Diet, food & cooking

Have a Healthy and Safe Fall!

Have a Healthy and Safe Fall!

Generally, the fall season is a great time for renewal and fresh starts. Nevertheless, this fall specifically is a special one since most of us is working online during the COVID-19 pandemic. This interruption of work and life routine could result in boredom. Boredom has been associated with a greater energy intake, as well as the consumption of higher quantities of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

These stressful times during the pandemic situation can push people towards over-eating, mostly looking for sugary “comfort foods”. This desire to consume a specific kind of food is defined as “food craving”, which is a multidimensional concept including an emotional dimension (intense desire to eat), a behavioral dimension (seeking food), a cognitive one (continuous thoughts about food), and physiological processes such as salivation. Of interest, a gender difference has been reported in food craving, with a higher prevalence in women than in men.

As a matter of fact, carbohydrate craving encourages serotonin production that in turn has a positive effect on mood. The effect of carbohydrate craving on low mood is proportional to the glycemic index of foods. This unhealthy habit could increase the risk of developing obesity that beyond being a chronic state of inflammation, it is often complicated by heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. All of which have been demonstrated to increase the risk of more serious complications of COVID-19.

Therefore, it is important to consume food containing or promoting the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin; yet from healthy sources. A considerable variety of plant species including roots, leaves, fruits, and seeds such as almonds, bananas, cherries, and oats contain melatonin and/or serotonin. These foods may also contain tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin. In addition, protein foods such as milk and milk products are main sources of tryptophan.

Immunity Boosting Nutrients during the Fall Season

Several studies reported that micronutrients can effectively boost immune function. These micronutrients can be found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein-rich foods. Examples of these micronutrients are:

- Antioxidants: It preserves the integrity of cells and tissues. It also significantly improves immune response. They are abundant in sweet potato, carrots and leafy vegetables; thus, a plant-based diet is an optimal supply of antioxidants.

- Vitamin C: It has several aspects of immunity including growth and function of immune cells and antibody production. It is abundant in red bell peppers and citrus fruits.

- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is very important for the normal functioning of immunity cells. Spinach, nuts and avocado are rich in vitamin E.

- Zinc: Zinc is an important mineral that is not an antioxidant on their own, but work well with oxidative enzymes. It is an essential trace element that is crucial for the maintenance of immune functioning. It has been reported that it is effective in inhibiting severe acute respiratory syndrome. Oyster contain the most zinc per serving; however, it is also present in common food such as red meat, nuts and legumes.

All the mentioned nutrients are enclosed in Mediterranean Diet pattern that could represent a healthy nutritional pattern to be followed during the fall season. Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein rich legumes, fish, and whole grains with moderate amounts of red meat.

Other Super Foods to Consume during Fall:

Some super foods are advised to be consumed during the fall season, as they are abundant in needed nutrients. Hence, they provide the body with needed immune-supportive, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Examples of these are:

  • Sprouted seeds: It’s advisable to sprout your seeds as they purify blood, strengthen immunity and prevent cold sores.
  • Mushrooms: Mushrooms have antiviral properties and improve immune system.
  • Dairy products as yogurt: they augment natural killer cell activity and reduce the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Almonds: Quarter a cup of almonds daily promotes the immune system.
  • Black tea: Black tea is considered an antiviral due to its enzymes-inhibiting properties.
  • Green tea: It decreases the risk of viral infections.
  • Green fruits and veggies: they fight flu viruses and generally boost immunity.
  • Apple cider vinegar: It is an excellent antiviral agent against variety of pathogens.
  • Garlic: It is an effective killer of viruses and bacteria due to “Allison” substance it contains; hence, supporting the immune system to fight against germs.
  • Apples: Apples support the body to fight common cold and chronic diseases. It also has immunity boosting properties.
  • Blueberries: They contain flavonoids that have a super role in respiratory tract’s immune defense system.
  • Red bell peppers: They are excellent source for Vitamin C and Vitamin A; thus its an excellent immunity booster.
  • Lemons: Lemons are very well-known for their antiviral and antibacterial properties.
  • Tuna and salmon: These fatty fish are rich in omega 3 that regulates the immune system.
  • Sunflower seeds: They fight off free radicals; thus improving the immune function.
  • Dark chocolate: as it contains antioxidants; hence, it helps in boosting the immune system.

Furthermore, variety of spices are rich in nutrients, where they can simply be added to food or drunk on their own; such as:

  • Cinnamon: it prevents infections and acts as a source of antioxidants. It also reduces the risk of respiratory diseases and has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric increases the immune modulating capacity of the body. It also has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  • Black pepper: Black pepper is an excellent immunity booster. It also prevents chest congestion and respiratory infections due to its antimicrobial properties.
  • Ginger: It has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and medicinal properties that makes it capable of fighting infections.

Some practical tips to squeeze the joy out of good food

- Good hydration is crucial for optimal health. Try to drink water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. You can get creative around your water intake to enhance its taste by adding fruits like berries, slices of citrus fruits, cucumber or herbs such as mint or rosemary.

- Avoid sweet snacks and sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks and fruit juices. Snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables and unsalted nuts; and make sure you have 5 portions of fresh vegetables and fruits daily.

- World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 5 g of salt per day. In order to achieve this, prioritize foods with reduced or no added salt. You may also consider rinsing canned foods to remove some of the excess salt. It has been cited that 50–75% of the salt intake comes from the foods we eat, rather than what we add ourselves. Try to substitute salt on the table with fresh or dried herbs and spices. Be aware that pickled foods and salty sauces often contain very high levels of sodium too. In addition, avoid processed foods such as ready meals and processed meats as bacon, salami, etc. They do contain high level of salts as well as preservatives and trans-fat.

- Occasionally you can sneak a dessert; yet, control the amount of sugar it may contain by removing the icing, limiting the portion size, etc. It’s vital to watch out for low fat options, as these are often high in added sugars.

- Remember that only safe food is a healthy food. It is essential to follow good hygiene practices to avoid contamination and food borne diseases. Always wash raw fruits and vegetables carefully, even if they are labeled as washed already. Cook your food properly and keep raw food separated from cooked one.

- Reduce the amount of total fat intake in your meals by grilling, steaming or boiling instead of frying when cooking. Furthermore, go for lean meats, trim visible fat, choose skinless options and limit the consumption of pre-packaged snacks and foods (e.g. doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits and wafers) as they contain industrially produced trans-fats.

- Don’t forget that fibers are good for healthy digestive system and offer prolonged feeling of fullness. Choose whole grain food (such as brown rice, brown pasta and brown bread) over refined grains.

Last but definitely not least, keep your social distance and wear your mask while shopping during this COVID-19 pandemic. Being aware and prioritizing health is not a luxury, it’s a choice.

References:

Moynihan, A., van Tilburg, W., Igou, E., Wisman, A., Donnelly, A. & Mulcaire, J. (2015). Eaten up by boredom: Consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self. Front Psychol;6:369.

Muscogiuri, G., Barrea,L., Savastano,S. & Colao, A. (2020). Nutritional recommendations for covid-19 quarantine. European journal of clinical nutrition; 74:850-851

Suchitra, M. & Parthasarathy, S. (2020). Nutrition and corona virus: Plan a diet in a pandemic. International journal of research in pharmaceutical sciences; 11: 110-114

WHO(2020). Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine.