Panic buying at supermarkets around the globe has stoked fears of shortages of essential goods as the coronavirus pandemic has spread.
Kitchen staples such as rice and pasta have been swept off store shelves, while less nutritious processed and packaged foods have also been in low supply, leading some experts to suggest a rethinking of our buying habits.
When the outbreak began in Hong Kong nearly two months ago, desperate shoppers hoarded rice but also snapped up items such as instant noodles, tinned luncheon meat, frozen dumplings and dim sum.
Registered dietitian Joyce Chan Ho-yi of Tetra Nutritional Consultation Centre in Yau Ma Tei was one of the observers alarmed by this phenomenon. “At this critical time for immunity boosting, those foods may do more harm [than good],” she says.
Chan advises following general health food guidelines to bolster one’s health, which is to eat a diet low in sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
The items she saw selling out – such as frozen dumplings and dim sum – are highly processed foods often containing too much salt and fat.
“Read the ingredients. The contents are usually listed based on quantity from the highest to lowest, so if the first three or four ingredients are sugar, hydrogenated oil or other chemical-sounding names, you can assume that food is processed, so get rid of it from your cart,” she says.
The World Health Organisation’s recommended daily salt intake is no more than 5g daily. According to the American Heart Association, daily added sugar intake should be no more than 25g daily, Chan says.
She suggests prioritising purchases based on the five main food groups: meat, dairy, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits.
Instead of processed meats, she suggests buying lean meats such as skinless chicken, or healthier fish options with a long shelf life such as canned sardines and tuna. Choose those packed in olive oil or water so they do not have as much salt and sugar, she adds.
Hit the fresh produce aisles for nutritious items with a long shelf life, such as beetroot, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
“Those on a budget can get the canned versions,” says Chan, but check the labels for the sugar or salt content. “Canned legumes like chickpeas, lentils and mixed beans are low in fat and high in protein, fibre and minerals.”
Frozen vegetables and fruits are worth stocking, too. “Some studies have shown that supermarket produce of peas and broccoli versus frozen versions have more or less similar nutrient content, so fresh fruit and vegetables are not necessarily nutritionally superior to frozen versions,” she says.
Shima Shimizu, a Japanese chef and founder of Hong Kong health food retailer Foodcraft, suggests extending the shelf life of fresh produce by freezing them. Raw onions, for example, can be chopped and divided into portions before freezing. “If it’s carrots or broccoli, boil them first, then freeze them,” she says.
During the panic-buying phase in Hong Kong, Shimizu noticed shoppers heavily targeted meat and eggs. “Severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS] and now the coronavirus all started from animal protein … so why are you seeking the same thing?” she asks.
Shimizu usually eats a vegan diet but remains flexible to eating meat during family dining occasions. However, during this outbreak, she is decidedly more plant-based. “I don’t want to eat meat any more,” she says. Her shopping trolley items include legumes, tofu and Japanese natto (a fermented soybean food).
Try making her plant-based “pulled pork” burger, with added turmeric to enrich the meal and strengthen your immune system (details below).
Nutritious and delicious: Jackfruit turmeric rice burger
Ingredients for rice bun:
- 300g brown short grain glutinous rice
- 360ml filtered water
- ¼ tsp turmeric
Ingredients for barbecue sauce (or use your favourite barbecue sauce):
- 1½ cup ketchup
- ¾ cup apple cider
- ¼ cup coconut flower sugar
- ¼ cup Tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
- ½ tsp cinnamon powder.
- Ingredients for jackfruit centre:
- 300g young jackfruit in water
- 2 tbsp coconut flower sugar
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp natural salt
- ½ tsp long pepper powder (or Hibachi Pepper)
- ½ tsp Korean chilli pepper
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil.
1. Cook the rice in a rice cooker with the turmeric.
2. For the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a pan, bring to boil and reduce until it thickens (around three minutes). Let cool.
3. Remove jackfruit from can or jar. Drain off excess water. Rinse well. Remove core of the fruit then chop or mash for a “pulled pork” resemblance. In a bowl, combine remaining seasoning ingredients with chopped jackfruit and mix well. In a frying pan, add oil then cook the jackfruit mix until tender (around three minutes). Reduce heat to low then add ½ cup barbecue sauce. Cook for another five minutes.
4. Make rice patties from the cooked rice (use a round ring mould). Fry each rice patty for a minute each side. Finally, assemble the “burger” with your favourite fillings.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.