation. Both almonds and peanuts have both been shown to improve blood sugar for diabetics [7]. Like whole grains, nuts can also lower the chances of you getting heart disease.

Frozen

If you have freezer space, frozen vegetables are a great healthy choice that can last 8-10 months [8]. Many vegetables come in a steamable container which you can throw in the microwave and have a healthy side dish ready in minutes. Birds Eye makes several protein blends that contain whole grains, vegetables, and are very flavorful.

Flavor Boosts

Once you have purchased the basics, consider stocking up on ways to spice up your cooking (or just look in your pantry to see if you have any of these items).

  • Salsa
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Low fat coconut milk in a can or container
  • Tomato sauce
  • Pesto
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Almond butter
  • Marinara sauce

Many of these items, if left in an unopened can or jar and stored away from light and extreme temperatures, can last years. Once opened, these items will last for several months. Different dried spices add lots of flavor and antioxidants. They are good for several years stored in a cool, dry place.

Now that you have stocked your pantry with healthy, shelf-stable food, what should you make? Below I have listed some healthy recipes to get you started.

Plant-Based Recipes:

Black Beans with Quinoa and Salsa

  • 1 can (drained and rinsed) or 1 cup of cooked black beans
  • ¼ a cup uncooked quinoa (cook according to package directions)
  • ½ a cup (or more) of salsa to taste

Stir ingredients together and eat right away! I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe so you can eat it for several days.

You can also add canned chicken to this recipe if you like.

Rice and Pinto Bean Curry

  • 1 can (drained and rinsed) or 1 cup pinto beans
  • ¼ a cup uncooked brown rice (cook according to package directions)
  • 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 8 ounces low fat coconut milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons (to taste) spice blend:
    • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
    • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
    • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
    • 2 teaspoons onion powder
    • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
    • ½ a teaspoon black pepper
    • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    • Mix all these spices together and store in the fridge


In a small saucepan, stir together the tomato sauce, coconut milk, and 1-2 tablespoons of the spice blend. The more spice blend you add, the spicier the curry will be. Continuously stir until it starts boiling.


Mix the kidney beans and rice together. Pour the curry over the mixture and eat right away. Eating beans with rice can help lower blood sugars after meals.

Mediterranean Recipes:

Mediterranean Bean Salad

  • 1 can (drained and rinsed) or 1 cup of cooked kidney beans
  • 1 can (drained and rinsed) or 1 cup of cooked chickpeas
  • 1 can (drained and rinsed) or 1 cup of cooked white or cannellini beans

Dressing:

  • ¼ a cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ a cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried cumin
  • ¼ a teaspoon black pepper

Pour the beans into a bowl and mix. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the beans. For the most flavorful salad, cover the salad and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

Mediterranean Inspired Oatmeal

  • 1 serving (about ½ a cup dry) of instant or steel cut oats
  • ¼ a cup nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds, or peanuts
  • ½ a cup unsweetened dried fruit: figs, apricots, or raisins
  • Cinnamon, optional, for flavor

Cook the oatmeal according to instructions on the package. Add the nuts, dried fruit, and cinnamon. Eat right away. For a variation, try using 2 tablespoons or peanut butter or almond butter.

DASH Diet Recipes:

Easy Pasta

  • Box of your favorite plant based or whole grain pasta
  • Jar (16 ounce) of marinara sauce
  • Consider adding canned spinach or canned chicken to the marinara sauce.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. In a saucepan, heat the marinara sauce until it boils, adding the spinach or chicken if you wish. Mix the pasta with the sauce and eat right away.

Other ideas include adding a side of canned green beans or steamed vegetables, such as a California blend.

For a variation of this dish, you can swap out marinara sauce for pesto. Mix the pasta with pesto to taste. You can also add a can of peas and/or canned chicken. Penne or macaroni pasta works best for the pesto variation.

Low Carbohydrate Recipes

Canned chicken, salmon, and tuna are great sources of protein with no carbohydrates. Pair with a generous serving of canned or cooked from frozen vegetables such as green beans, beets, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower. Nuts are a great in between meal snack because they contain lots of healthy fats with few carbohydrates.

Chicken Enchilada Soup

  • 1 (13 ounce) can of chicken
  • 1 (4 ounce) can of green chilies
  • 1 (14-ounce container) of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 (10 ounce can) enchilada sauce
  • ½ a packet of enchilada seasoning

Mix all the ingredients in a medium size saucepan and heat through. Serve right away.

            We are all in this together. Wash your hands, practice social distancing, avoid travel if possible, and stay safe. Keeping your blood sugars under control can help keep your immune system strong and healthy to protect you.

References

[1] S. Palmer, “Get Powered With Pulses,” [Online]. Available: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/enewsletter/enews_1016_01.shtml.
[2] J. Schaeffer, “Canned Foods Make a Comeback,” Today’s Dietitian, March 2009. [Online]. Available: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/td_030909p44.shtml.
[3] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Shelf-Stable Food Safety,” [Online]. Available: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/shelf-stable-food-safety/ct_index/!ut/p/a1/jZDbCsIwDIafxQcoyZyKXspA3NQNEbX2RqJrt8LsxBZPT-883Ciekqv8__eTEBDAQRja64ycLg0V11m0ljjGlt.
[4] A. D. Liese, A. K. Roach, K. C. Sparks, L. Marquart, R. B. D’Agostino and E. J. Mayer-Davis, “Whole-grain intake and insulin sensitivity: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 78, no. 5, pp. 965-971, 2003.
[5] [Online]. Available: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0617p11.shtml.
[6] EatByDate, “How Long Do Nuts Last?,” [Online]. Available: http://www.eatbydate.com/proteins/nuts/how-long-do-nuts-last-shelf-life-expiration-date/.
[7] Y.-Y. Hou, O. Ojo, L.-l. Wang, Q. Wang, Q. Jiang, X.-Y. Shao and X.-H. Wang, “A Randomized Controlled Trial to Compare the Effect of Peanuts and Almonds on the Cardio-Metabolic and Inflammatory Parameters in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 11, 2018.
[8] EatbyDate, “How Long Do Frozen Vegetables Last?,” [Online]. Available: https://www.eatbydate.com/vegetables/frozen-vegetables-shelf-life-expiration-date/.

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