When we are under stress, a real physical reaction occurs in our body. Long-term exposure to high levels of stress can put you at increased risk for many health problems. Some of the health issues related to nutrition include gastrointestinal distress, weight changes, memory loss, and reduced immune function. Because of these physical changes, it is important to try and take preventative measures to maintain a nutritious diet. Ideally, we want to avoid the double whammy of malnutrition while having diminished immune function.
Maybe now is a great time to clean out those cupboards, design a meal plan system that works for your household, and explore new, healthy recipes. But if you’re in the group saying – âNo! Now is definitely not the time, âthere are still a few simple steps you can take to make healthy eating simple and ideally stress-free.
Plan ahead! This is a row that I use in most of my nutrition columns. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Keep a running grocery list, have a notepad on the fridge or kitchen counter, and write down items when you run out or need them. Not only will it help you stay organized at the grocery store during this crazy time, but it will also help you limit or avoid impulse buying.
Prepare for success by keeping your home well stocked with healthy, quick, and easy foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Low sodium canned vegetables and fruits in syrup, or plain frozen fruits and vegetables are great options. Whole grain items like whole grain crackers and popcorn. Canned lean protein like tuna and chicken, nuts and seeds.
Then take these healthy foods and package them in individual servings. Clean and chop fruits and vegetables to make them easy on the go options. Cook large amounts of whole grains such as barley, wild rice or quinoa and freeze them in small packages. Combine nuts, dried fruit and chocolate to make your favorite trail mix and pack it in small, snack-sized containers.
Maintain a regular routine and schedule meal and snack times. Don’t skip meals. Maybe allow yourself to have breakfast between 6.30am-7.30am, afternoon tea between 9.30am-10.30am and lunch between noon and 1pm, etc. Then, don’t allow yourself to eat outside of these scheduled times.
Make sure you stay well hydrated. Watch out for drinks with caffeine, which can increase your heart rate and reduce your sleep. Caffeine and carbonation can also cause gastrointestinal upset. Water is always the best option. Store a pitcher of water in the fridge and flavor it with oranges, berries, cucumbers, or an herb like lavender.
Remember to keep healthy foods readily available at all times, but especially during times of high stress. Try to maintain a regular diet and set reminders if necessary. Finally, if possible, take advantage of offers from others to help you with your groceries and meal preparation. Healthy eating can help manage and improve the physical symptoms of stress. Remember to allow grace. Now is not the time to be overly critical of your food choices or those of others. Stay well.
Brenda Schwerdt is a Clinical Dietitian at St. Luke Hospital. Contact her at [email protected]