Scottish Cancer Prevention Network | Putting Prevention First

Food and Nutrition – during a pandemic

Eating well

Good nutritional intake is important for supporting good immune function1 and overall health but shopping restrictions may cause dietary considerations to fall down people’s list of priorities at this time, especially if familiar foods have disappeared from supermarket shelves. The important thing is to eat and drink regularly, even if our meals and snacks look somewhat different, and focus on caring for ourselves, families and neighbours.

  • Keep meals simple. Base them on starchy carbohydrates (wholegrain where possible), vegetables, and a source of protein. Try to have as much variety as you can with what is available
  • Avoid bulk buying where possible as this can lead to short term food shortages and waste
  • Try batch-cooking meals and storing them in the fridge or freezer for a speedy lunch or dinner the next day

The sun is not yet strong enough to help our bodies make enough vitamin D. Since we are not outside for long periods of time, it would be an idea to take a vitamin D supplement. The Scottish Government recommends that we all take a 10μg/d supplement daily. Look out for vitamin D3 supplements in supermarkets or pharmacies and take alongside a main meal.

Anxiety, stress or boredom can tempt us to reach for sugary, fatty and or salty comfort foods. Eating comfort foods is understandable but it is best to keep an eye on the volume and frequency of what we are eating (and drinking!)

Tips for eating differently

Porridge oats make a great breakfast option and are very versatile. From traditional porridge to overnight oats or simple muesli, oats can be eaten hot or cold. Experiment with flavours by adding different fruits, spices, cocoa powder, nuts, nut butters, and even grated carrot or by using mashed banana to sweeten instead of sugar or honey.

Short on bread? Try Ryvita, crackerbread, pitas, wraps or oatcakes. If flour is available, you could try making simple soda bread, rolls or scones.

Are pasta shelves bare? Rice or noodles make a good alternative and can also be used in soups, stir-fries, curries and stews. One cup of uncooked pasta/rice is enough for one to two people.

Potatoes (and sweet potatoes) have a relatively long shelf life. Microwaved baked potatoes can be almost as quick as pasta to prepare and can be a good main meal if toppings are added, such as low-fat cheese, beans and salads.

No passata, tomato puree or pasta sauces? Try a can of tomato soup for pasta instead. Adding mushrooms and onions to a can of mushroom soup makes a tasty stroganoff-style sauce for pasta or rice.

No milk? Try cow’s milk alternatives like soya, oat, coconut, rice or almond. Try looking on supermarket shelves for long-life UHT milk or skimmed milk powder.

Almost all fresh veg can be turned into salads, soups and casseroles. Try grating fruit and veg such as carrot, apple and cucumber for adding as a side.

If fresh meat options are limited, make use of tinned or dried beans, pulses or lentils as an alternate protein source in your main meals. Make your meat go further by using half meat/half beans/pulses or lentils. Batch cook and freeze a few portions for later use. Thick soups and stews can be tasty comfort foods.

Tinned fish such as tuna, salmon or mackerel are also a versatile alternative to fresh or frozen fish. They can be added to pasta or rice dishes or used to make a good toping for toast or baked potato. Mix a tablespoon of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice for a tasty fish dressing.

Try looking in the international sections in the supermarket for Polish, Chinese and Thai versions of your favourite foods.


Fresh, dried, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables all count toward your 5-a-day. Fresh fruit and veg can be chopped and frozen for snacking and cooking. Prepare in advance so that they’re on hand whenever you’re tempted to snack. Be mindful that canned fruit can be high in sugar – it’s always good to read labels. Dried fruit such as apricots make handy snacks anywhere and can be eaten on their own or added to yoghurts or cereal for adding natural sweetness.

Wholegrain cereals and low-salt popcorn make a great bedtime snack, while peanut, almond or cashew butters are a good source of protein and healthy fats that can be enjoyed as a topping on crackers, oatcakes, toast or porridge or as a dip for fruit and vegetable sticks.

A small handful of unsalted nuts or seeds also make a good snack. Unsalted nuts can be a little pricey but they have a relatively long shelf life and are very versatile.  A small handful can be enjoyed once a day with some fruit as a snack, added to breakfast cereal, salads, stir-fries or curries to add some extra flavour and crunch to your meals.

Try putting crisps, biscuits and confectionery into small container boxes to control portion sizes. It’s really easy to keep eating more out of the packet.


It can be easy to forget to drink fluids – keep a glass of water next to your desk to keep hydrated.

If you drink alcohol it’s a good idea to try and keep track of how much you’re having. It’s easy to pour bigger measures or drink more without meaning to. Try to stick to the low-risk guidelines of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. 14 units of alcohol are 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine, based on average strengths. Try to have alcohol-free days and use soda or lemonade to make wine spritzers or buy alcohol-free beer.

1Childs et al. Nutrients, 2019;11(8):1933, doi:10.3390/nu11081933

Images: Unsplash

Changes in the cancer landscape – a window to the future?

The latest report from Public Health Scotland on cancer incidence indicates more evidence for the benefits of early diagnosis and improved treatments but also shows upward trends in incidence of several major lifestyle related cancers. It is so easy to point to an ageing population and longer lives as reasons for greater number of cases but we also need to think of lifestyle related cancers that are increasing at a younger age (e.g. colorectal cancer).  It is also notable that the risk of cancer diagnosis is higher in females aged 25 to 59 and higher in males aged over 60.

Continue reading “Changes in the cancer landscape – a window to the future?”

Wellbeing – Looking after yourself during a pandemic

Living life

When we juggle studies, work, childcare, finances, and now social distancing measures, it is easy to forget about looking after ourselves. Given the current situation, it is important that we use this time to focus on self-care activities like eating well and being active.

Continue reading “Wellbeing – Looking after yourself during a pandemic”

Your Wellbeing during Lockdown

So here we are… COVID-19 Lockdown, Scotland, 2020

It feels strange to have not mentioned the ‘C’ word for a wee while but two things have always been at the forefront of our focus at SCPN; health and prevention. So for the month of May we will be focusing on another C word and will be offering tips and ideas on how to best navigate this #NewNormal and make sure we are putting our health first during COVID-19.

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A New Normal – Nutrition

As we enter our sixth week of lockdown in Scotland, we are now beginning to get used to our new normal way of living. We all now have new routines; routines that are structuring our days spent at home. Enjoying our time outside is important, with some people starting off their day with a refreshing walk or cycle, some taking up challenges such as Couch to 5k or yoga to wind down in the evenings. All this ‘free’ time for exercise is no doubt beneficial for both our mind and body, but naturally as a Registered Nutritionist my focus always turns to food. 

Continue reading “A New Normal – Nutrition”

Drinking during lockdown? – Alcohol and Coronavirus

How are you doing?… We are probably all feeling more stressed than usual.  As SeeMe, the mental health campaign, says: it’s okay to not be okay.  These are truly difficult times.  Like me, you may have lost someone you know to the virus, missed sharing a special occasion with family, or maybe finding it difficult to adjust to living within the confines of your home.  Perhaps you are a key worker, keeping the country going with essential supplies, bravery and care.  All of us need to take good care of ourselves and those around us, and to find ways of managing these new, intense pressures.

Continue reading “Drinking during lockdown? – Alcohol and Coronavirus”

Medicine Now – learning for the future

This is a very important contribution from Dr Koula Christou one of our newest doctors. When I was a student in the ‘70s, disease prevention hardly figured at all in the curriculum.  Nothing much has changed, but reading this, it is clear that the current pandemic is an opportunity to emphasise the primacy of prevention to keep the population healthy.  When the current crisis has passed, we will return to focusing on the crisis of preventable cancer, and it would be good to think that the new generation of doctors will put the same energy into this as they are with tackling COVID-19. –  Professor Bob Steele

Continue reading “Medicine Now – learning for the future”

Physical activity from home #thenewnormal

While the ‘stay at home and work at home if you can’ restrictions imposed by Government apply – we have to think of new ways of doing some daily activity.  The need for daily activity has been emphasised by the prime minister and the Chief Medical Officers and it is clear that when we are confined to our homes and daily travel routines are removed we will probably have a lot less everyday activity and more sedentary time.  This little blog is aimed at helping you find some activity to do that keeps the body health and the mind alert.

There are at least two groups that each of us  might fall into.

Continue reading “Physical activity from home #thenewnormal”

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) home test kits​ – caveat emptor!

There has been immense publicity in the last few days that one million home testing kits for coronavirus could be sent out in a matter of weeks. These kits are based upon the analysis of a small sample of blood, taken by finger prick, to detect the immunoglobulins IgM and IgG, antibodies that arise some time after symptoms appear. So, because the tests are detecting the immune response and not the virus itself, they inform if a person has had the condition, if indeed there is a period of immunity after having contracted the disease.  It might be, then, that those who have had the virus could return to their normal routines. 

Continue reading “COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) home test kits​ – caveat emptor!”

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