Nutrition In The Time of Covid 19
Nutrition is so important to our mental and physical wellbeing. It forms part of what I call the 3 pillars of health that make up a pyramidal shape (the strongest shape known to man). The pyramid falls down if one or more of the pillars are not strong. These pillars are “nutritional wellness”, “healthy movement” and “stress management”. If you can get a good routine going with regards to healthy eating, stress management and movement then you have a winning formula.
You don’t have to be the most chill, fittest and cleanest eater on the block but you can start making small achievable and sustainable changes that will help you through these tough times, and beyond.
Nutrition is important in almost every aspect of our wellness. It helps build our immune system, helps us make brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, helps with hormone production, cellular regeneration, weight and body composition management, and the list goes on.
I want to touch on mental and emotional wellness first as it ties in with nutritional wellness and with immunity. Even the most resilient of people will suffer some from of stress and anxiety at this time. Regarding our eating patterns stress can cause a loss of appetite or interest in food, but for some people can can lead to cravings and emotional eating.
Most of us are not necessarily very good at processing their emotions, so we end up turning to whatever offers instant gratification, and food is one of the easier of the so called numbing agents. Its knows that most emotions only last a couple of minutes, and if we just allow the emotion to pass over us like a wave instead of investing anxiety into it, we generally start to feel OK again. So when it comes to emotional eating the trick is to learn to sit with your emotions without reacting to them or investing in them. Finding healthier ways to distract and sooth are also essential to prevent food related coping mechanisms. Other self care activities could include a walk or yoga session in the garden, an exercise routine, a warm bath, calling a friend who makes you laugh, reading a book, meditating, doing your nails or putting some make up on… its doesn’t matter what it is… as long as it makes you feel good and is not negatively affecting your health.
Many people will complain that they are just craving things like sugar or bread. Cravings generally come from 2 places: a need to fill an emotional craving, which we just touched on or a physiological craving. Physiological cravings can be the result of nutritional factors like skipping meals, not getting enough nutrients like protein or magnesium for example. Also, the more of an addictive food, like sugar, we eat, the more we want. This is why having some form of structure to your meals and eating times will help prevent this on a physiological level.
This might be a bit technical but what a lot of people don’t realize is that stress and the act of eating all product hormonal responses. Stress primarily affects our adreno-cortico system and food affects our insulin response amongst other hormonal systems. The two also play up against each other. For example high levels of stress can affect our insulin sensitivity and ability to process food for energy. Over stimulation of insulin can affect our thyroid function or our reproductive hormone function for example.
Nutrition Stress and immunity
Stress is a very complex hormonal response that can mean different things for different people. Generally when we are stressed, we produce adrenalin, which prepares us for fight or flight. Our heart rate increases, our breathing speeds up and we are prepared for action. This is great when we are physically running away from danger but for the most part we don’t actually react to stress in a way that helps process adrenelin. We sit on our buts, answering calls, worrying, stuck in traffic etc. We then produce cortisol, another hormone that keeps us revved up until the threat is gone. Constant low level stress means continuous cortisol production. Cortisol itself can cause an increase in appetite, weight gain and has other negative health consequences related to our cardiovascular system as well as our brain chemicals. In order to prevent us from producing too many stress hormones we need to learn to self-sooth, so that the brain can get a message that there isn’t any real danger. Exercise is also a great way to reduce stress hormones as it creates an actual physical response to release the stress, it also helps us to produce endorphins which are feel good chemicals.
Diet and Immunity
When it comes to diet, there is no doubt that eating a healthier diet is better for our immune systems. Sugar and very high carbohydrate levels literally coat on white blood cells and can decrease their function. Eating plant foods (at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day) has consistently been shown to positively impact on immunity. Protein is also super important as it helps us to produce immune cells.. At present the main nutrients being researched for Covid, or respiratory infections in general are Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc. Although we don’t have data linking these nutrients to Covid directly as its still early days, based on previous research on colds and flu und respiratory infections in general its safe to say that these are the 3 most important nutrients.
Veggies are super important especially the main immune modulators and detoxifiers like Cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage) and dark green leafy vegetables, as well as orange veggies for beta carotene and our vitamin C rich foods that includes most fruit and veggies. Onions and garlic have a very specific link to immunity so try cook a lot with them. Ginger and turmeric also have immune modulating properties. Chop up some fresh ginger and turmeric and add it to your cooking or to hot water or tea for an immune boosting drink.
Some Practical Tips for LockDown and Beyond
Although lockdown is almost over the reality is that it will probably be extended and we might need to repeat lockdown and social distancing methods in the future. So we need to adapt to the changes.
Be stronger than your excuses. Sub-consciously we often set ourselves up for failure, as we don’t want to put the work in. We will use excuses of lack of funds, or too scared to go shopping or too lazy or upset to exercise etc. These are valid excuses but they are still just excuses.
Have a routine when it comes to exercise, meal prep nd down time. Make these a relative priority in your day
Don’t pressurize yourself into thinking you need to do some kind of change your life is 21 Days scenario. The main objectives here are to keep healthy and not to fall into bad habits,. Make small achievable goals and don’t feel like you have to change everything at once. For now eating breakfast or eating greens, having 2 fruits and day and upping your water and herbal tea intake might be all you focusing on and that’s ok. Celebrate the small victories.
Shop smart. No one wants to be running to the shops all the time. Make sure you are well stocked on pantry essentials (dried and tinned foods, oils etc.), and make more use of these then you would fresh foods during this time. Regarding fresh produce you will need to go for a fresh fruit and veggie run at least 1/week. Lot of local fruit and veg sellers will get orders ready for you to collect so that you don’t have to spend time in the store. You can also get fruits that don’t go off easily eg citrus or freeze things like berries. You can also freeze peeled bananas for smoothies or make a healthy banana bread when they get brown. Money is tight for most anyway,. So try not to out those sugary treats and chips in the trolly.
Try eating early in the day to avoid cravings. Breakfast ideas include fruit smoothies, oats or other wholegrain cereals, eggs, fruit and yogurt for example.
Make sure you get enough protein in the day and try lean towards fish and vegetarian proteins where you can. Make sure whatever freezer space you have is stocked with some frozen chicken and meat for meal prep.
Essential fats are also good for immunity so make sure you eat some nuts or nut butters, olive oil, avocados and other raw oils during this time. If these foods are expensive just use more sparingly but try to buy in bulk and save s they last longer.
Carbohydrates provide a relatively inexpensive and satisfying energy sources but because we might be on our buts more, be aware of not overdoing carbs. Keep white breads, pastas and pap to a minimum and rather go for more energy efficient carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes, starchy veggies and wholegrains
Since its getting cold, try making nice big pots of stew or soup with lots of veggies, legumes and add some extra protein from meat or chicken if you are not vegetarian.
This is a great opportunity to get more creative with cooking and recipes as you have more time. Maybe also get the kids involved, as this is also a goo opportunity for them to to be more hands on with their eating. Make family time around eating a priority.
If you are alone, you might want to cook a little less or pre prep so that you are not constantly cooking for one. You can also do quick easy meals like tuna salads or wholegrain sandwiches, or just nibble on raw fruit and veggies during the day.
Stay safe, happy, hydrated and nourished. If you need my help I am a phone call or email away