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When things feel stressful, oftentimes what we are eating and drinking can take a backseat and is perhaps one of the last things we have the energy or time to focus on. However, being mindful about what we are putting into our bodies can actually help support our energy and mood during times that feel extra stressful. A little bit can go a long way to improving your overall health and feelings of wellbeing. Co-owner of Kitchen on Fire Lisa Miller, a Certified Nutrition Consultant shares a few ways to think about what our bodies need (all the time), but especially if you are looking for ways to support your health and wellness when things feel especially hard.

How do food choices throughout the day impact our health?

All foods support us in sustained energy, but some have different ways of doing this, and are important to focus on. While it is generally advised to try to aim for eating meals that contain a variety of different food types, it can be helpful to think about each one and how it supports our bodies. This information can be used to make intentional choices based on the support you need.

Carbohydrates: Carbs provide us with quick energy that is readily available for us to use. They are also essential and in addition to being a quick source of energy, they also help us regulate protein and fat metabolism. Carbohydrates can get a bad name sometimes because lots of processed foods are made up of simple carbohydrates. Focus on whole foods when it comes to choosing carbs. Examples of healthy carbohydrates: leafy greens, crunchy vegetables, and whole starchy vegetables and grains.

Fats: Fats help us with mood and stability. Fats store energy, make hormones, transport vitamins, balance mood, and are the building blocks for all cell membranes. Examples of healthy fats: good quality oils (olive oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil), organic butter, organic animal fat, raw nuts and seeds—be careful not to damage your healthy fats!

Protein: Protein plays a large role in supporting repair and movement in the body. Protein impacts our growth, tissue repair, movement, energy. Down to the smallest levels within our bodies and cells. Examples of healthy proteins: When thinking about proteins, try aiming for a mix of plant-based and high-quality animal proteins, even for the meat lovers. Off-setting protein sources with plant-based proteins leaves more room in the food budget to buy high-quality animal protein, which is important. Legumes, as well as the protein that is included in many vegetables, nuts and seeds are also great sources.

Water/Hydration: Supports overall clarity and immunity. Hydration impacts strength, clarity, immunity, nutrient movement, blood fluidity, and pH balance in our bodies.

[FUN FACT: Are you thirsty? Our energy often starts to fade with minor dehydration, and the body often mistakes thirst as the need for food or caffeine. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already heading towards dehydration. Hydrating throughout the day with water, teas, broth, and other foods can help you maintain a sustained level of energy and mental clarity. Getting into the habit of hydrating consistently can be a challenge, but is one truly worth figuring out how to fit into your lifestyle each day.]

Preparing Meals for Mood Support

Not only are we physically preparing meals in the kitchen, we must also pay attention to preparing our body for good foods, mostly in the form of making sure we can digest our food once eaten. 90% of our serotonin is produced in our GI tract. Serotonin is one of the very important neurotransmitters in our brains that help support a positive mood. GI tract health is often under-appreciated and not given as much thought as it should. Digestion plays an important role in balancing our neurotransmitters that support our mood, therefore it is worth making sure we are taking good care of our digestion and preparing our bodies to absorb all the essential nutrients during the process.

Common causes of poor digestion:

  • Stress

  • Not chewing enough

  • Not relaxing while eating

  • Stomach acid imbalance

  • Low fiber diet

  • Low fluids throughout the day

  • Food sensitivities/allergies

Necessary steps to digest:

  • Stay hydrated all day

  • Chew thoroughly on each bite

  • “Take a break” while eating

  • Ensure adequate acid

  • Eat fiber-rich meals

  • Be aware of food sensitivities and allergies

  • Practice mindful eating (pay attention when eating)

When planning, aim for:

  • Eating 3-5 meals each day

  • Time meals so they are 3 to 5 hours apart

  • Emphasize Protein, Fats, and Leafy Crunchy Vegetables and Fruits

  • Each meal or snack needs: Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates

  • Utilize a shopping list to create a menu and to stay organized when at the grocery store

  • Have emergency meals ready to avoid a crash (cook ahead)

  • Have to-go snacks in all of the places you go during the day (home, office, gym bag)

  • Hydrate before eating

Lastly, when possible, try eating with community—or even sharing a meal over Zoom—eating with others can improve wellbeing. Sometimes eating with others and sharing a meal together can be even more beneficial than the meal itself.

If you would like to learn more specific ideas and techniques for cooking nourishing meals, please join us for an online nutrition and cooking class to delve deeper! Lisa Miller, BS, NC also provides one-on-one private nutrition consulting sessions for more specific support around nutrition and wellness.