On Chef Marshall’s Mind

This is a stressful time for all of us, given the rules for social distancing during the pandemic and the racial discord since Memorial Day. Human beings are social by nature and we thought the situation was easing, only to find out we need to stay the course for even longer. All ages are affected by this, from the children who finished the school year doing distance-learning and are longing to play in the park with friends or go to camp to the senior citizens, many of whom are on senior living campuses, in continuing isolation from loved ones.

Our disrupted physical activity and nourishment routines have taken a physical and psychological toll, leading to poorer food choices, poor sleep patterns, higher stress levels, weight gain and negative interactions with others. It becomes a vicious cycle.

How can we get back on track? Chances are you have begun to form new routines, but if they are not tailored toward long-term well-being, you can use our Smart Nutrition “baby steps” approach to get yourself back on track. And, if you are working from home and feeling disconnected from your work group, keep in mind that your employer may be offering our community webinars as a way to reconnect and build community. These live sessions include helpful nutrition information, an opportunity to interact with Chef Marshall and your coworkers who are participating and a platform to get your specific questions answered.

Remember that Smart Nutrition has four components: nutrition, sleep, hydration and physical activity, and they work together to help your body feel and perform its best. If one of these components gets out of balance, it will likely disrupt the others.

Start by improving your food choices. Some foods are known to help your mood and keep you on an even keel.

• Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are powerful mood boosters and help reduce inflammation in the body: salmon, mackerel, halibut, and other fatty fish, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds

Vitamin D-rich foods: salmon, tuna, mackerel, fortified milk and yogurt, eggs and mushrooms. Sunlight is needed for our bodies to make our own vitamin D, so physical activity outdoors will also help.

Foods containing B vitamins: dark leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, beans, nuts, fish and poultry, meat, dairy and whole grains are all good sources of these mood-boosting vitamins.

Whole grains and complex carbohydrates slow digestion, keep us off the blood sugar roller coaster and help us maintain a healthy gut. Since most of our mood-boosting hormones are made in our gut, this is critical. Sweet potatoes and yams, oats, barley, quinoa and brown or wild rice are some good examples of these healthy carbohydrates.

Mood-boosting spices include turmeric, saffron, paprika and curry powder.

Adequate sleep is crucial. During sleep, the body repairs itself, makes our feel-good hormones and generally recharges. Although we may not be running from one activity to another, our sleep will suffer if we have not gotten sufficient physical activity, if we are stressed or if we have eaten foods that can disrupt sleep patterns.

Physical activity helps our bodies function better. Going to the gym is still a bit worrisome, but taking walks, doing chores around the house, gardening and biking are good options that allow social distancing. Activity lessens stress, which helps with both sleep and overall mood, a double benefit.

Hydration is easy to overlook when our routines are disrupted but being fully hydrated allows our bodies to function more efficiently. Studies have shown that sometimes we think we are hungry when we are really dehydrated, so making an effort to drink lots of water can also help with stabilizing our weight, which many of us have found to be a problem during these stay-at-home times.

It’s all about baby steps. If you feel you have strayed from your normal healthy habits or want to use this ongoing time of social distancing to build new habits, start to implement some of our Smart Nutrition suggestions. You don’t need to tackle it all at once and anything you do is better than what you did yesterday. You will find that one good habit will lead to another, which will boost your mood. And, you will love the way you feel!