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Keeping healthy at home under quarantine

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 3/25/2020 PATRICIA B. GATBONTON, MD
a group of people sitting at a fruit stand © Provided by The Manila Times

Since the government’s enforcement of enhanced community quarantine on March 16, 2020, the Philippines has joined an increasing number of countries in partial or complete lockdown, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.

As a physician, I was exempt from leaving my house to continue to deliver healthcare in the tertiary private hospital where I work. I sped down Quezon Avenue at 70 kilometers per hour, and got to work, 8 kilometers away, in 10 minutes. I needed to know that I was doing my share and contributing to the efforts alongside my colleagues.

That was until yesterday, when my infectious disease colleague ordered me home. I am now on Day 1 of self-quarantine as a person under monitoring (PUM) myself, until our patient’s test results are out.

The last time I took two weeks off was to recuperate from surgery last year. Before that, I took eight days to attend a medical convention with an extra few days with friends in New York. With the prospect of staying at home for the next two weeks looming, what can we do to keep ourselves healthy in body, mind and spirit?

Individuals in involuntary confinement risk cabin fever, which Wikipedia defines as “a claustrophobic reaction, manifested as extreme irritability and restlessness, that takes place when a person or group ends up in an isolated or solitary location, or stuck indoors in confined quarters for an extended period of time. (Also called stir-crazy, from the use of stir to mean ‘prison’).”

To avoid going stir-crazy, consider these tips: Adopt TLC: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.

Face the facts: lifestyle diseases — hypertension, obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, coronary and cerebral artery disease, and abnormal cholesterol levels — are hazards of living in this millennium.

Nowadays, food is fast, if not nutritious, and dinner is a phone call or a few minutes in the microwave away.

Genes do play a role, and we have no choice in our parents. But our lifestyles put us all at risk. Until science can modify gene expression, our only option is to adopt TLC to at best, prevent, and at worst, delay the onset of these diseases.

TLC involves diet modification, weight control, increased physical activity and stopping smoking.

Healthy options

After the community quarantine announcement, droves of people stockpiled food: tins of meat, soup, fish and dried produce, bread, grains and pasta, and milk. In Manila, instead of a toilet paper shortage, stores ran out of Spam, corned beef, hotdogs, chicken nuggets, hamburger patties, canned sardines and tuna, and instant ramen noodles.

Not the healthiest of options, Pilipinas.

Also, though we cannot dine in, many restaurants remain open for take-out and delivery. Relying on these providers for our meals is impractical, expensive and downright bad for you.

What should we have on hand to boost our immune systems and keep us healthy?

To guide us, the Philippine Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) has published daily and weekly guidelines for nutritionally adequate meals for children, adolescents, adults and older adults on its website.

In association with the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (Pasoo), the FNRI also now promotes “Pinggang Pinoy,” for specific population groups, available on the Department of Health website.


The FNRI recommends 2 to 3 servings of fruit a day. Apples, green banana, citrus, unripe avocado and pineapples have a long shelf life. Eat mangoes and melons straight away or puree them and freeze for later use. Frozen fruit is better than canned; if used; rinse off to remove excess sugar. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices; you get more fiber and nutrients for less calories.


The FNRI also recommends 2 to 3 servings per day of vegetables. Fresh vegetables with long shelf lives include cabbages, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, ampalaya, string beans, squash and gourd (upo). Use green leafy vegetables first, or refresh them by keeping lettuce, pechay, kangkong and other shoots upright in a pitcher with enough water to cover their roots. Steam, roast or quickly stir fry for maximum flavor and nutrition.

Flash frozen vegetables (broccoli, spinach, corn, peas) are preferred to canned since they retain nearly 100 percent of their nutrients. Best used in vegetable soups and put through a blender to eliminate need to add cream.


Prioritize lean fresh protein like chicken, lean pork and white fish, which you can grill, stir-fry, steam or bake. Canned or processed meats are less healthy, due to the high levels of salt and preservatives. When using canned fish, select those in brine or water over tuna, sardines or salmon in oil.

Alternative vegetarian protein sources include nuts, seeds, beans (mongo, chickpeas) and soy (tofu). Many grocery freezers also carry meat substitutes like mycoprotein (Quorn).


Rice is the staple grain that we eat at each meal and sometimes even in-between. Nothing like a cup (or two) of white steamed rice, or better yet, garlic-fried rice.

A close second would be the ubiquitous pandesal, and the Pinoy style sweetish sandwich bread.

Last are the different noodle options made from wheat, eggs, rice and mung bean.

Better choices available include brown rice, black rice, wheat bread and whole wheat pastas. Don’t forget root crops like the potato, sweet potato, cassava and yam, which the FNRI recommends we have 2 to 3 times a week.

Something to try is adlay — also called Chinese pearl barley, coix seed, Job’s tears —a heirloom grain, of the same family as rice and corn. Gluten free, with a lower glycemic index than brown rice, more affordable than quinoa, it is caloric, fat and protein dense, giving you more nutrition bang for your buck. It’s available online through the Hineleban store and also on Lazada.

Imported options include whole rolled oats (not instant oatmeal), various unsweeted cereals, quinoa, farro, barley and bulgar wheat. These may be difficult to find, other than health food and specialty food stores, and expensive.

Patricia B. Gatbonton, MD, is a practicing endocrinologist and former editor in chief of Health News Magazine of The Manila Times.

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