The Healthiest Food Choices During a Pandemic

Food's biochemistry has an immediate and important effect on our immune system

Colorful vegetables offer important nutrients the body needs to sustain itself and ward off disease.(Shutterstock)

By Barbara Danza

As we face this pandemic, the food we choose takes on renewed importance. With confusing and conflicting nutritional information out there, it can be challenging to know the best way to cook and eat.

We asked naturopathic doctor and nontoxic-living expert Dr. Christian Gonzalez for his advice on what to buy and how to eat during this unique time. Here’s what he said.

The Epoch Times: For decades, knowing what to eat and understanding good nutrition have been confusing and convoluted. How would you break down the overall, key principles we should keep in mind in choosing the right foods for good health?

Dr. Christian Gonzalez: The key principle we should keep in mind in choosing the right foods for good health are as follows:

  • Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Eat fiber and protein-rich foods with every meal. This helps stabilize your blood sugar and helps reduce snacking.
  • Drink less than 4 ounces of water with meals to optimize your digestion.
  • Try fasting for a minimum of 13 hours between dinner and breakfast.
  • Utilize spices with meals as therapeutic foods
  • Find out what fat, protein, and carb meal balance works best for your body

The Epoch Times: What are some of the best food staples to keep stocked in our kitchens?

Dr. Gonzalez: The rainbow of fruits and veggies are the best food staples that should always be stocked in our kitchens. I recommend rotating out your fruits and veggies each week, this way your taste buds stay satisfied and so does your microbiome.

Nuts and seeds are a great staple for the pantry. You can even make your own trail mix just by simply mixing a few different nuts and seeds together with raisins.

For omnivores, [besides meat] having plant-based sources of protein such as beans, legumes, quinoa, are some of the best food staples.

The Epoch Times: As we face this pandemic, we’re staying home more, navigating challenging grocery shopping circumstances, and cooking for ourselves more frequently. What impact do our nutritional choices have at this specific time?

Dr. Gonzalez: Our nutritional choices have a huge impact at this time. In fact, the majority of people who are getting sick and succumbing are those with chronic diseases and obesity.

A major element of this pandemic is nutrition based. Fast food should not be an option for anyone at this time. Cooking from home with whole foods is essential now more than ever.

Studies and statistics show us that there’s an increase in the severity of respiratory diseases based on a lack of vitamins and antioxidants in the respiratory tract.

The Epoch Times: What foods and ingredients help strengthen the immune system?

Dr. Gonzalez: 

  • Foods rich in vitamin A
  • Foods rich in glutathione
  • Foods rich in vitamin E
  • Food rich in vitamin C
  • Foods rich in selenium
  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic, onions
  • Spices like ginger, rosemary, thyme, parsley, turmeric
  • Leafy greens
  • Cruciferous veggies

The Epoch Times: How do our food choices affect our stress levels, our sleep, or other aspects of our daily lives?

Dr. Gonzalez: Inflammatory foods (such as alcohol, sugar and added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fast food, sodas, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and lunch meats) have a known effect on not only the digestive system but also inflammation of the brain. Inflammatory foods also affect our immune system.

The lack of nutrient-rich food with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants means our body doesn’t get the precursors to support our adrenal glands, which play a major role in balancing our stress levels.

The Epoch Times: What guidance can you offer parents trying to give their children the best nutrition they can?

Dr. Gonzalez: I recommend parents to just do the best they can. Don’t be afraid to get creative with children’s meals. For instance, smoothie bowls are a great way for kids to get in their nutrients. You can get super creative with the toppings as well.

Prioritize fiber and protein in each meal. Experiment with homemade dressings and sauces. Stay away from processed food, food coloring, and sugary foods—children’s brains are very sensitive to the negative effects of these foods.

The Epoch Times: It’s tempting to throw fitness ideals out the window when tempted with chocolate cake or ice cream. What do you recommend when it comes to sweets and snacking?

Dr. Gonzalez: Stress eating causes an elevation in blood sugar levels. Fiber helps curb our blood sugar from spiking. Top your meal off with some fiber-filled toppings such as a handful of chia seeds, pumpkins seeds, or a quarter of an avocado.

Hydration is key. Oftentimes we eat when we’re actually dehydrated. Fill up a glass or stainless steel water bottle with filtered water and add trace minerals, Himalayan salt, or coconut water. This will provide your body with electrolytes and hydration. Many times, our hunger signals can be curbed by hydration.

Plan meal times and stop grazing. When you’re constantly snacking all day long, your migrating motor complex never gets turned on. This disallows proper digestion to occur, as the migrating motor complex sweeps out digested food remains.

Practice self-awareness. Think about your conditioned steps to handling stress. Oftentimes, we learn how to handle stress from our parents.

Move your body. When we’re moving, we’re creating a consistent “good level” of a hermetic level of stress. This helps regulate those stress and hunger hormones. The more consistently you do this, the more control you have over your stress, blood sugar, insulin, and thus, stress eating.

Take micro-movement breaks during the workday. Or try stretching during your next conference call. Stretching increases your blood flow and circulation, sending oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and more cheerful mood.

Don’t deny your cravings; take control of them. Denying what your body is craving can lead to binge eating. Instead, set up portions. Consciously store a limited amount of dessert or any “cheat food” of your choice into Tupperware. Add a post-it note with the date on the Tupperware. The visual rationing paired with these other habits helps discipline.

In acute times of stress, our body releases cortisol and adrenaline. Acute stress is actually appetite suppressing. During this time, our body doesn’t place as much effort on digestion because our body thinks it’s trying to “run away from that tiger” and prioritizes just staying alive.

COVID-19 may induce prolonged stress. This elevates cortisol and increases hunger. Prolonged mental stress signals to our body that food is scarce. This causes us to graze, snack, and overeat. When we’re in this stressful state, the body searches for fatty foods and sugary foods for a snack because fatty foods provide the most calories per gram. Sugary foods provide an immediate source of energy.

The Epoch Times: What are some of your favorite, go-to meals at this time?

Dr. Gonzalez: I love having nutrient-dense smoothies in the morning. I make sure to include the colors of the rainbow and add in plant-based rich proteins and fiber.

For lunch, I like having quinoa, beans, or legumes alongside some leafy greens and tomato, capers, cayenne, turmeric, and an all-natural dressing.

For dinner, I love having homemade pho with edamame and rice noodles. Rich in plant-based veggies and heavy on multiple spices and ginger.

Interview edited for clarity and brevity

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza

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