Dr Clare Bailey: My golden rules for staying healthy

Sadly, this is my last column as I feel that I should be spending more time doing my bit for the NHS, given the need for health workers in these exceptional times to combat COVID-19. Thank you for all the interesting, funny and poignant letters that you have sent me while I have been writing this column. I have read them all and wish I had been able to reply to them all as well.

Maite Franchi

I have covered a wide range of issues over the past two years, but there is one thing that I have returned to again and again, as it really matters – to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels. Raised blood sugars, along with raised blood pressure and high cholesterol, are all part of something called metabolic syndrome. And one of the things we know for certain is that metabolic syndrome is bad for your future health. It increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes – even your risk of being struck down by coronavirus.

So if there is a single thing I would recommend to maintain or enhance your health, it would be to avoid snacking and eat a lowish-carb Mediterranean-style diet. If you need to lose weight, consider 800-calorie fast days. That’s it. Even in these constrained times you can do it.

The temptation, though, when you’re feeling stressed (and who isn’t right now?) will be to slump in front of the Tv with comfort food and a box set. But doing this is likely to lead to a vicious cycle of weight gain, poor sleep and low mood. Instead, taking this opportunity to invest in your health and wellbeing will be time well spent.

I’ve been posting clips on my Instagram called Easy Food From The Stores, which are filmed in our kitchen with my in-house cameraman Michael Mosley. These are edited by my son Dan who has recovered from a bout of COVID-19, and is helping me produce easy healthy recipes on Instagram.

These are recipes made from food you might have in the freezer or jars, tins and dry foods such as rice, pasta, beans or lentils. If you can, try to include fermented food which will help keep your gut microbiome in good shape and that in turn will keep your immune system in fighting form. And with limited choices, I suggest alternatives too. All are based on a Med-style diet to keep you in good health while you’re confined to your home.

As for supplements, vitamin D is the one to think about taking. Most of us are already depleted over the winter and will continue to be while we remain housebound, as sunlight is the best source. We know that vitamin D plays a crucial role in the activation of the immune system defences and that being deficient may increase the risk of infection. Some studies have indicated that taking vitamin D may help protect against respiratory infections. Supplementing at a moderate dose of around 800-1,000 IU may be beneficial.

Finally, one more bit of advice – do find ways to keep active. Get out of your chair every half-hour and put the TV remote on the other side of the room, make the most of your allocated daily exercise outdoors, and go digital with one of the brilliant online exercise programmes available.

The cure-all on your bookshelf

To escape into another world, I am reading a wonderful novel called The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. It will delight the many fans of Jane Austen, particularly those who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice (like many, I have fond memories of Mr Darcy emerging dripping from the lake in the 1990s BBC adaptation). This takes up the story from the perspective of Mary, the plainest and most introverted of the five Bennet sisters.

There is something very comforting about reading a book that contains characters I am already familiar with. Having more than 650 pages and written by a respected historian, I’m sure it will provide many days – perhaps weeks! – of pleasure.

At times like this having periods of pure escapism, when you can shut out the real world and immerse yourself in a good book for a while, is a real lifesaver.

Stay well and do please pop over to Instagram if you want to stay in touch.