WHILE I DO HAVE HOPE that 2021 will be a better year than 2020, I can’t help but look back on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in various ways. As a dietitian and fitness fanatic, I’ve seen firsthand the toll it’s taken on the eating (and drinking) habits of my friends and family.
While sales of self-rising yeast (hello, homemade bread), cookies and Campari soared, I’ve also noticed that several healthier trends emerged as well.
If you’re looking to adopt healthy habits in the new year, consider adding these five wellness practices to your list of 2021 goals:
- Immune-boosting foods and behaviors.
- At-home fitness apps and gear.
- Healthier freezer finds.
- Kitchen confidence.
- Sleep enhancers.
Immune-Boosting Foods and Behaviors
Trying to fend off contracting a potentially fatal virus has more individuals seeking immune-boosting foods. While you need to steer clear of the gimmicks, scams and misinformation that abound on the internet and social media about boosting immunity with specific products like apple cider vinegar or detoxifying drinks, some foods and nutrients have more solid science to suggest that a healthy diet coupled with adequate sleep can help keep your immune system functioning optimally.
Foods to add include vitamin C-rich choices like citrus – oranges, grapefruit and 100% orange juice – which have been flying off shelves since the onset of the pandemic. According to the latest data from Sunkist, more than 50% of shoppers buying citrus are doing so in order to boost their vitamin C intake.
On a similar note, MyFitnessPal reported that orange juice was logged into food records 30% more frequently than last year. And there’s a good reason to drink or snack on these juicy foods: Citrus fruits contain the polyphenol hesperidin, a type of plant pigment that has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and vitamin C has long been shown to have immune health benefits.
Other vital nutrients that can supercharge your immune system include probiotics – found in nonfat plain Greek yogurt, kefir and fermented foods and have been shown to improve gut health – and vitamin D (otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin).The best food sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, fatty fish and some mushrooms, as well as vitamin-D enriched foods and beverages, like milk, some breakfast cereals and 100% OJ.
At-Home Fitness Apps and Gear
With gyms all but shuttered for most of 2020, it’s not surprising that home fitness is one of the hottest trends that will likely continue into 2021. MyFitnessPal’s year-end survey revealed that high-intensity-interval training was the most logged activity, while swimming, spinning and other gym- and group-based activities were down significantly year-over year.
Health-conscious individuals have been using Apple Fitness Plus, Daily Burn, Peloton and other streaming fitness apps. As far as the trending home exercise equipment, indoor rowers, dumb bells, resistance bands and weighted jump ropes came out on top.
Now here’s the good news: The technology that’s bringing world-class coaches and the gym experience to your home appears to be helping to motivate more people to work out and crush their health and fitness goals. As a CrossFitter, I’ve had to adapt to lots of body-weight HIIT workouts for the past nine months.
Healthier Freezer Finds
Shoppers are raiding the supermarket freezers as they load up frozen fruits and veggies, plant-based burgers, perogies, pizza, poultry, seafood and side dishes, according to research by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.
In fact, sales of frozen fruit and veggies are outpacing sales of fresh, as more homebound shoppers turned to frozen foods for their added convenience, affordability, longer shelf-life and healthfulness. And here’s a noteworthy stat: MyFitnessPal reported that frozen spinach and frozen pineapple were included in more food diaries in 2020 compared to 2019, where frozen spinach was up 76% and frozen pineapple increased by a whopping 275%!
Now this is a promising trend because studies consistently show that frozen foods are nutritionally on-par (or even better!) than their fresh counterparts. And having plenty of fruits and veggies in the freezer means that you always have produce on hand to make preparing plant-forward meals and snacks a cinch.
As the pandemic put the kibosh on dining out, more Americans started making their own meals – and many of them plan on continuing to do so once the pandemic is over. What’s more, according to “The Wall Street Journal,” revenue in the meal kit service sector from players like HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Home Chef nearly doubled in 2020.
Plus, polls show that consumers say their kitchen confidence has soared over the last nine months. There are multiple perks of enjoying more home-cooked meals. Generally speaking, these dishes tend to be lower in total calories, saturated fat and added sugars compared to meals prepared outside of the home, along with being less expensive. That’s a win-win in my house.
Without any reason to be out into the late hours, many people have started putting a higher priority on optimizing their sleep and bedtime rituals. Research has shown that improving sleep quality can help boost your body’s immune system. Furthermore, one timely study found that flu shots were more effective among individuals who got a solid night of shut-eye on a regular basis.
If you’re hoping to catch more zzz’s in 2021, consider following a few sleep hygiene strategies. For example:
- Avoid drinking alcohol in the evening.
- Consume functional foods and beverages that promote sleep (such as Driftwell, a nighttime beverage from PepsiCo that provides L-theanine and magnesium to help you relax and unwind before bed) or take an OTC melatonin or CBD-infused products designed to improve sleep. (The author has no ties to these products.)
- Also, try drifting off while listening to a relaxation app and lying in a dark bedroom using evidence-based sleep enhancing products, like pillows and mattresses designed for your weight and preferred sleep position or a cozy weighted blanket.