By Rebecca Fallihee MS, CNS, LDN
Near the beginning of the pandemic, I was listening to a short meditative story on the goddesses of hearth and home, with the primary archetypes being Hestia or Vesta in Greek or Roman mythology. I was reminded that Hestia’s name means hearth, fire and alter, and that where we create warmth in our homes can also be our alters. Literally—where we create our meals can also be our sacred space.
At the time, it came to my attention how so often our minds run ahead or circulate around in fear or worry, especially this year. To remedy this, it can help to pull our energy down from that space, down from our head and into our body. For many of us, this is a substantial reason for why we run.
In the joy of running, the meditation of physical movement is where our minds can more often turn off from that negative stress-state. And it’s partially why beyond running in the outdoors, the kitchen is often a favorite space at home. For me it’s the figurative center of my home, as it often is for those who love to cook. For most of us, cooking and providing for ourselves and families are tasks that go on in the background of our lives rather than pursuits that we consider noteworthy or adventurous undertakings. But as Hestia’s name portrays, they can be powerful and sacred tasks, helping us to do what we’d otherwise avoid, drawing our minds down into our physical bodies, tuning into the senses of using our hands, noticing the smells, sounds and flavors of cooking.
There is no doubt that 2020 has already brought some of the most stressful, worrying months that, no matter our individual circumstances, we all are significantly impacted by. And aside from getting into our bodies on the run, or making time in the home kitchen preparing meals as a sort of meditation, our chronic stress of the year can have an impact on our systems and cause us to need substantially more support than a normal year.
One of the ways we can support ourselves is not only running as a meditative movement or cooking mindfully for the same purpose, but through additional nutritional support. Chronic stress of any kind leads to overproduction of our stress hormones, which can cause widespread effects throughout the body over time. Just like when you’re out on the trail and hear or notice signs of a scary animal nearby, the body speeds up many of its reactions in a stressful state, and thus many of the nutrients we need to support the regulation of the stress response are used up faster during phases of chronic daily life stress. And this reduced-nutrient status also leads to weakened immune health.
So what can we eat and add to our meals to help support us this year? From a nutritional standpoint, we need a full spectrum of all the vitamins and minerals that we frequently need more of as runners. Broadly, this means we use and need more of all the B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folate), B12, biotin and choline, as well as the antioxidant nutrients, vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc, selenium, and the mineral magnesium. Broadly speaking, nutrient needs can be thought of on a spectrum right now from least need to highest: less active person in a ‘normal year’ < highly active person in a ‘normal year’ < highly active person in a pandemic.
Altogether, the full spectrum of more nutrient density from more whole-food meals can help support us to weather through this season with increased resilience to our daily stress and a more supported immune system. This summer and fall are excellent times to work towards eating the rainbow at each meal and throughout the day. Seeking out as many fresh, minimally processed/packaged, and colorful ingredients as we can will provide us with a true foundation of support.
As active people who care for our bodies, we tend to already eat at least partially this way, but where we are more likely to struggle is getting enough nutrients for our needs. As an example, instead of a handful of greens in a smoothie or salad once a day, many of us need a couple good handfuls in at least two or three meals throughout the day, a focus on more whole grains since they are loaded with much more of the nutrients listed above than their refined counterparts, and fresh fruit – summer is high time for adding a colorful diversity of fruit throughout the day and week.
There are also a handful of nutrients that have been and/or should be getting attention for their immune support and because they’re important for maintaining health. These are vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, in theory should not be a challenge for those of us who get outside often, especially in the summer. And yet many of us are still low. The only way to know is to get a blood test. Vitamin D also needs adequate magnesium to be absorbed efficiently, and since we tend to need more magnesium, it’s good to focus on it at this time. Magnesium is found in highest amounts in those multiple daily handfuls of dark leafy greens, as well as whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds. Zinc, another mineral and antioxidant that supports hundreds of different cellular reactions and is helpful for supporting the immune system, is found in highest amounts in oatmeal and quinoa, garbanzo beans and lentils, pumpkin seeds and ground sesame seeds or tahini, and for those that choose to eat meat, beef, lamb, oysters, and shellfish. Likewise, another antioxidant mineral that most of us skimp on is selenium, found in highest amounts in Brazil nuts. Add one to two Brazil nuts per day to your snacking or meal routine.
One more nutrient that you may never have heard of, and is essential for reactions that occur constantly throughout the body, is choline. It is found in highest amounts in eggs, and they’re an excellent quick and easy food to add to our meals. With this information in account, below you’ll find a quick snapshot of a couple days of meals to amp up diversity, colorful foods, and nutrient-density to keep us physically and mentally more resilient this year. If you like extra challenges, a good one is to prepare and consume them in a way that harkens the spirit of Hestia –since when we cook and eat more mindfully, we also can digest and absorb more of those nutrients in our foods.
+ Breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh apricots, ground flax seed, and 1-2 chopped Brazil nuts
+ Optional Snack: Fruit and nut energy bites
+ Lunch: Whole grain quinoa and garbanzo bean bowl with seasonal vegetables, cooked or raw as desired, 2-3 cups leafy greens, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds
+ Optional Snack: Muesli with fresh fruit and milk of choice (add 1 scoop protein powder if highly active)
+ Dinner: Mushroom and Greens Egg Frittata with wholegrain sourdough toast or roasted sweet potatoes (wrap a few beets in foil and roast for tomorrow during dinner prep)
+ Optional Dessert: Berries and yogurt muesli/granola parfait
+ Breakfast: Oatmeal with peaches, tahini, and 1-2 chopped Brazil nuts
+ Optional Snack: handful of berries and pumpkin seeds
+ Lunch: Wholegrain sourdough toast with 1-2 fried eggs, roasted beets, and a couple big handfuls of leafy greens (lightly cooked or raw)
+ Optional Snack: Greens and berries smoothie (can add 1 scoop protein powder if highly active)
+ Dinner: Grilled salmon or cod and roasted or grilled baby potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms and zucchini (Seasoned lentils for non-fish option)
+ Optional Dessert: Sliced apple and almond butter and a couple squares of dark chocolate