How to survive the Corona lockdown on a healthy and sustainable diet

For most of us, these times have become especially difficult: Not only are some of us forced to stay at home because they show symptoms of the COVID-19 disease, most of us are asked to stay at home full time. Because of the fear of infection, going out to go grocery shopping is a challenge on its own. Naturally, minimizing exposure is a great strategy to lower the infection risk. But hoarding frozen instant meals isn’t for everyone. Isn’t there a way to make it through this on a healthy, sustainable diet?

How to prepare for the quarantine situation

Of course, for many of us it is too late to prepare because they already are in quarantine or in areas with a curfew in place. Still, there are things we can do to improve the situation:

  1. Buy fresh veggies and make your own frozen instant meals: Use grocery deliveries, if you can’t go out anymore, and use your free time to get cooking. This will provide you with healthy options even when your fresh veggies are gone and is a great opportunity to test new recipes for meal prepping! There are loads of recipes out there for tasty vegetable stews, which can easily be frozen and reheated later. Lentil curry is one of my favorites.
  2. Make sure you have drinkable tap water options at home. If you don’t like the taste or are worried about the quality of your tap water, check options for water filters. In most countries like all over Germany, tap water is of fantastic quality and you don’t need to stock up on bottled water. And of course, it is much more environmentally friendly and does not contain any traces of plasticizers! If you prefer fizzy water, consider investing in a soda maker – it is more environmentally friendly and will save you money in the long run!
  3. Grown your own things: Lockdown hopefully won’t last until you have grown your own veggies, but potted herbs will at least give you some fresh add-on for your meals even if fresh ingredients are long gone!
Avoiding trips outside can minimize your risk of infection with the corona virus. Also in lockdown situations, it is essential to know what to stock up on.
Photo by Fran Boloni on Unsplash

What to buy for a longer lockdown period

Buying fresh veggies every week naturally is not an option is this situation, so instead we have to be a little more creative.

Before you go out shopping, it is essential to make a meal plan and derive a shopping list from that! Especially if you want to prepare your own frozen food, you should make it list of what you might need for that. Don’t just go out and hoard whatever you might get! This is what causes the supply problems in the supermarkets and it is really antisocial to everyone else. We can’t make it through this on our own, we have to stick together!

Buy as much fresh fruit and veggies as you can use (for eating or meal prepping) in the first week! A typical grocery haul for a normal week includes:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower
  • Potatoes
  • Cheese, eggs and meats, if you are neither vegan nor vegetarian

You can make some great, easy meals from this selection. Our favorite easy dinners include one-pods with rice and vegetables, a quick casserole from potatoes and broccoli or noodles with fresh tomatoes.

The cauliflower and potatoes typically last also until the second week. But after all this is gone, you will rely on other ways to make healthy food. For this time, it is essential to buy some more durable groceries such as:

  • Frozen or canned fruit (such as berries, mangoes, melons…)
  • Dried or canned legumes: Lentils and beans are great sources of protein!
  • Other canned veggies such as tomatoes or corn
  • Pasta and rice
  • Shelf-stable milk (vegan options last a month if unopened!)
  • Oats (for overnight oats or porridge which can be freshened up with frozen fruit!)
  • Nuts
  • Canned fish and sausages for the carnivores
  • Frozen instant meals as a backup

This list provides you with options to cook fresh, healthy meals after your fresh vegetables are gone. If you have precooked meals from the first week, you can mix them in to have more variety during your lockdown. Even though I don’t like instant meals too much, I have added these to my shopping list to have a backup solution. There are some healthy options for instant meals these days, e.g. the company Frosta makes some great frozen foods without additives!

Last but not least, make sure you add your comfort foods to the list. Yes, I mean it, even if that means chocolate, sweets or even alcohol! This time takes a toll on all of us, therefore it is essential to have something nice every once in a while – you might need it! Coffee and tea are also good to keep you happy, anything to brighten up your day!

Comfort food and drinks are essential for this time: It might help to improve signs of stress and anxiety.
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

How to make your grocery haul last longer

After you went on your grocery haul, it is essential to make sure that none of it goes to waste. Food waste is not only really bad for the environment, it will make your groceries last for a shorter time – which means you have to go out again and risk infection. Here is some advice to minimize your food waste:

  • Make sure that you store your fresh food correctly. Use the different temperature zones in the fridge!
  • Use containers for loose foods and leftovers. If possible, use clear containers so that you can easily see what you still have there.
  • Order it inside the fridge so that you use the oldest things first.
  • Don’t rely on “Best before” dates, try and taste it – it might still be good, even if its over its date!
  • Make sure to eat the things first that will spoil easiest. Check your fridge regularly to make sure nothing goes bad undetected!

With all of this advice, you can make it though a longer period of time without any grocery shopping trips. Still, you should go out every once in a while (only if you are still allowed, of course!) to get some fresh air and movement. But please make sure to keep a distance and to watch the hygiene regulations like watching your hands! Especially right now, running helps me to remain sane and gives me some precious alone time. I am sure it will help others, too!

How are you holding up? Do you have advice and tips to stay in a good mood? Share in the comment section or on social media! And most of all, stay healthy!

Don't be a hamster - shop responsibly!

4 reasons why Social Distancing is our biggest chance to limit the spread of the COVID-19 Corona virus

These are strange times. The Corona virus causing COVID-19 still has a tight grip on Europe and starts spreading now also in the United States. Normal life has ceased to exist: Most public places are shut down and many countries have curfews in place. This forced or voluntary Social Distancing it supposed to limit the spread of the virus and hopefully its victims. But how does that work? Here are 4 reasons why we need to keep a distance right now:

Reason 1: We need to flatten the curve

Those graphs showing the curve of Corona virus cases and the healthcare system capacity are all over the internet: The idea is that we need to keep the number of people affected at the same time as low as possible. Otherwise, we will have more sick people than we can treat simultaneously – and without treatment, the likelihood of recovery is much lower. More people will not survive.

Reports from the current situation in Italy show us what it looks like if there are more sick people than can be treated: Medical personnel work until exhaustion and still can’t save everyone. Looking at the case numbers and numbers of beds in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in Italy demonstrates nicely what is happening:

The number of ICU hospital beds is much lower than the number of affected persons in Italy right now. Sure, not everyone needs a hospital bed: We know from China that the disease has a mild progression for 81 % of cases [3], which means 4 of 5 people infected will not need as much medical care. But for those remaining 19 %, intensive care is absolutely necessary to raise their chance of survival. And as of today, in Italy there are 6 times more people sick than there are beds in intensive care units in hospitals – which means there are much more people that need intensive care than the capacity of hospitals can provide.

In Germany, we have a different starting point: Compared to other European counties, we have the highest number of beds in intensive care units per capita [1], which gives us a better chance in this situation. The disease also started here a bit later, so that we are a little behind in the curve:

Because of this, we currently are still able to provide sufficient medical care to those who really need it right now. This is why we have a much lower death rate in Germany compared to Italy at this point:

In Italy the curve wasn’t flattened enough, which is why we have a much worse death rate there.

Still we see an exponential increase in the number of cases in Germany right now: The slope of the curve is frighteningly high. If we don’t decrease the spread of the virus, we will reach the same situation that we are having in Italy, just a little later in time. The graph for Italy would have looked like this one for Germany only a few weeks ago – it is just shifted in time! This is why we need Social Distancing, and we need it right now!

Reason 2: We need time to find the right treatment

The SARS-CoV- 2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease is a new version of a known group of viruses: The Corona viruses which cause respiratory infections in humans. Other members of the family already caused the SARS pandemia in 2002-2003 or the common cold everywhere and all the time.

Because this exact version of the Corona virus is new, we don’t have any antiviral treatment against it yet [5]. The only thing hospitals and doctors can do right now it try to relieve the symptoms of affected persons and tread other diseases and side effects. This treatment includes painkillers, rest and oxygen therapy [6]. Some other antiviral medication is being tested right now [7], but so far there is not enough data to show they are effective. And due to regulations, it is not possible to test every option without medical trials. Often there are unwanted side effects that can be just as critical.

As time progresses, we will obtain more data and can finish clinical trials of new medications. Therefore, the treatment options will improve over time and thereby chance of survival will increase.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Reason 3: We need time to develop a vaccine

Viruses such as this Corona virus can’t just be eliminated. Just like with any virus causing the common cold, they are around us and will spread if they find a host that they use to multiply their numbers and spread to new hosts.

Vaccines are the only way to prevent further infections for a community. Once we have reached sufficient immunization inside a community, viruses can’t find new hosts because vaccinated humans will be able to fight the virus and stop its spread. With no more hosts to infect, the virus will not be able to multiply anymore. Less and less people will get sick. The thread will be gone for the community.

For the current SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, we don’t have a vaccine yet because – just like why we don’t have a treatment yet – it is new to us. Therefore we also need time to develop this. Until we have a vaccine, there is no other protection against infection other than Social Distancing, washing your hands regularly and other hygiene advice.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Reason 4: We need to save those in risk groups

Many of us don’t see a thread in this Corona virus: As young, healthy people without any history of illness, it is hard to imagine that this virus might affect us. And indeed the experience in China tells us that 80 % of deaths from COVID-19 were 60 years or older [3]. But that does not mean that young people can’t get sick – they are just not as likely to die. Most importantly, as young and healthy people we should stay inside to limit the spread of the virus: Even if we ourselves don’t get sick, we can spread the virus among others. And those others might be seriously affected by it.

In these troubling times, our best option for all of us to help the community cope with the situation is to #StayHomeSaveLives. Get in touch with friends and family by phone or video call, let them know you are okay and help them through this. We are in this together and we need to make sure that we give everyone fighting out there the best chance of success: Those medical workers fighting for lives, the scientists working on treatments or vaccines and every person sick or in a risk group.

How are you holding up? Are you working from home? How is the virus affecting you and your life? Let us know in the comment section or get in touch! Be safe, everyone!

References:
[1] https://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-012-2627-8
[2] https://github.com/CSSEGISandData/COVID-19
[3] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm
[4] https://de.statista.com/infografik/21122/anzahl-der-betten-zur-intensivmedizinischen-versorgung-in-deutschland/
[5] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20479976
[6] https://www.who.int/publications-detail/clinical-management-of-severe-acute-respiratory-infection-when-novel-coronavirus-(ncov)-infection-is-suspected
[7] https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/988648/COVID-19-Drug-Therapy_Mar-2020.pdf


Why normal soap kicks hand sanitizer’s butt when it comes to the Corona virus

With the Corona virus COVID-19 spreading and disinfection issues being on everybody’s mind, hand sanitizers have been selling out first. And if you manage to find some in the market, it will be for hilarious prices. Looking at science tells us that this is unnecessary: The best weapon against the virus is normal soap! Here is why:

How viruses spread

The Corona virus spreads via droplet infection – Whenever an infected person coughs or sneezes, the droplets distributed will contain viruses which can affect others. Measurements have shown that a normal sneeze will spread droplets over a distance of 0.6 meters and drops travel at speeds of 4.5 meters per second [1]!

This is why it is important to keep a distance: You never know if the person next to you is infected and when they are going to sneeze. If you keep a meter between you and others, it will lower your risk to breathe in what others sneezed or coughed!

When these droplets reach a surface, they will be able to “survive” on that (or remain active, because we don’t consider viruses to be alive). Even if the drop dried out, the virus can remain active for a while. For the Corona virus it is not conclusively known yet how long it does survive on surfaces [2], but there is much speculation going on out there.

Why soap is the best weapon against the corona virus! COVID-19
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

How long depends also on the kind of surface: On rough surfaces it is much easier to stick for the virus, while it can’t attach that well to flat surfaces. Molecular interactions also play an important role: Viruses won’t interact much with steel, porcelain or teflon and therefore are detached much easier [3]. To skin however, viruses attach strongly [3] – and this is why they spread so well among humans.

The composition of our skin makes a very favorable environment for viruses to stick to due to its molecular composition. So whenever we touch e.g. a steel surface with a virus on it with our hand, it will easily detach from the unfavorable metal surface and stick to our skin. Once we now touch our face, it can reach our airways and mucous membranes – which will lead to infection if your immune system can’t cope with it.

Whenever you touch a contaminated surface, the virus is likely to stick to your skin. Therefore is is important to clean your hands regularly and avoid touching your face! Try to avoid places with a high people throughput such as public transport and try not to touch anything unnecessarily.

How washing hands can save us from infection

If it is only on our hands, we still have a good chance to get that virus off before it can infect us. Normal water can help to detach the virus, but soap is much more effective: Just like normal dirt, virus can be removed better with soap due to its molecular structure. Soap molecules are able to enclose dirt (and with it, also the virus) and make it soluble in water. Only then can it me removed easily with some water.

How soap removes dirt and the corona virus from skin
How soap removes dirt and viruses: Soap molecules have a side soluble in fat, which sticks to contaminants such as dirt, and a water-soluble side shown here with blue balls. By covering the dirt (in which the virus sticks to our skin) with the water soluable shell, the dirt and virus organisms can easily be removed with water.

Furthermore, soap not only helps to remove the virus, it is also able to make it inactive: The so-called surfactant molecules in soap are able to break apart the outer shell of the virus because these are not as strongly bound [3]. Therefore, soap not only removed the virus from our skin, it also eliminates the thread!

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water – but make sure to scrub for some time so that you get it all off! Contaminated dirt can remain in wrinkles and grooves of your skin. It takes some scrubbing and soaking to make sure everything is gone.

Why hand sanitizer is no match for soap

Disinfecting your hands with disinfectants is not as effective as washing your hands: To match with washing your hands in soap, the disinfectant needs to make all virus organisms inactive instantly on your hands. Since you are not able to wash of anything with the disinfectant, you rely on its effect to inactivate the virus.

Commercially available disinfectants are usually alcohol based and are able to dissolve the outer membrane of the virus – making it inactive – but only in a high enough concentration [3]. Normal alcohol (e.g. vodka) contains only 40 % of ethanol which is not enough. Therefore many disinfectants also have some soap in it to increase its effectiveness. Antibacterial substances won’t help as they don’t work on viruses.

Because of its double effectiveness by removing and eliminating the virus, washing hands in soap is therefore more advisable than using disinfectants. If you don’t have the chance, hand sanitizers are a good backup.

Public hand sanitizers often are less sanitary e.g. if you need to open a bottle to use it. This might actually increase your chance of infection!

The good thing about this: We don’t have to buy disinfectant for those ridiculous prices right now, normal soap is much more inexpensive and works even better!

The 6 basic life hacks to limit the spread of the virus

While there is no reason to panic, this is a good time to adjust our behavior to help limit the spreading of this virus:

  • Avoid crowds and gatherings. Whenever you can, it is advisable to keep a meter distance to others to limit your chance of infection! Home office is advisable whenever possible. Try to avoid all unnecessary trips outside.
  • Try not to touch things in public spaces if unnecessary.
  • If possible, avoid public transport – this might be a great time to go by bike!
  • Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands regularly and intensely with soap.
  • If you are unable to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. Whenever possible, choose soap over disinfectant!

By the way, of course I am not a virologist. But I am a surface scientist. My advise here is based on scientific facts I know from my education or articles I found by renowned scientists. Please don’t listen to “facts” from unknown sources on social media, there is a lot of fake news out there!

How is the virus affecting you? Are you in quarantine or working from home? Do you have other tips to share? Let us know in the comment section and please – stay safe!

References:
[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23560060
[2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center#Prevention
[3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/deadly-viruses-are-no-match-for-plain-old-soap-heres-the-science-behind-it-2020-03-08

5 reasons why I stopped eating bread

In German, we have a nice word for supper: Abendbrot. It translates to “evening bread” and indicated what most of us eat for supper.

Most of my life, I have been eating bread for dinner: When growing up as a kid in my family home we had bread almost every night. As a young adult studying at the University and living on my own for the first time, I ate bread because I was (and still am!) a terrible cook. After moving in with my SO we also had bread most of the nights for many years.

Bread on the table with eggs and milk.
Photo by Hüseyin on Unsplash

Ever since moving out of my family home, I stopped eating breakfast because I am not a morning person. Eating that early never felt good and I used this as an easy way to quit some calories. But in the evening, bread was a welcome and easy-to-make dinner. Quickly prepared and a nice and social way to spend the early evening: Eating and preparing your sandwich.

Usually, I would buy some bread on my way home from work from a local bakery. It tasted great, you might know that we Germans are famous (and picky!) for our bread. Together with all those choices of sweet or vegetable spreads, honey, cheese or cold cuts, to a German it never gets old to eat bread every night!

Pieces of bread with different toppings
Photo by Ola Mishchenko on Unsplash

Eventually, two years ago, we had a special January-Challenge: We wanted to see if we could live on a really tight budget. During this challenge we had to quit eating bread because of the cost and the amount of leftovers we had to throw away on a daily basis: Leftover bread that turned to hard to enjoy anymore. Cheese that had gotten moldy. Cold cuts or spreads that turned bad. By having many options to eat our bread with, we managed to cause much more food waste!

During that month we had to budget our money for food and had to schedule when to eat what. Bread simply didn’t allow us with the options we wanted on this tight budget. After a full month of cooking simple vegetable based meals every night, we never went back to eating bread. Here is why:

The TOP 5 why I don’t eat bread anymore

  1. Even under best storage conditions, bread gets dry after the first day. In my experience, it is never as enjoyable anymore than on the first day. When living in a small household, it is really hard to eat it fast enough!
  2. If you eat bread on a daily basis, you want to have different options to have some variety. This means buying many different spreads, cheeses, cuts or marmalades, all of which cause packaging waste and might also go bad before you finish them – creating food waste especially in a small household!
  3. To avoid food waste, I used to eat more than I actually wanted to eat – just to not have to throw away that last piece of cheese or slice of bread. With our cooked dinners it is much easier to cook the right amount or take leftovers to work on the next day.
  4. When living on a tight budget, eating seasonal vegetables instead of bread is cheaper.
  5. With the reduction of carbs after quitting bread for dinner, I managed to loose weight without any hunger. For most people carbs in the evening are to be avoided because we don’t get to burn them during the night – but the science still is not sure whether this is a general trend or depends on the person. For sure, our new vegetable based dinner is healthier than the way we used to eat before!

For our small household, the change from bread to vegetable based dinners made a huge difference: We now save money, make a ton less food and packaging waste and enjoy delicious and healthy meals each night! I still enjoy having bread every once in a while (e.g. for breakfast on the weekend), but I never looked back to this new form of our daily diet.

Do you eat bread daily? What do you do to avoid food and packaging waste? Share your experience!

Buying local food – why, when and how?

What and how we eat has a huge influence not only on our bodies, but also on our climate and our environment. We can easily watch how eating the wrong food changes our body and makes us sick. But we don’t see so easily what other effects this might have – like the emission of greenhouse gases during long transports!

Why should I eat local?

Buying food locally has significant advantages:

  • It is more sustainable because of the lower transport efforts, which cause lower emission of CO2 (and equivalent). Buying local food therefore enables you to also lower your personal CO2 footprint!
  • As vitamins degrade over time, local food has a higher nutrient and vitamin content. The transport time is much lower and therefore your food is more fresh!
  • Usually, the quality is overall much better. Fruit and vegetables also loose water during transport and therefore will not taste as well anymore.
  • Also, it supports your local community. Farmers are struggling with supermarkets and discounters not paying well for their produce because of the price pressure. Buying local takes those intermediate dealers out of the equation so that the farmers can get a fair price!
fresh vegetables on a farmers market. Eating local is essential for a sustainable lifestyle!
Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

When should I eat what?

Eating local foods also means eating what is available for you at that time of the year – eating seasonal! If you want to eat melons all year long, you will not be able to find them locally in the mid of winter (unless you live in the right climate!). Most of the fruit and vegetables are always available for us in the supermarket because they have been imported from far, far away. This is not local nor is it sustainable – or even necessary!

There is always fresh local fruit and vegetables available, it might just be something different that what you usually eat. For this time a year in Germany, carrots, kale, savoy cabbage or apples can be locally sourced. Not all of them are freshly produced, but under the correct storage conditions they can be provided without long transport time and in good quality.

Depending on where you live, there are loads of resources online about what kind of foods are seasonal in your area – for Germany e.g. this Saisonkalender from https://www.regional-saisonal.de/ or this one in English for the UK.

And by the way, eating what is seasonal not only lowers your environmental footprint, it usually also is much cheaper and therefore saves you money!

Vegetables in the supermarkt are not always local!
Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

How can I source my food locally?

Buying local food is not always as easy as it sounds. Supermarkets have already reacted to the trend of “regional food” and label everything regional even if it was transported over hundreds of kilometers. In Germany, the label “regional” is not protected! This means every supermarket can have their own definition of “regional”, which might cover all of Europe.

A first approach to handle this was conducted by the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture with the “Regionalfenster” which is used to openly show where the food was produced and processed. Sadly this label is not mandatory, but it gives the buyer some guidance – much more than any Supermarket-own “regional” label!

The "Regionalfenster" showing where food has been produced and processed.

To be really sure that the food was grown locally, there are a few other options:

  • Many farmers, especially those close to cities, have their own farm store. This is perfect because this way you have little to no transport (only your own drive to the store!), very fresh food and the highest support possible for the farmer!
  • In many areas, one can buy a subscription for a so-called “Biokiste” or “Grüne Kiste”. This translate roughly to organic box and that is also what it means: You get a box full of seasonal, fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to your front door. This is a fantastic option because the produce is organic, too!
  • At local farmer’s markets, you can often buy food directly from the producer. Of course there is still no guarantee that everything on a farmer’s market is local, but especially for vegetables and fruit you have very good chances. Local markets usually are on the same day every week and in bigger towns you will have several options, also on Saturdays! On www.wochenmarkt-deutschland.de you can find the opening hours of a huge number of markets!
  • If you have a small garden or balcony, you can grow your own food! That way not only do you get fresh, local food – you also have perfect control over how this food was treated! Even if you don’t have your own garden, you might join a community garden or urban gardening group – there are many options!

How do you make sure your food is local? Do you know any other tips? Comment here or on social media, share and like!

soil in a garden - growing your own vegetables is a very good option for local food
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash