The Impact Of COVID-19 on Our Eating Habits

COVID-19 has impacted our daily lives in so many ways that healthy eating habits have fallen by the wayside for a lot of people. Even those who typically focus a great deal on health and nutrition are in many cases paying a little less attention to their diets. We simply have too many other things to be concerned with of late (and let’s be honest, we’ve all needed to indulge in a bit of comfort eating!).

This is all understandable. But it also makes it worthwhile to stop now and then consider just how all of this is changing our eating habits. COVID-19 has brought about some changes in this regard — some having to do with current habits, and others setting us up for changes in the future.

Eating More Sugar (While it’s Worse for Us)

We’ll begin with an unfortunate negative side effect of COVID-19, which is that it has led many people to turn to sugar. Now, to be fair, the sugar situation in our diets is a little bit more complex than it sometimes gets credit for. The idea that all sugar is simply bad is not accurate, and in fact nutritionists agree that some natural sugar is “part of a healthy diet for most people.” For the purposes of this discussion though, we’re referring to added sugars, which should be consumed in minimal amounts (less than 25 grams per day) if at all.

Unfortunately, it’s this sort of excess sugar that people are consuming more of during the pandemic. According to an examination of why sugar is worse for you during COVID-19, surveys have indicated that as many as 31% of us are changing dietary habits due to stress. Stress eating often leads to more sugar consumption, as sugary foods can be comforting. In act, there are even chemical and brain-related reasons we reach for sugar in times of stress. But this is a poor dietary habit, and potentially a very harmful one. Regarding why it’s particularly problematic during a pandemic, the bottom line is that sugar can lead to or exacerbate heart conditions, obesity, and type 2 diabetes — all of which put us at greater risk from COVID-19.

Increased Snacking

The notion that people are snacking more relates pretty directly to that of eating more sugar. We’re stressed out, we’re seeking small comforts, and snacks — even the non-sugary ones — can provide it. Furthermore, many of us are spending a lot more time at home than usual, which makes it extremely easy to sneak off to the pantry for a pretzel or a few handfuls of chips a few times a day. These, too, are poor habits. Disciplined, healthy snacking is possible, and when it’s not excessive it can be part of a healthy diet. But COVID-related snacking is more likely to revolve around comfort foods, which generally aren’t doing us many favors.

More Home Cooking

On a more positive note, the pandemic has also led to more home cooking and meal preparation. This can actually be a surprisingly difficult thing to prove, but in this case grocery and supply sales prove it. Early in the pandemic, from February to March, food retail jumped more than 25%. In April it was still 10% higher than it had been pre-pandemic. Additionally, kitchen supply stores have seen more sales in a clear indication that more people are cooking up their own meals and realizing a need for new equipment.

We should also note that sales of frozen food and snacks have also spiked noticeably, which means not all of this shopping is indicative of more cooking. But home meal preparation is undoubtedly up, and there is clearly a cooking component to this change. By and large, this should make for a healthy change.

A Shifting Focus Toward Food Trucks

A shifting focus toward food trucks is another change we’re starting to see now, as well as one that will likely continue into the post-pandemic days. Reports in recent months have indicated that restaurant owners are turning to food trucks as a means of serving customers while COVID-19 is still a major risk. The simple fact is that people are wary of eating in restaurants, and in some cases still prohibited from doing so. But food trucks can cater to these same customers with much less risk. As a result, many are slowly getting into the habit of patronizing food trucks when they might otherwise have gone to restaurants.

We also see this trend continuing simply because it offers a more affordable avenue for people in the restaurant business. Starting a food truck business has a low initial investment cost when compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant — and there’s also a greater profit margin. Given that restaurants have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic, these will likely prove to be irresistible benefits. Aspiring restaurant owners, struggling restaurant owners, and even those who have been driven out of business will all consider trying the food truck route. In the long run, this may mean that we’ll all get in the habit of simpler experiences dining out, potentially with more options.

More Strategic Shopping

The COVID-19 experience has also led us to shop more strategically, and this too may be a trend that sticks. The first indication of this was actually the focus on cleanliness. Recommendations to clean produce carefully and wipe down groceries in the early days of the pandemic took hold with many, and made us focus more on product quality and freshness. Following this, many also learned to plot out their grocery trips more carefully, given efforts to shop less frequently, and avoid actually going into stores when possible. Essentially, we have all been trained to wash produce, be mindful of quality, plan out our shopping needs, and buy only what we need.

This is not to say we won’t return to more wasteful or less quality-oriented habits. But this last change is one that should make us healthier and more sustainable food shoppers in the long term.

Written for by Jennifer Victoria 

Jennifer is a personal trainer and life coach operating out of the Bay Area. Her primary areas of expertise are physical fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, and motivation.

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