Eating During Stressful Times

Everything is up in the air right now. We can't follow our normal routines. Many of us are no longer going to work, school, fitness classes, or our volunteer activities. Life as we all know it is currently on hold.

All of this adds up to a very stressful situation.

I recently wrote a blogpost about a few ways to cope with stress. Some examples: Don't forget to breathe deeply. Move your body. Get outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air. Stay connected with your loved ones.

All of the above still applies, but there is more we can do to combat stress. And to boost our immune systems to help us fight off the threat of illness.

(As I have mentioned before, I am not a doctor. I'm not here to offer medical advice. Please see your doctor if you need medical attention.)

Nutrition is especially crucial when we're under stress. Eating well is always important, but during times of stress our bodies require even more in the way of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, protein, and healthy fats. In order to keep your immune system functioning optimally, probiotics and prebiotics are also important.

Where do we get our vitamins and minerals? Ideally, we would get these from a varied diet which includes lots of fruits and veggies, grass-fed meat and dairy, wild caught seafood, nuts and seeds. But many of us don't do a great job getting all these foods. For example, beef liver has all the Vitamin A you need in a single serving, but almost no one wants to eat it! If you're eating a vegan diet, you're missing out on many crucial nutrients, notably B12. If you restrict your diet for any reason, you might want to consider adding a multi-vitamin to your routine.

All the B-vitamins are used up more quickly by the body during times of stress. The best sources of B-vitamins are nutritional yeast (find this at health food stores, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, etc.) whole grains, legumes, and pork products. B-vitamins are also found in many vegetables, but you would need to eat A LOT before getting your daily recommended dosage. Again, a multi-vitamin or a B-complex supplement will help if you don't think your diet includes enough B vitamins.

Antioxidants are found in plant foods that contain dark pigments. Some examples of good sources: wild blueberries, Tuscan kale, red wine, black tea, coffee. There are no daily recommended dosages for antioxidants, but experts generally agree that we need these compounds to fend off oxidative damage to our cells.

Protein is required by the body for building and repairing cells. As we age, we need more protein for optimal health. Most older folks are losing muscle at an alarming rate due to lack of exercise and reduced protein intake. The highest quality sources of protein contain all the essential amino acids. These include grass-fed beef, lamb, poultry, pork, eggs, dairy, fish and seafood. Plant sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids.

Healthy fats are the building blocks of all hormones. Without enough fat in the diet, we cannot produce the hormones we need for every chemical process within our systems. Healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids in wild caught fish and grassfed meat, eggs, and dairy, as well as fruit-based and nut-based oils like olive, coconut, avocado, etc.

Probiotics are important for the functioning of the gut, where most of our immune system resides. Eating fermented foods with live bacteria like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, etc will keep your gut happy. Pre-biotics include sources of fiber that feed the bacteria in the gut. Beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes are good sources of fiber, as well as many other plant foods.

Now that we're spending more time at home, we can explore our pantries and start cooking more meals from scratch. Let's all feed our bodies a varied diet that will help us fend off illness!