May 7, 2020

Being confined in a space close to the refrigerator isn't good for me. Is it good for you?

So you're at home, with kids, with partners, or by yourself. You're cozy and in your most stretchy yoga pants and a big turtleneck fleece. Well, that describes me. Now, I can put on some nice earrings and a cover of scarf and call it dressed up for a Zoom meeting, and no one can see below my waist. But sooner or later, I'm going to have to put on my jeans.

This is how many Americans are making food choices this pandemic, during physical isolation. They are eating junk food. According to Bloomberg News, sales of Oreos, Cheetos, and boxed macaroni and cheese are up. Cans of Spam are up 37%. Of course, those in charge of the shopping may be looking for food with a long shelf life, a very long shelf life. Whether you're buying comfort food because you are stressed and want the foods that you had when someone was taking care of you or you're buying foods that you can use to bargain with your kids into doing some schoolwork, these choices aren't very good ones, not for you or your family.

One of the problems is, when these foods are in the cupboard or the fridge, you and your family are close to the fridge all day long. For the kids, it's a shuffle between the sweet caffeinated drinks, the chips, and the computer. For you, it is snack, snack, snack all day. The fridge and the goodies are always there, and you are always there.

We probably evolved to crave sweet, salt, and fat. We evolved in a low salt environment, so salty is craved. The easiest foods that were low energy to hunt and gather and chew were an advantage when they were high energy in our bodies, meaning easy calories, not high energy like coffee. That meant sugar and fat. Salt, sugar, and fat. And the comfort food industry knows this and adds a lot of fat and salt to their chips, bagels, cookies, and boxed macaroni and cheese.

We are not hunter-gatherers anymore, except in the time of quarantine when we hunt for chips and gather them up to eat in front of the TV. Hunter-gatherers walked all day long and were always on the verge of starvation. We are not. We evolved to pack away these calories into fat to use during times of stress. But this was caloric stress, not this pandemic stress when we may be flooded with calories.

Now, refined carbs, such as cookies, donuts, and granola bars, are the largest source of calories in the American diet, followed by breads, chips, sugary drinks, pizza, and pasta dishes, and other processed foods. They're also high in sodium, except for the sugary drinks. These foods are awful for our blood pressure, our cholesterol, and our insulin. These carbs are low fiber carbs, so they increase the insulin response and push us closer to diabetes.

In this COVID-19 epidemic, people who are hypertensive, obese, and diabetic, and they often all go together, are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from this virus. Eating well may help our immune system. Eating poorly may suppress our immune system. Eating poorly makes you feel out of control in your life, and you're already in a global pandemic that is out of your control. However, eating well is in your control, so here are some suggestions.

Eat a healthy meal. Then, make your shopping list. Buy only what is on your list. Plan your shop and shop your plan. Don't buy that awful stuff. It's a rare treat, not a daily treat. The stores are well stocked with fresh produce. Buy crunchy veggies and hummus, or better yet, make your own hummus and you can make it with less fat. Dip veggies into plain Greek yogurt spiced up with whatever works for you and your family. It's really easy if you have a blender or a food processor. And it's cheaper. Lock down the fridge for 22 hours a day, the fridge and the cupboards. If possible, set a time for meals, and everyone helps. This pandemic time is not the time when kids are all over the place with friends and activities. This is not the time, unless you're an essential worker, a health care provider, first responders, grocery store workers, car fixers, electricians, plumbers, and farmers, that you are spread out all over the city at mealtimes. You're all home. Set a schedule and stick to it.

Phones, laptops, iPad, etc. are left behind. Make the food at these meals count, count for you and your family if you have your family with you. Make the food count nutritionally. Whole foods and grains and colors and spices. Limit salt. No easy carbs. Everyone helps chop, cook, and clean. Those who don't cook have to clean.

If you cannot get by on three meals a day, schedule snacks. Keep them prepared so that they're right there in the fridge. Alcohol can short-circuit your resolve. Make it once a week treat, not a daily necessity.

Kids say, "I'm hungry," and that whine goes right to your mommy brain. If they're really hungry, they'll eat fruit and veggies. If they don't want that, then they're not really hungry. No foods squirreled away in the bedrooms. It's okay to go to bed a little hungry. Don't eat a lot of easy calories before you go to bed or your kids go to bed. It's especially bad for your heart, your gut, your immune system, and your sugar control.

If you get this virus, you need a strong heart and strong lungs. There are many ways to exercise during this time. Physically distanced walks, jumping jacks in the living room. There are jillions of exercise classes online that you can do in front of your computer or your smart TV. You can do them in your yoga stretchy pants, and you already have them on.

So, just some ideas, and thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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