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#stayhomestayhopeful - Don't Forget Your Gut

April 07, 2020

By Sarah Craig Haverland, RD, LDN, Health & Wellness Specialist

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on all of us and our daily lives – including what we are eating and our overall mental health. Most of us are likely cooking at home more – turning to pantry staples for meals, and trying to get our hands on whatever we can at the grocery store. These unpredictable times are also affecting our moods and anxiety levels, so being mindful of what we are putting into our bodies can be extremely beneficial.

Including more plants in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, herbs and spices can provide the brain and body with added nutrients including fiber, vitamins and minerals. Prebiotics (found in fiber) feed our probiotics (the “good” gut bacteria and found in fermented foods like yogurt) and help support a healthy gut microbiome.

Prebiotics and probiotics are key for gut health and also have positive benefits for the rest of our body including boosting our immune system, our brain, and mental health. In fact, upwards of 90% of the body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter that promotes well-being and happiness) is found in the gut, and the gut microbiome plays a critical role in its production.

Plants are also packed full of antioxidants that are especially important for helping the body carry out its natural detoxification process. Consuming more plants is also in line with the Mediterranean lifestyle, which is primarily plant based. Many studies have found that the Mediterranean lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Additionally, recent research has indicated that the Mediterranean lifestyle is beneficial for one’s mental health and improving depression.

Now is a great time to utilize those cans and boxes collecting dust on your kitchen shelves, or to stock up on whatever frozen foods you can find at the grocery store. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are usually processed soon after harvesting so the loss of flavor and nutrients is minimal. Since canned and frozen goods are nutritionally comparable to fresh options, they are a great way to conveniently add variety to your diet during this time at home.

Here are some quick, easy ideas using pantry staples and freezer options to add more plants to your diet during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Enhance boxed macaroni and cheese with frozen or canned vegetables
  • Add canned beans or veggie chili and a handful of spinach to a baked sweet or white potato
  • Top a frozen pizza with some frozen veggies
  • Make a burrito bowl using boxed rice, cans of beans and corn and top with a jar of your favorite salsa
  • Flavor any dish with frozen herbs or some jarred minced garlic
  • Crumble a veggie burger on top of boxed pasta and a jar of your favorite sauce
  • Create a frittata with some eggs and any extra veggies in your fridge or freezer
  • Throw in a handful or two of frozen berries to your cereal  
  • Combine dried fruits, nuts, popcorn, whole grain cereal and/or seeds to make your own trail mix

Also, remember even if a food is not packed full of nutrients it can still serve a purpose. Enjoyment is reason enough to eat something!

A food can provide comfort and remind us of good memories which also helps improve our mental and emotional health during these uncertain times. So take the time to enjoy the foods you love - including your favorite flavor of ice cream or chips (all things in moderation).

During this unpredictable period, why not find creative ways to combine increasing both the nutrients and pleasure of what you eat for an extra boost at a time when we need it the most. For example, consider gathering at home with your immediate family to bake your great grandmother’s homemade summer berry pie using canned or frozen fruits. Or catch up virtually with a friend while you both cook a plant focused dinner using this and that from your pantry or freezer – all while making new memories together and also practicing social distancing! 


Learn More About Nutritional Wellness


Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.