Dearest friends of Joule, I think it's safe to say that we're in a time of collective confusion, fear, and stress right now. Wondering if we're doing the right things to stay safe and healthy, longing for social connection and a sense of normalcy now that our routines and rhythms have been completely disrupted, and being bombarded with conflicting and ever-changing information about COVID-19 on the internet. It's no wonder we're feeling an overwhelming sense of stress; this is the first time for most of us that we've experienced this level of uncertainty as a society - locally, nationally, and globally. I'm sure each of you reading this have had your own unique roller coaster of emotions related to the current pandemic over the last few weeks and its cascade of effects on all aspects of life as we know it.
Personally, I've wanted to reach out to each of you to check in and offer some words of reassurance, and yet have had a difficult time knowing what to share with all of you. With the current situation being as dynamic as it is, I've felt just as lost, confused, and scared as everyone else has. Normally, I can rely on sound, research-based evidence to support the information I share (both nutritionally and otherwise), however we're seeing the COVID-19 research findings change day-to-day, making nutrition recommendations quite a bit less reliable than usual. For example, since maintaining optimal immune health is at the top of everyone's priority list right now, I would normally tell you "stock up on elderberry and supplement with high dose vitamins A & D to keep your immune systems healthy!" but certain research articles are pointing to these specific food groups (and others) at having the potential to cause more harm than good with SARS Coronavirus 2 (the current virus we're exposed to that is causing COVID-19). Here is one quick FAQ on this, and if you're interested in learning more there are some other links below.
There is, thankfully, evidence showing that certain nutrients may be especially helpful in preventing and fighting the spread of COVID-19, although all of these recommendations are in a constant state of changing and should be taken simply as informative, not as a specific prescription or urging guideline to follow. Some informative posts I've read and/or listened to can be found here:
If you spend time looking into any or all of these resources, you might find some conflicting information presented in them as well. Let me reassure you this much: it is okay! There is, undoubtedly, going to be conflicting information shared by reputable sources that we trust. This pandemic is occurring right now, in real time. That means we truly don't really know with certainty how certain nutrients might interact with COVID-19; whether by aggravating a cytokine storm, encouraging the proliferation of this virus, or the exact reverse effect - preventing it or reducing the severity of its effects. I think it's important and wise to educate ourselves about the potential risks and the benefits of foods, supplements, and herbs we consume regularly. However, I don't think that we should live in panic about how to nourish ourselves, because the negative impact of that stress will likely be worse on our systems than anything we decide to do.
So all of that said, I do want to share some information that might help you decide how to keep yourselves healthy while you're hunkered down at home for a while. This is a somewhat forced opportunity for all of us to get reacquainted with our kitchens and develop new hobbies, so let's make the most of it! Just remember that all of these recommendations are simply that. They should not be taken as medical advice, they are general recommendations for maintaining overall wellness.
1. Just Breathe. Yup, it's that simple. Especially during times of acute stress and overwhelm, it's one of the hardest things to remember. And yet, it's the simplest tool we have access to for combatting stress. Practice taking deep belly breaths a few times a day, especially when feeling a surge of overwhelming emotion. My favorite breathing tool is called 4-square breathing. Breathe in while counting slowly to four, hold at the top of the breath and count slowly to four, breathe out while counting slowly to four, then hold at the bottom of the breath and count slowly to four. Doing 5 to 6 rounds of 4-square breathing can help alleviate stress or anxiety, bring you back into your body when you're feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or can't focus, and get your system into a "rest and digest" state prior to a meal so you aren't eating in a "fight or flight" state. Especially right now when emotions are high and you might not be able to pinpoint exactly what you're feeling or why, practicing 4-square breathing can be a powerful tool for clearing the clutter from your mind.
2. Get plenty of sleep. There might be conflicting research about what foods or supplements to take, but there is no argument about the need for SLEEP. Getting adequate sleep is one of the greatest ways of reducing stress and keeping your immune system healthy, regardless of what else you're doing. Aim for a solid 8 hours, but don't fret too much if you fall short. Research shows that a few nights of poor sleep doesn't have quite the negative impact that chronic inadequate sleep does. That means if you aim for 7-8 hours a night but have one rough night per week, you're still doing okay. If you're averaging less than 7 hours a night regularly, you'll want to dig into what might be causing your sleeplessness and work to remedy it. Reduce your late-night screen time, don't eat your last meal within 2 hours of going to bed, and start your getting-ready-for-bed routine a little earlier. You also might try turning the temperature of your house down right before bed, so you don't wake up overheated in the night. These tricks can all impact your ability to fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
3. Stick to nutrient-dense food choices (aka keep your fridge full of good decisions).
I don't generally like to demonize certain food groups or advocate for any specific dietary protocol, but there are definitely things to be mindful of for maintaining optimal immune health and lowering stress levels.
Refined sugar, although it may provide emotional comfort during stress, can wreck havoc on your system; causing energy spikes and crashes, worsening cravings for sugary & processed foods, and contributing immensely to systemic inflammation which can be the cause for a slew of chronic conditions like type II diabetes & cardiovascular disease. Try sticking to more natural sweetener choices like pure maple syrup, raw honey, dates, banana, and other fruits, and remember that even these sugar alternatives should only be consumed in moderation.
You're likely eating more pantry staples right now than usual, and that's okay! Beans and legumes are full of fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, & minerals. Quinoa, rice, oats, and lesser-known grains like millet, amaranth, and buckwheat are full of similar nutrients to legumes and can be fun to experiment with. I even challenge you to buy and cook with a variety of canned fish. Tuna is a common choice, but try sardines, mackerel, anchovy, or salmon. These are loaded with easy-to-digest protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins (especially high in B-12), vitamin D which is difficult to get adequately from food sources, and minerals like selenium and zinc. These are all key players for boosting your mental health & immune system!
Vitamin C has a long history of evidence supporting its ability to benefit immune health as well, so don't forget to include vitamin C rich foods in your quarantined kitchen. These include citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach, and tomato, as well as tropical fruits like papaya, guava, and kiwi. A smoothie for breakfast with spinach and orange and a stir-fry for dinner that contains broccoli, bell pepper, and fresh lime juice will likely provide enough vitamin C to meet your daily requirement!
With the extra time you have to spend in the kitchen, find a few new recipes to try out and have some fun! You might find that the act of being in your kitchen is stress-relieving on its own.
4. Move your body in ways that you enjoy. Going to the gym, yoga studio, or other structured, social-based exercise might not be an option for a while. If that's your usual go-to for staying active, now's the time to try something new! And guess what? You might discover something you really enjoy and hadn't given a chance previously. Go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride. Try one of the many at-home workout apps like HIITBURN or Aaptiv, or free yoga videos on YouTube. Lift weights and do squat and lunge reps while watching TV. Get creative with your movement and find practices that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment. Exercise and movement can be powerful tools for combatting stress, and as a bonus they benefit your immune health as well! So does being outside, so don't be too fearful to get out and enjoy the fresh air.
These are just a few of the most supportive practices to remember during periods of stress, but they can make a world of difference in your health!
If you feel like you would benefit from additional support, please don't hesitate to reach out. I've experienced my own slew of emotions, from fear to anxiety, grief, discomfort, frustration, and isolation. A few things I've found to be most helpful for myself have been maintaining social connection in safe ways, continuing talk therapy with my counselor, talking about my emotions with my partner and my family, and setting goals for myself despite the uncertainties of day-to-day life. I suspect that the uncertainties are the cause for a lot of our fears, because it's hard for each of us to structure and plan life during a time that's ever-changing. So, for the month of April I'm offering one-on-one nutrition & health coaching sessions for $50 (usually $75) via Zoom video call to provide as much support, structure, and accountability that I can for you. During these uncertain and stress-inducing days that we're facing, social isolation and disrupted routine can feel like our biggest nemeses. We're all feeling a little extra cooped up and in need of support, guidance, and social interaction. So, let's connect in a way that can support your health goals, promote positivity, and improve all of our well-beings. We're in this together! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Stay healthy and happy,