Naturally, we need to find things that make us feel “better.” Many of us reach for food to comfort us. Guess which food item has had the largest sales increase in the U.S. from 2019. Here is a hint: it’s not broccoli. It’s frozen cookie dough, where sales are up 454 percent.
But there is a difference between food that comforts just the mind and food that comforts both the mind and the body. Let’s look at two recent examples from my clinical practice.
Food that comforts the mind and body
First, let’s look at the results of a 71-year-old male who stopped eating out during COVID-19, like so many of us. Apparently, for this patient, eating out meant dietary indiscretions. While at home, there has been less temptation. The results speak for themselves.
In a month, his nutrient level improved, measured using serum beta carotene levels. His inflammation, measured by c-reactive protein (CRP), was reduced 40 percent. Inflammation is the potential basis for many chronic diseases.
His kidney function increased by 14 percent. This patient, who suffers from gout, also found his uric acid dropped. Most importantly, his symptoms improved. He described himself as having more energy and enjoying food more.
I am not suggesting you don’t order out, but do it wisely. Diametrically opposed is our second example.
Food that comforts the mind only
This 72-year-old female embraced ultra-processed foods, adding cookies, cakes and sour-dough breads to her diet. Her kidney function decreased by more than 15 percent. Her inflammation, measured by CRP, went up by 75 percent.
Her LDL, “bad cholesterol,” increased more than 20 percent. She described herself as more sluggish and, to boot, she gained five pounds.
What makes these examples even more interesting is that both patients are in the high-risk category for getting severe COVID-19. COVID-19 is associated with elevated CRP, which may increase the risk for more lung lesions and the risk of severe disease.
What is the moral? Use this time to focus on foods that comfort both the mind and the body. Make food work for you and against the common enemies of COVID-19 and chronic diseases.
What about exercise?
Time and again, exercise benefits have been shown. Yet, we are sitting more and, with social distancing, we have less incentive to go outside or do many of our usual activities.
However, not to fret. A recent small study with eight men and women showed that four-minute intervals of exercise throughout the day that interrupted continuous sitting led to a substantial improvement in triglycerides and metabolized more fat after high-fat meals the next day, compared to continuous sitting for eight hours uninterrupted and then eating a high fat meal the next day.
The participants used a stationary bike, exercising intensely for four seconds and then resting for 45 seconds, repeating the sequence five times in a row.
They completed this four-minute sequence once an hour for eight hours. Their daily intense exercise totaled 160 seconds. This bodes well for very short bursts of exercise rather than sitting for long periods without movement.
Not everyone has a stationary bike, but you can do jumping jacks, run in place, or even dance vigorously to your favorite tunes once an hour.
While it is tempting to gorge yourself with food that comforts the mind, don’t! Foods that comfort the mind and the body protect you not only in the short term, but also the longer term from the consequences of chronic diseases.
Focus on beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables, especially DGLV (dark green leafy vegetables) to lower CRP, and limit your consumption of beta-carotene-poor ultra-processed and fatty foods.
Interestingly, it is much easier right now to get DGLVs than it is to get certain ultra-processed foods. Add in exercise, and you will comfort your body plus your mind.