COVID-19 Getting You Down?

With at least a partial return to normal on the horizon, it’s time to get back in shape
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If you spent any time on social media in the last year, your feed was probably cluttered with friends consoling themselves with comfort food: macaroni and cheese sprinkled with bread crumbs, homemade banana bread loaded with chocolate chips, or cornbread biscuits, warm from the oven. Now, with the vaccine rolling out, we should be able to get out of our kitchens and back to our offices very soon. And that means getting out of our sweatpants and back into our work clothes. If yours are a little tight (and let’s face it, whose aren’t?), it’s time to start thinking about a healthy lifestyle routine.

 

Where to begin? First and foremost, keep the long game in mind. Following any draconian diet plan will likely end up backfiring because you’ll be depriving yourself, which will leave you in misery. Instead of looking at foods you should cut out, shift the focus to foods you should eat more of, like vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats, suggests Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You want to make sure that any plan you start is a plan you can continue for the long term,” she adds. With that in mind, here are some things to consider when designing your healthy eating plan.

Choose whole foods over ultra -processed.
The phrase whole foods generally describes food in a natural, unprocessed state. Apples over applesauce, bananas over banana bread, potatoes over potato chips, says Jones. The reasons to pick them are plenty. Whole foods tend to have a lot of nutrients packed into fewer calories. They also tend to have a lower energy density, which means they have fewer calories per gram than processed foods. That means you can eat more potatoes than potato chips for the same number of calories.

Also important, ultra-processed foods tend to be high in sodium, which is linked to high blood pressure. “We should be limiting our sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day,” says Jones. If you have high blood pressure, you might benefit from lowering your intake even further (speak to your healthcare provider about what’s best for you).

Don’t be afraid of (good) fats.
Fats have gotten a bad rap, but they can be a crucial component of a healthy diet because they slow the digestion process and keep you feeling full for longer, says Melissa Matteo, a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “The key is to choose heart-healthy sources of fat like olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, olives, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty
fish like salmon and tuna,” she says. Saturated fats, which can raise the risk of heart disease, are what you want to stay away from, says Jones.

Get the proper proteins.
Protein takes longer to digest than carbs so it helps your body feel fuller for a longer amount of time. Incorporate foods from both animal and plant sources. If your favorite proteins are high in saturated fats, try to use less of them. For example, if youÕre including ground beef in your meals, cut the amount in half and swap in portabello mushrooms to get some of the meaty texture and flavor, suggests Jones.

Choose whole grains over refined.
Keep in mind that just because something is brown doesn’t mean it’s made with whole grains. If the label says “whole wheat,” it must be made with 100 percent whole wheat flour. Other descriptions, including “seven grain” or even “multigrain” do not necessarily mean whole grain. And don’t just stick to whole wheat bread, stresses Jones. Experiment with different grains like buckwheat, bulgur, and millet. The more variety you include in your diet, the less humdrum your food will feel.

Watch for added sugars.
Look at labels. Sneaky sugars include sucrose, brown sugar, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and honey. And watch what you drink. “Sweet tea is a favorite here in the South,” says Jones. If it’s one of your beloved beverages, try flavoring it with lemon or lime instead of sugar.

Spice up your meals.
Instead of the relying on the saltshaker, try fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, or thyme. Use plenty of onions and garlic to enhance the flavor of your food. Throw in cayenne pepper, ginger, or cinnamon. “Experiment with a new spice every week,” suggests Jones.

Think these three.
Matteo suggests you get a combination of three nutrients – fiber, fat, and protein – at each meal or snack to help manage hunger and caloric intake. “For example, try Greek yogurt [fat and protein] along with fresh berries [fiber] and homemade granola consisting of rolled oats [fiber],” she says. “Or nuts and seeds [protein and fat]. Or an apple with the skin [fiber] with natural peanut butter [fat and protein].”

Keep your pantry stocked with healthy food.
If you’re not getting to the supermarket often, you want plenty of healthy foods on hand. Here are some options.
– Canned beans
– Oats
– Whole grains (like farro, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta)
– Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines
– Canned soups (look for low-salt versions)
– Canned and frozen vegetables and fruits
– Natural nut butter (without added sugars)
– Eggs
– Shelf-stable milk
– Long-lasting produce like carrots, potatoes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, and clementines

Eat only when you’re hungry.
Sounds obvious, but when you’re home all day with no regular schedule, it’s natural to eat just to give yourself something to do, rather than waiting until you’re actually hungry. Pay attention to your body’s cues. Before you eat, sit down, relax, and ask yourself how hungry you really are, suggests Matteo. On a 1-to-10 scale, 1 being completely stuffed and 10 being ravenous, where are you? Try to eat only when you’re in the 6 or 7 range and stop eating when you’re at 3, 4, or 5 on the scale.

Boost your microbiome.
Your stomach might not be the first thing you think of when keeping your immune system strong, but a growing body of research shows that the microbiome (the community of bacteria in our body) is key to how well we fend off viruses. Evidence shows that phytonutrients, a beneficial substance found only in plant foods, can help fight inflammation that leads to disease. Antioxidants are also crucial for the body to help fend off disease. So get plenty of vegetables and fruits. Concentrate on cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, as well as dark leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and foods rich in vitamin A, like sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash. DW

By Leslie Pepper

Leslie Pepper is a freelance writer based on Long Island who specializes in health, diet, and fitness.

 



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