While many things are beyond our control right now, the foods we choose to eat are not. Sure, it may be tempting to reach for comfort food like mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and French fries during these stressful times, not to mention ordering copious amounts of takeout food too, but it is really doing your body a disservice. People are bored, anxious, and stressed, so many of us have turned to food to provide some relief. In fact, by mid-April, popcorn sales rose almost 48%, pretzel sales were up 47%, and potato chip sales rose 30% compared to the same period last year, Bloomberg reported.1 So how are we supposed to reign in these cravings, what foods should we be reaching for instead, and if we think we are still missing healthy nutrients in our diet, what can we do? Let’s take a look.
Spending more time at home means food is more easily accessible right now. *Ahem* we’re looking at you, fridge stocked with meats, cheeses, and ice cream bars. Snacking is more accepted because it’s something that gives us comfort. We are stressed because of our fears relating to COVID-19, and bored because we are not engaging with friends and family like we used to. When we are anxious, stress hormones are released into the body and the flight-or-flight response is triggered. When we experience this response, our body thinks it is in danger, and needs fuel (food) for the extra tasks it may have to perform. The body can’t differentiate what is a real threat or a perceived threat. And so, we walk to the fridge.
One craving that many of us are most likely dealing with right now are sugar cravings. Instead of your usual oatmeal in the morning, maybe you are reaching for some chocolate chip toaster waffles instead. But then you reach for something else an hour later, something equally as sugary, because you weren’t necessarily full from just those toaster waffles. It’s a vicious cycle. But there are things you can do to curb these cravings a bit.
Give in (a little): Eat a bit of what you’re craving, maybe a small cookie or one chocolate chip toaster waffle instead of three. Enjoying a little of what you love can help you avoid feeling denied.
Grab some gum: If you want to avoid giving in to a sugar craving completely, try chewing a stick of gum. Research has shown that chewing gum can reduce food cravings.2
Reach for fruit: Keep some fruit on hand for whenever your sugar craving strikes, you’ll get some sweetness from the natural sugar found in fruit, but you’ll also get added fiber and nutrients.
Healthy Food Swaps
Here are some simple adjustments you can make to the foods you eat, to make things a bit healthier. You will still be eating delicious foods, but now they’ll also improve your health too:
Instead of chips: Instead of reaching for the bag of chips when you’re craving something salty, try reaching for a handful of nuts instead. That bag of chips is tempting, but it is high in sodium and is often high in saturated and trans fats. So when the urge for something crunchy and salty strikes, reach for those nuts. People who regularly eat nuts are 14 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Just don’t go overboard with them, because even though nuts contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats and fiber, there is such a thing as too much. A one-ounce handful is ideal.
Instead of soda: Instead of getting that caffeine boost from a can of soda, try making coffee or tea instead. A cup of coffee or some green or black tea are more beneficial than soda, because they are naturally sugar free and have antioxidants, which protect against cell damage, all while providing that much needed boost of energy. If you do have coffee though, watch out for the cream and sugar, because they are easy to load up on, and can turn your coffee from healthy to unhealthy very quickly.
Instead of baked goods: Sweets like donuts, Danish pastries, and cookies are delicious, but they get most of their delicious flavor from some not-so-healthy ingredients like sugar and white flour, margarine and hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans-fat. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try a piece of dark chocolate instead, which is high in antioxidants and flavanols, which can help to lower blood pressure.3
Instead of “white” side dishes: Potatoes, noodles, rice, and bread are typical side dishes served with meals. But if you eat these starchy carbohydrates a lot, it can lead to high blood sugar. If you choose to have a starchy side, select brown rice, whole grain pasta, or wild rice, and serve in small amounts. To that end, you can get just as much flavor from a side dish of green veggies, as you can with one of your typical “white” side dishes. Vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach are filled with fiber, low in carbohydrates, and supply vitamins K, A and C, along with other valuable nutrients.
Supplements to Try
If you feel like you are not getting all your necessary vitamins and nutrients in your daily diet, or just feel like you could use a little extra support, here are some key supplements that can come into play.
Aged Garlic Extract: With ample evidence for supporting healthy blood pressure levels and a strong heart (it reduces accumulation of plaque in the arteries), Aged Garlic Extract has a hefty resume for supporting immunity too. Odorless and aged to strengthen its antioxidant properties, this supplement is proven to support killer cell function and reduce symptoms and duration of colds and flus. It is recommended that you take 1,200 mg daily, to achieve the greatest results.4
Probiotics: Your gut microbiome affects everything from brain function to immunity. Your gut comprises about 70% of your immune system. Numerous studies have demonstrated that probiotic supplements that include strains of Lactobacillus and Bifodobacteria can help support the immune system and reduce the risk of infections, such as respiratory infections and ear infections.5 The healthy bacteria of the gut microbiome also impacts things like mood and cognitive function. Your gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system. Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Serotonin, for example, contributes to feelings of happiness and also helps control the body’s internal clock.6
When your microflora is imbalanced, your health suffers. Probiotics are important for replenishing and restoring microflora balance. Look for a supplement that is stable (should be fine at room temperature), heat and acid resistant, is suitable for travel, packaged in glass (to avoid antibiotic deterioration), and contains human bacterial strains, which implant more naturally in the intestines and produce better long-term outcomes67
Powdered Green Drink Mix: Many studies over the years have shown that green foods have marked beneficial effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, and immune response. Nutritionally, green superfoods, grasses, to be exact, are close cousins to dark leafy vegetables, and offer far greater levels of nutrient density. In other words, an ounce of these concentrated green foods contain much more of the beneficial phytonutrients that are fond in an ounce of green leafy vegetables.8 Make sure your powdered green drink mix contains certain powerhouse nutrients like barley grass, wheat grass, chlorella, and spirulina, and no sugar, for the best results for your health.
As long as you eat mindfully, make some quick swaps to minimize bad food choices, and supplement with a few quality nutrients, you can ride out this quarantine in the best way possible for your health. Stay at home and stay healthy!