COVID-19 has turned our worlds upside down—it's been a whirlwind, to say the least. But after a few weeks of anything goes, now it's time to focus on eating and living well as we settle into our new normal.
Why focus on a better diet? Because it's something we can control. While we may not be able to predict what's happening in the world right now, we can dictate how we treat ourselves and our bodies, which will, in turn, support our immune systems, hormone levels, and sleep patterns. Here are four habits I'm telling all my patients to focus on during these days of self-isolation and shelter-in-place.
Increase vegetable intake.
Incorporating more vegetables into your diet is a great way to keep your immune system strong. And don't shy away from frozen vegetables; they usually have very similar vitamin and nutrition content to fresh vegetables and can be easier to find when grocery shelves are picked over. Vitamin C is such an important nutrient for immunity and is retained exceptionally well in frozen vegetables—in fact, it has been found in higher amounts in frozen versus those that have been stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers are also all very high in vitamin C.
Add anti-inflammatory spices.
Anti-inflammatory spices are an excellent way to both reduce inflammation in your body, as well as enhance your meals. Tumeric, ginger, garlic, and pepper (traditional peppers like black pepper and cayenne, as well as chili peppers) all have high anti-inflammatory profiles. Other herbs and spices that kick a big anti-inflammatory punch are rosemary, cinnamon, sage, and cloves. You can season your foods with these, stir them into stews and soups, or even add them to drinks—I love to have a ginger tea with cinnamon in the morning. A simple anti-inflammatory blend can be made by mixing olive oil, garlic, pepper, lemon juice or vinegar, and tons of fresh herbs. This can be used as a sauce, marinade, or a dressing for salads or grains.
Think about fiber.
Fiber is indispensable for your gut health—and your gut health, hormones, brain, and immune system are all connected. Food for the good gut bacteria that support our immune system, fiber can, of course, be found in vegetables, or boost your intake with fresh fruit. Berries (especially raspberries and blackberries), avocado, passion fruit, and kiwi are all high in fiber. Beyond the produce aisle, beans are high in both fiber and protein—and they're easy to stock up on and store.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy snacking, mindless munching on overly processed junk food all day long is a surefire way to increase inflammation, fatigue, and anxiety—not to mention weight gain. Working at home or being stuck in the house and stressed or bored makes it easy to overeat. Try to have a few healthy options portioned (apples, nuts, crackers with clean ingredient lists, raw veggies with hummus) and ready ahead of time to eat during the day and cut the nighttime snacking. My practice of circadian fasting (where you don't eat anything after an early dinner) has been a great way to cut out mindless evening snacking while building up gut and immune health.
The bottom line.
Times are tough and stressful right now, but the way we treat ourselves and what and how we eat will directly affect how we are feeling both physically and mentally. Be kind to yourself—and your body!
By: Amy Shah MD, Integrative Medicine Doctor