Racial Disparities & Hunger

Racial Disparities & Hunger

These last couple of weeks have been heavy. They were filled with grief and anger, uncertainty and dismay, but there was also a glimmer of hope for true and lasting change. In fact, change has already taken place or been initiated thanks to everyone who stood up to racial injustice in protest. Those who were uneducated or in the dark took a step back and listened. Melanated voices were amplified, and the symbiotic relationships of teacher and student, friend and ally, were established and strengthened. I personally had a difficult time finding my place in the fight for social justice. I did listen, learn, and will strive to continue educating myself on how to bring about true change and equality in this crazy world we live in. I hope that speaking up and writing this article now is a beginning point for my small contribution.

It is well-known that minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty and hunger, specifically African Americans, Blacks, Latinos, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Of course, all ethnicities have outliers and exceptions, but a large portion of food insecurity is seen within these minority communities. I learned more about this topic during my nutrition education and when researching food insecurity on college campuses. My peers and I noticed a troubling and common theme- there are apparent risk factors regarding hunger as a college student -being a minority, first-generation student, and coming from a low-income household. Instead of being rewarded for pursuing higher education, these at-risk populations are directly plagued with chronic hunger. But how can race be a predetermining factor for food insecurity and hunger?

According to the USDA, 22.5% of African American households and 18.5% of Hispanic households are food insecure, both of which are higher than the national average of 12.3%.

Racial inequality has been discussed very openly recently. As a result, the mass population is learning that socioeconomic status, education level, healthcare access, and one’s neighborhood can greatly impact a person (and their family’s) health- all of which minorities have had a more difficult time acquiring higher levels of. If a student comes from a low-income family who doesn’t qualify for government assistance, he or she may be left with the decision of paying for books or feeding him or herself. NO ONE should have to choose between education and a full stomach. Why are individuals even being presented with this choice to make?

Our system is broken.

If you’re ever searching for a documentary on food insecurity, I suggest you check out A Place at the Table, featuring Jeff Bridges. It is available for rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube, or iTunes. The food doc tells the stories of different families in America and how they struggle to keep food on the table. Each family is of a different race, and while they are all heartbreaking, the journey that stood out to me was of a young black, single mother who struggled to feed herself and her two children. She was unemployed at first and receiving government assistance, but here’s the part that most people don’t see- she eventually got hired at a food alliance to help others who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. When she obtained the job,  her government assistance was immediately revoked,. With no savings, she struggled even more to keep her head afloat and feed her children, even with a job. So why would she hustle and work to only struggle MORE than when she wasn’t working and on food assistance? Our system is broken and needs to be fixed.

I saw this quote earlier- “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect”. So is saying “the system is broken” incorrect since the system was never whole and fully functioning to begin with? Leave your thoughts below.

“1 out of 2 children in the United States, at some point, will be on food assistance”. 

This statement alone is startling. How can 1 out of 2 children be hungry when everyone around us seems fine? For one, hunger does not discriminate. Hunger doesn’t care what race you are, what education level you have, or where you live. Who does care to discriminate against you is the government, who dictates who can afford food through mass production of obesity-causing processed foods offered at a cheaper price compared to organic foods that are unaffordable and inaccessible to many. We must collectively stand up to our government officials and petition for change. We must educate ourselves, each other, plant and grow gardens together, support local farmer’s markets and farms, and get back to our “roots” of real food and health.

And if that’s not bad enough…

As The Alliance to End Hunger points out, “Schools with 90% white students spend $733 more per student than schools with 90% or more students of color.” This is data and statistical evidence that discrimination is effecting children of color in schools. It breaks my heart, and I can’t even fathom how the allocation of funds isn’t equally distributed to feed all children, especially children in need. If children aren’t fed properly, they cannot effectively think, learn and retain information in school. Our brains need sufficient food and nutrients to function optimally! Heck, many of these kids have trouble staying awake in class. This has to change.

Government programs, such as the SBP (School Breakfast Program) and SLP (School Lunch Program), have been in place since the late 60s. Fun Fact: The SBP was first organized and founded by members of the Black Panthers! It was so successful that the two-year pilot program kept being extended and still exists today. So why is food insecurity and hunger on the rise in America with these programs in place?

While charity and government assistance programs help, they are only a temporary fix instead of a solution. The underlying problem is that the cost of healthy food is too steep and inaccessible while processed foods that cause chronic disease are cheap and readily available. See the chart below.

What can we do?

How can we advocate for minority populations who are food insecure when our system sets them up to fail? The best I and other food justice fighters can do is educate ourselves, write our local, state, and federal government officials, and petition to change these laws that favor mega corporations and revenue streams over human health and food equity. When I speak of food equity, I am referring to everyone having access to an assortment of affordable and nutritious food. This is food security. Food insecurity is the opposite- NOT having easy access to affordable and nutritious foods. Many low-income areas are considered food deserts because they don’t have grocers that carry fresh produce. This is a major problem. Food and health is a BASIC HUMAN NEED AND RIGHT! This will have to be a whole other blog post because I am also very passionate about food deserts and the need to eradicate them in this country.

Other ways to help.

Please feel free to contribute to this ongoing discussion of racial disparities and food injustice. I am very passionate about the topic and am open to your thoughts.

Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

The season for fresh strawberries is here! 🍓🍓🍓 I have friends who love making jams, jellies, shrubs, and compotes with this beautiful and flavorful berry, but my favorite way to eat this fruit is by themselves or in a baked good. 😉

Almond butter is another favorite of mine. It typically gives baked goods a fudgey consistency, or at the very least, produces a moist batter. The key is using a creamy, all-natural nut butter with just a touch of the oil that pools on top. I mix mine, but not as thoroughly as I normally would using it solo.

I created this recipe with vegans in mind, along with those who are sick of seeing bananas in every👏damn👏recipe! Don’t get my wrong, I love bananas. I eat them nearly every single day as a runner, BUT, I don’t find it necessary to use them as a natural sweetener in every bloody recipe. LOL. Let’s switch it up people!

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Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

Prep time: 5 minutes

Bake time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

Wet 

  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 applesauce (I used unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup creamy almond butter (mix lightly and use top of jar contents)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 flax egg- click link to see how to make one (you can use a regular egg too)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 6-8 strawberries (depending on the size and amount desired)

Dry

  • 3 cups oat flour (rolled oats)
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (if almond butter has salt, use 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon

Tools

  • muffin tin
  • muffin liners
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • rubber spatula
  • ice cream scoop

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Get your muffin tin out and insert muffin liners.
  2. Prepare flax egg if using. Add all of the wet ingredients (besides the strawberries) to a large bowl and whisk until evenly mixed.
  3. Blend or process 3 cups rolled oats until a rough flour consistency is formed. I counted to 10 processing on medium and left a few broken oat pieces in because I like the rustic texture and look.
  4. Add all dry ingredients to a small bowl and mix to combine. Then add to wet ingredients.
  5. After the batter is formed, dice strawberries and add to the batter. Mix with rubber spatula. Use an ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup to add batter to each muffin liner.
  6. Bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the muffins pass the knife test- insert knife into muffin, if the batter is not on it, it’s fully cooked!

I hope you enjoy these summer treats as much as my husband and I did! I’m not sure about the shelf life, but since there are fresh strawberries in them, I would recommend refrigerating them for longevity.

 

 

 

 

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

I attended the largest-held food and nutrition conference in the U.S. for the last two years- last year in Philly, and two years ago in D.C. It’s called FNCE, short for the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Both were fully funded by my university’s Student Government Association, and I couldn’t be more grateful for these opportunities. If you have never been to one of these grandiose and usually overwhelming events, you may not know that several rooms host various speakers all the same time. It is the attendee’s responsibility to choose, plan, and navigate each session as the day goes on.

One topic that stood out to me was about sleep and nutrition. We have known for awhile now that 8 hours of sleep is the standard recommendation, but does everyone really know the science behind it and how it relates to our eating habits? I was intrigued, so I added that to my schedule. The session was called “Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep”, and it was presented by Michael A. Grandner, PhD, MTR from the University of Arizona. He was pretty engaging, which my friends and I were thankful for since it was started at 9am on a Sunday.

He introduced the topic by simply defining sleep as a “naturally rhythmic and recurring process with a reduction or lack of consciousness, perceptual disengagement, immobility,  and which is reversible”. Now this process is controlled by two mechanisms: 1) Our sleep drive, and 2) our biological clock, aka circadian rhythm.

Did you know…

when we are awake that our brains accumulate fluid, toxins, and adenosine (a cell by-product from energy production)? Yep! This is our body’s sleep drive. When enough build-up and pressure is present, we grow tired. When we sleep, this is when these fluids, toxins, and adenosine are released. Sleeping is detoxifying for our brains!!!!!

This is such an important fact I think everyone should be made aware of. We tend to glorify those who can function off of less sleep and praise the “hustlers” and “go-getters”, but is the exchange of long-term health for success worth it? That’s kind of a rhetorical and subjectively-pointed question.  What I can tell you is that this presenter made it clear that no matter how well you think you function sleep-deprived, no one is exempt from the health recommendation of getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

The tricky thing is getting enough quality sleep. Many of us think we are getting our suggested 7-9 hours in because we spend that time in bed, but quality sleep takes many things into account:

  • Sleep onset, or how quickly you fall asleep
  • Number of awakenings per night
  • Total sleep time
  • Sleep efficiency

For quality sleep, you should be falling asleep within 20-30 minutes of putting yourself to bed. If you are having a difficult time with this, try turning off any devices 2 hours prior to bedtime, wearing blue-blocking glasses if you absolutely need to have screen time (I just ordered myself a pair), avoid doing anything but sleeping or having sex in the bedroom, and practice going to bed satisfied with food (not hungry, but not too full).

Some foods that have been proven to aid in melatonin production, relaxation and sleep include:

  • tart cherry juice or tart cherries,
  • kiwis
  • foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan (which is a precursor to serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin- whew! science) Foods with tyrptophan include turkey, seafood, dairy, chicken, nuts, seeds and eggs.

What about melatonin supplements?

Melatonin supplements aren’t typically effective. Our bodies already produce this hormone, so it isn’t necessary to supplement with it. Melatonin supplements can have a minimal effect on sleep quality by timing the dosing right around 8pm, the peak at which natural melatonin reaches a high in the body. When the sun sets, our body’s secrete the most melatonin. This occurs around 8pm on average, so it makes sense why we would have to time our melatonin supplement then- to aid in the amount of melatonin present for sleep support.

Now to return to the other points I made about quality sleep…

The average person wakes up about 30 times a night, but only for a few seconds. Yep. That’s kind of a startling number, right? This is normal, and we typically don’t remember these brief awakenings. What we do want to focus on is the number of times we remember waking up. Since each full sleep cycle entailing the 5 stages of sleep (REM + nREM) takes place in 90 minute intervals, we should be getting about 5-6 cycles in per night. So we shouldn’t be consciously waking up more than 5 times per night, at the maximum.

How long should my naps be?

This was a popular subtopic when the end of the presentation opened up for questions. Dr. Michael Grandner suggested that a person should set their alarm for a 90 minute nap if possible. Why is this? Because this is the duration of a full sleep cycle, which gifts you quality sleep. He acknowledged that everyone does not have the luxury to take a 90 minute nap and that any amount of sleep is better than none.

What’s this talk about circadian rhythm being important?

Circadian rhythm is our body’s internal mechanism of knowing when to wake up and when to sleep. A large component of this is light. When the sun rises, our eyes register this light and release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that makes us alert, hence, why it is secreted when we rise- to wake us up! It is this reason why coffee first thing in the morning is not suggested- because it is not necessary with our body’s natural way of waking itself up. We just have to give it time. I do not practice what I preach when it comes to this though, simply because I LOVE my caffeine highs. 😉 I must note that if you are having trouble sleeping, you should consider reducing or removing caffeine from your diet. Stimulants and depressants (including alcohol) have shown to disrupt sleep in numerous studies, even when the subject was unaware.

What else does sleep deprivation affect?

  • weight gain- increased appetite
  • (those who sleep less consume 300-500 kcals extra/day)
  • exacerbates chronic disease symptoms
  • adds to inflammation
  • toxins build up in the brain
  • lowers immune responses
  • reduces performance
  • effects mental health
  • can cause behavioral issues
  • can lead to poor decision-making
  • shorter life expectancy

What else can I do to improve my sleep?

Aside from shutting down electronics 2 hours before bed, only using the bedroom to sleep and for sex, and eating or drinking tart cherries, kiwis, tryptophan-rich foods, or taking a melatonin supplement, you can also…

  • drink more water for improved temperature regulation
  • invest in black-out curtains
  • ensure a comfortable sleeping environment
  • engage in regular exercise
  • eat healthy, balanced, and sufficient portion sizes
  • avoid stimulants or depressants
  • maintain healthy relationships to decrease stress.

Summary

Sleep is considered the third pillar of health, next to diet and exercise. It is essential for humans to reset, detoxify, and function properly. A regular schedule and ample amounts of sleep can lengthen one’s expected life span and decrease other health risks, including but not limited to weight gain, chronic disease, and heart issues.

While eating healthy, exercise, and certain food and supplements may help, you should seek help from a professional sleep expert and undergo a sleep study should you still have trouble sleeping. Many suffer from undiagnosed insomnia and sleep apnea, which are serious medical conditions that cannot be helped by lifestyle changes alone.

Resources

American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society

National Sleep Foundation

Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Reference

Grandner, M. (2019). Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep [1-46].

The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Raw Butter Pecan Bars!

Raw Butter Pecan Bars!

I was daydreaming of flavor combos that would kill it as a raw bar, and my mind landed on butter pecan. I LOVED butter pecan ice cream as a kid, and while pecans are typically used in the fall, who says we can’t have them NOW!? Ami right?!

I wanted to make this recipe vegan and paleo friendly, so I used coconut oil instead of butter and maple syrup instead of any other sweetener.

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Raw Butter Pecan Bars

Prep time: 30 minutes

*2 hours refrigerating time is suggested!

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 sleeve Graham crackers
  • 1 packed cup medjool dates
  • 3/4 cup toasted almonds

Filling

  • 2 cups soaked cashews
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 pecans

Topping

  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Toast almonds and topping pecans for 10 minutes.
  2. While they are toasting…boil water and soak the medjool dates and cashews, separately. The dates can soak for 10 minutes, but the cashews should soak for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Discard the water from the dates and REMOVE THE PITS! Once the almonds have cooled, put the 3 crust ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse 5-8 times, scraping the sides as needed. The pieces should be a large grain consistency.
  4. Lightly coat an 8×8 pan with coconut oil. Place and press the mix to the bottom of the pan only to form the crust.
  5. After the cashews have soaked for the allotted 20-25 minutes, discard the water and blend with the remaining filling ingredients. Blend on high until smooth. This took me about 3-4 minutes. Scrap sides as needed.
  6. Pour and evenly layer on top of crust.
  7. Press pecans on top of the filling, making whatever design you would like!
  8. Refrigerate for 2 hours to set. You may even prefer them frozen for a longer shelf life and a firmer consistency. It’s up to you! JP and I prefer them frozen!

Enjoy these sweet treats, and please let me know if you tried them out! Happy eating, friends! ❤

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My Experience With COVID-19

I have been debating whether or not to publicize that JP (my husband) and I had COVID back in March. This was confirmed only a of couple of weeks ago through an antibody test, since COVID tests weren’t available in our area when we were infected. I didn’t want people to think that I was sharing for attention, nor that my experience meant that theirs would be similar. As we know, this novel virus is affecting individuals in a wide variety of ways- from being an asymptomatic carrier to needing a bed and ventilator in the ICU. So please don’t lessen your precautionary measures after reading this.

I have decided to share my experience for a few reasons… 1) I want others to feel comfort in knowing someone who had it and survived without any complications., 2) I want to detail JP and I’s day to day signs and symptoms, that lasted for weeks, if not a couple of months., and 3) I want the running community I so deeply love to know how COVID effected my lungs longer than the symptoms and infection lasted for.

Let me start from the beginning…

A new restaurant opened around the corner from us. It’s a seafood bar, and my neighbors and I were intrigued. The news had really been buzzing with rumors of a shutdown coming our way, so against our better judgement, we decided to check it out just in case it was our last chance to (it was). The food was decent, but the company was better. The very next day, Mayor Lightfoot officially announced Chicago’s shelter-in-place order, which began on Saturday, March 21st, 2020. We joked about how we were happy to have had one last restaurant experience for awhile.

I must disclose that JP was extremely anxious from the get go, to the point that I was worried about him. Starting on Tuesday, he began complaining about tightness in his chest and being tired. I truly thought it was anxiety rearing its ugly head amidst the new stay-at-home order. I tried to comfort him and ask him if there was anything I could do, but he withdrew. I focused on and clung to what positives I could- having more time, not having to commute to school 3 hours a day, taking on new hobbies, etc. I even got creative and turned our spare bedroom (which we use as a library) into a temporary hot yoga studio. I did this by heating up the room with a portable heater (on full blast) one hour prior to the start of a virtual class. I would tuck a towel underneath the door to keep the cool air out and the hot air in, and I plugged in our humidifier that doubles as an oil diffuser. Adding eucalyptus oil was heavenly. I was off to a good start in self-isolation…until that Thursday, when I could hardly make it through my yoga class.

It was that feeling of impending doom- that an illness was on the verge of surfacing. I was honestly in denial about it. “I’m just really tired”, I told myself. That night, my sense of taste started to diminish. This was before loss of smell and taste were official signs of COVID, so I thought I had the cold, flu, or a potential sinus infection. The next day, I completely lost my senses of smell and taste. I chalked it up to my sinus headache, inflammation within the sinus cavity, and a possible infection. Yep, I was dumb and tried to self-diagnose.

So here I am, day 3 of feeling sick, with the following symptoms…

Day 1: Weakness and lethargy, started to lose my taste

Day 2: Sinus pressure behind the eyes, headache, lethargy, weakness, runny nose, congestion, inflammation in my nasal cavity, “wet” cough to remove phlegm production, complete loss of taste and smell

Day 3: Same as day 2

At this point, I was convinced I had a sinus infection because my nasal cavity/sinus passageways were inflamed as hell. I have never had sinus issues before. *denial*

Day 4: I registered a fever of 100.9F (mild), another classic sign…

Day 4 is also when I came across numerous articles about people reporting loss of smell and taste as symptoms. THIS freaked me out, and I went down a rabbit hole on the web…

Day 5: Fever subsided, then returned later on

Day 6: All symptoms are still present, but fever has reduced

Days 7-9: All symptoms are still present, BUT seems to be improving day by day

Day 10: My taste and smell start to return after what seems like an eternity!!! Their function doesn’t return fully for another 4 days.

After 2 weeks of being sick (the average reported duration of COVID infections) with the loss of smell and taste (which was unlike anything I have ever experienced before), I was convinced we had and beat COVID. It wasn’t until JP made us appointments for antibody tests 2 months later that we confirmed our suspicions. Damn, were we relieved to have already had it and survived!

So, that was the quick rundown of our experience. It truly felt like an elongated flu bout. I was pretty much bed ridden for 3 days. Unfortunately, I had to crank out my part of a group presentation on subarachnoid hemorrhaging during this time. That was tough when feeling that bad. Aside from that, the worst of it was not being able to smell or taste in isolation! Correct me if I’m wrong, but food and beverage are among the few pleasures you can experience at home. And sex was off the table. LOL. No food. No sex. No fun.

Kidding aside, it felt like someone cut off my ability my smell and taste forever. Like a circuit was shorted. I could not detect an iota of a scent or flavor. NOTHING. It was truly terrifying. And during my dark dive into the web, it said that severe cases might permanently damage the epithelial lining of the nasal cavity- causing permanent loss of senses- WHAT?! Luckily, this wasn’t the case. But honestly, you’ll know if you have it with this.

I tried to run for the first time 3 weeks later. Yes, I was wearing a mask, and I still do while running.  I care about passing it to others, even though it’s unlikely to contract it and become contagious again (according to a recent study). Anyways, it felt like I had never run before. Honestly, it felt like I was completely out of shape. For those of you who don’t know me, I have ran 9 marathons, 14 half marathons, and exercise 5-6 times a week. Perhaps a 2 week illness did a number on me, but it did not leave me THAT out of shape. I figured my body was still recovering.

Come to find out that COVID can do long-term damage to your lungs. While I don’t think it is permanent for me, I believe that my lungs took up until recently to heal. That is 2 months. Yes, it could have been me building my base for running again, but the chance that every run felt that tough and strenuous is questionable. JP thinks he had a resurgance of the virus a month later . His lethargy returned, along with coughing, which led to blood in his mucus. Sorry if this is gross, but I find this part important to share. Blood is scary and no joke. We took it seriously and contacted his doctor. They said to monitor it, and after 3 days, it went away. I really think his lungs were affected for a month or two longer as well.

I wanted to add this part for any runner friends who may contract this in the future. I do not wish this on you, but I want you to be prepared and aware that your lungs may need time to recover even after the infection, signs and symptoms have subsided. Give yourself grace. Listen to your body. Be kind to yourself.

Our last really odd sign was COVID toes! We didn’t realize until 2 months after, but our toes had developed these subtle calluses on top of them. I didn’t think anything of mine because I chalked them up to my running and new shoes. But JP mentioned it to me one day, and I was like, “OMG, we had COVID toes too!”. LOL.

So that was our experience with COVID-19. We are so fortunate to have been able to fight it and fully recover. I know others have not been as lucky. When we were sick, we just rested and slept a lot, stayed hydrated, dosed with vitamin C and multivitamins, took Tylenol, flushed with a neti pot, gargled with salt water, drank ACV and lemon tea, drank green tea, and ate a ton of fruits and veggies. I made protein shakes a few times too since protein is supposed to aid in healing. I wish I had known about dosing with vitamin C, D, and zinc prior to being infected, but ya live and ya learn.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments. Once again, just because this was our experience doesn’t mean this will be yours. Take precaution. Be safe. Protect yourself and others. Be well. ❤

And get medical treatment should you need it!

 

 

COVID-19 & Zinc

COVID-19 & Zinc

It seems that vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc are among the most talked about nutrients in relation to COVID-19. I already delivered the truths about vitamin C & D in terms of their true power in preventing or treating this virus, but let’s take a look at zinc.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral that is essential for growth, development, and managing the complexity of the immune system. It is found throughout all systems, organs, and tissues of the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 31% of the world is deficient in this mineral, but the National Center for Biotechnology Medicine (NCBI) estimates <15% of zinc deficiency exists in the United States.¹

The functions of zinc include:

  • RNA synthesis and gene expression
  • Cofactor to more than 300 enzymes
  • Aid in alcohol metabolism
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Immune function
  • Protein synthesis
  • Antioxidant
  • Stabilizes cell membranes

ATTENTION PARENTS!

Sufficient zinc levels can reduce the risk for premature births, all-cause mortality, and stunted growth in children. In addition, zinc supplementation can decrease the duration and severity of child diarrheal episodes and Acute Lower Respiratory Infections (ALRI).¹ As we now know, COVID can cause both upper and lower respiratory infections, so zinc supplementation could potentially reduce the duration and severity of a viral-induced infection.

In a study conducted in 2019 in Thailand, children suffering from ALRI who were administered 30mg of zinc/day recovered 1 day faster and were released 3 days earlier from the hospital than the placebo group. A similar study carried out with Indian and Bangladesh children resulted in similar conclusions- less severe cases and a shorter stay in the hospital.²

The mechanism by which zinc supplementation improves the symptoms of ALRI is unknown. Theoretically, zinc is essential for protein synthesis and cell growth, and it plays a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the immune system and respiratory cells during inflammation mucosal resistance.²

Zinc can possibly be protective against COVID symptoms, specifically for those at risk, by reducing inflammation, aiding in breaking up and clearing mucus build up, and modulating the immune system’s response. However, more isolated studies must be done to confirm its effects. When I say isolated, I am referring to studies that do not supplement with other nutrients simultaneously because it would be impossible to determine which nutrients had a positive, negative, or no effect on the patients. Zinc dosing must be the independent variable in future treatment studies.

So how do we protect ourselves against zinc deficiency?

According to the USDA, “the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult men and women is 11 mg/day and 8 mg/day of zinc, respectively”. Like most other vitamins and minerals, zinc can easily be obtained through the diet and/or a multivitamin.

Dietary sources of bioavailable zinc include:

  • Shellfish
  • Organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Enriched breakfast cereals

Bioavailable means that your body can appropriately and effectively digest, absorb, and process said nutrient. Zinc may also be found in whole grains and legumes, but the zinc is not as abundant or bioavailable in these foods. With that said, since quality zinc is mostly found in animal-sourced foods, those who are vegan may need to supplement to specifically address this lack of mineral absoprtion.

The Upper Limit (UL) for zinc is 40mg/day. However…

Supplementation with doses of zinc in excess of the UL is effective to reduce the duration of common cold symptoms. The use of zinc at daily doses of 50 to 180 mg for one to two weeks has not resulted in serious side effects.³

Just like vitamin C, zinc has been shown to alleviate cold and flu symptoms, which makes sense because these effect the respiratory system. The long-term supplementation of zinc can lead to copper deficiency, but this is not common. Please consult with your physician or child’s primary care pediatric physician before supplementing with zinc.

To wrap up the COVID & Nutrition series…

While vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc can all arm the body’s immune system with virus weaponry, these nutrients do not provide immunity or prevention of contracting this virus. They can alleviate the severity of signs and symptoms, as well as the duration of an infection should one ensue. Please consult with your doctor before deciding to supplement. Food and drug interactions may occur for those with conditions or taking herbal remedies or medications.

Keep in mind that eating a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet can set you up for an improved health outlook. While I do not want to condone using the phrase, “boosting your immune system”, eating foods or supplementing with vitamin C, vitamin D, and/or zinc can potentially alleviate symptoms associated with the cold, flu, and respiratory infections. Stay safe, and be happy and well, my friends!

Tell me. Did this article help?

 

Photo: HOTZE Health & Wellness Center.; 2017. https://www.hotzehwc.com/2017/07/foods-boost-testosterone/. Accessed May 21, 2020.

References

1. Wessells KR, Brown KH. Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50568. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050568

2. Rerksuppaphol S, Rerksuppaphol L. A randomized controlled trial of zinc supplementation in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infection in Thai children. Pediatric Reports. 2019;11(2). doi:10.4081/pr.2019.7954

3. Zinc. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc. Published January 1, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.

 

COVID-19 & Vitamin C

COVID-19 & Vitamin C

Moving on to another hot topic regarding COVID and nutrition- today I’m telling all about vitamin C! Nope, not the infamous graduation song singer. The vitamin. (bad joke, I know). 😉

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is utilized primarily as an antioxidant. Antioxidants fight free radicals, toxins and stress that oxidize and damage cellular function. Vitamin C is considered an essential micronutrient because our bodies don’t produce it. Instead, we must rely on our diet or oral supplementation for our daily dose.

Dietary sources of vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits (such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges)
  •  Berries
  • Papaya
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach¹

*If you are not consuming enough of these foods, a multivitamin should do the trick. The DRI (Daily Recommended Intake) for men is 90 mg, while the DRI for women is 75 mg.¹ Just double check your multi-vit label.

Many of us have heard to take vitamin C when we feel like we’re coming down with something. Whether it’s drinking OJ or chugging Emergen-C, this is luckily a common knowledge remedy. And it’s true! Science has shown that vitamin C consumption does work as a weak antihistamine, relieving flu and cold-like symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion or swollen nasal cavities.² But vitamin C does much more than fight off foreign invaders…

The functions of this vitamin include:

  • Acts as an antioxidant
  • “Recharges” enzymes
  • Collagen synthesis
  • Precursor to hormone production and secretion
  • Needed for formation of blood vessels, cartilage, and muscles
  • Essential for wound healing
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Hormone synthesis
  • Aids in iron absorption and storage
  • Anti-carcinogen
  • Protects against heart disease¹

As far as COVID prevention is concerned…

Different studies showed that ascorbic acid (vitaminC) positively affects the development and maturation of T-lymphocytes, in particular NK (Natural Killer) cells involved in the immune response to viral agents. It also contributes to the inhibition of ROS production and to the remodulation of the cytokine network typical of systemic inflammatory syndrome.²

While vitamin C cannot outright prevent contracting COVID-19, it has a significant influence on how your immune system responds to and fights the virus cells if you do become infected.

The classic symptoms of COVID-19 thus far are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, a myriad of other signs and symptoms have been reported around the world. According to the CDC, these symptoms include, but are not limited to chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and loss of taste and smell. Critical illness complications are not typically discussed, but The National Institute of Health has an entire page on these, two relative conditions being sepsis and pneumonia.

Septic shock develops due to an infection. It displays itself as low blood pressure and organ failure. “It is estimated that 40% of critically ill patients with septic shock have serum vitamin C levels that suggest scurvy (<11.3 μmol/l).” Therefore, vitamin C supplementation could be beneficial for this group.²

But what does this have to do with COVID? Good question. COVID-19 is a viral strain that causes an upper and/or lower respiratory infection, among other signs and symptoms. Sepsis develops due to infection, so it is quite possible for COVID patients who are in critical condition can develop sepsis and display vitamin C deficiency.

The University of Palermo in Sicily, Italy has decided to treat their COVID patients by administering 10 grams of vitamin C in 250 ml of saline to infuse at a rate of 60 drops/minute. This was decided after a preliminary double-blind study was conducted on 167 patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome back in October of 2019. The trial treated randomized patients with COVID pneumonia with 50 mg/kg every 6 h of high dose intravenous vitamin C (HDIVC) for 4 days versus placebo. By day 28, 46.3% of the placebo cases resulted in fatal conclusions, while 29.8% represented the mortality rate for those treated with vitamin C.² Those treated with vitamin C had a 36% lower rate of mortality.

Other studies have implemented similar doses with the addition of a glucocorticoid to fight inflammation and carb-restricted diet (usually parenterally administered, or through an IV).³

Vitamin C Supplementation Risks

Vitamin C toxicity is unlikely because it is not stored in the body; however excessive vitamin C dosing can lead to cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and even kidney stones in some long-term cases.

Possible food and drug interactions include the following:

  • Aluminum, found in phosphate binders, that could be harmful to dialysis patients
  • Chemotherapy
  • Estrogen
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Statins and niacin
  • Warfarin (aka Coumadin)¹

*Please consult with your physician before taking vitamin C.

Summary

While vitamin C has traditionally been used to ward off the onset of mild cold and flu symptoms, it has not been proven to prevent contracting COVID-19. However, vitamin C has been shown to increase the amount of T-lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells, which both assist the innate immune system in attacking viral-infected cells. Vitamin C also attenuates oxidative stress and inflammation. Lastly, in terms of prevention, this powerhouse helps modulate cell signaling by improving cytokine (hormone-like protein involved in the immune response) production and function.

Further studies are currently underway in the midst of this global pandemic, with many hospitals actively treating their COVID patients intravenously with vitamin C along with other biomedical treatments. So far, the results indicate that vitamin C can lower mortality rates for critically-ill patients.

Does this mean that you should dose with vitamin C? Nope! While it doesn’t hurt in suggested amounts, you can simply incorporate more foods and beverages that contain vitamin C or get your daily fix through a multivitamin.

Photo by Bruna Branco on Unsplash

References

  1. Vitamin C. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-c/art-20363932. Published October 18, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  2. Rossetti CA, Real JP, Palma SD. High Dose Of Ascorbic Acid Used In Sars Covid-19 Treatment: Scientific And Clinical Support For Its Therapeutic Implementation. Ars Pharmaceutica. 2020;61(2):145-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.30827/ars.v61i2.15164
  3. Erol A. High-dose intravenous vitamin C treatment for COVID-19. Erol Project Development House for the disorders of energy metabolism. 2020. doi:10.31219/osf.io/p7ex8

COVID-19 & Vitamin D

COVID-19 & Vitamin D

The abundance of misinformation out there regarding COVID-19 and nutrition is alarming. While these pieces mainly revolve around “boosting” one’s immunity, some go as far as claiming that certain nutrients prevent or treat this virus. I have been wanting to write a science-based article that compiles truths and telephone-game rewrites of how nutrition impacts this virus and its hosts. **SPOILER ALERT** Some of it is true!!

The top nutrients in relation to COVID-19 will be discussed post by post over the next week, as one post would have been way too lengthy to cover everything I wanted to. Today’s topic is vitamin D.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning, it is dissolvable in lipids (fat) and stored in the liver and fatty tissues. We can obtain vitamin D from the sun (of which our skin converts and transfer it to our liver then kidneys to be activated), or from dietary sources.

Dietary sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fish (such as salmon, tuna, herring, cod and sardines)
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified foods and beverages (such as cow’s milk, yogurt, soy milk, plant-based milk, orange juice, and cereals)

The functions of this vitamin include:

  • Calcium homeostasis
  • Bone health (aids in calcium absorption)
  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell growth, maturation, and reproduction
  • Modulation of innate and adaptive immune responses¹

Let’s start with those who are vitamin D deficient. According to the Journal of Investigative Medicine, “Individuals with lower vitamin D levels (<30 nmol/L) were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for variables including season, age, gender, body mass and race”. This is because both the risk and development of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is associated with lower serum vitamin D levels. The risk is attributed to vitamin D increasing “cathelicidins and defensins that can lower viral replication rates and [reduce] concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs”.¹

From 2005-2006, the Nutrition Examination Survey found that 41.6% of Americans were vitamin D deficient.² This is a significant number, especially with the current risk of contracting the highly transmissible COVID-19 strain. Since many of us are still under a stay-at-home order and may not be getting enough sun, I highly recommend trying to either consume more foods that contain vitamin D (listed above) or to invest in a vitamin D3 supplement.

The National Institute of Health recommends daily doses of 600-800 IUs. Many supplements are higher than this, but due to the risk of hypercalcemia, calcification of soft tissues, and other side effects, it is not recommended to exceed 4,000 IUs/day.³ Although studies are currently looking at higher dosing for prevention and treatment, individuals should not attempt this at home.

It may take 2-4 weeks for vitamin D to accumulate to sufficient amounts in your system, so you may lower your dosage once you get back in the sun more often or ensure your levels are where they should be. A multivitamin with vitamin D can do the trick too.

The first bullet is where you want your numbers to be.

* Vitamin D sufficiency: Serum 25OHD 50-125 nmol/L (20-50 ng/mL)

* Vitamin D inadequacy: Serum 25OHD 30-49 nmol/L (12-19 ng/mL)

* Vitamin D deficiency: Serum 25OHD less than 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL)³

You can get your levels checked in a routine biochemical lab panel from a blood draw. Contact your primary care physician to make an appointment.

But what about vitamin D treating those infected with COVID-19? 

While vitamin D reduces the risk of developing an infection, it does not guarantee protection or immunity from this virus. Nor has it been proven to treat or cure COVID-19.   I will leave you with this- vitamin D and vitamin C are strongly linked to improved immune responses. You can ensure your levels are where they need to be through consuming dietary sources or by supplementation, followed by getting bloodwork done.

However, “boosting your immune system” shouldn’t be a coined health phrase because we should always want to enforce our immune strength. This can be done by eating a well-balanced diet, scheduling regular wellness checkups with bloodwork and labs, and by taking supplements and/or a multivitamin.

Did I answer our questions about vitamin D in relation to COVID? Drop me a comment on what you thought!

The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Photo by Michele Blackwell on Unsplash

References

1. Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 2011;59(6):881-886. doi:10.2310/jim.0b013e31821b8755
2. Parva NR, Tadepalli S, Singh P, et al. Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012). Cureus. May 2018. doi:10.7759/cureus.2741
3. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/. Accessed May 18, 2020.

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

NEW RECIPE ALERT!

I’ve mainly been posting my recipes on my Instagram feed, but I think it’s time to start sharing the love again on here. Plus, I can begin to compile all of my recipes in one, easy-to-navigate space.

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for these incredible Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts JP and I had last night for dinner. I typically use him as my unofficial taste-tester and food critic, and he claims that nothing needs to be changed to perfect this recipe. You can be the judge of that bold statement though. 😉

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

Prep time: 5-10 minutes                         Cook time: 45 minutes

Yields: 6 sandwiches *Just halve or quarter the ingredients if you want to make less

Ingredients

  • Bread (I used homemade sourdough, but pick up any kind you like!)
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 cans 16 oz. tuna (we used white albacore in water)
  • Organic mayo (you can use reduced-fat, vegan mayo, or even low-sugar Greek yogurt) I do recommend mayo for the taste factor though.
  • Seasoning Salt (got ours from TJs)
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1 jalapeño (can use green pepper or green onion if sensitive)
  • cheese of your choosing (we used pepperjack and JP also had cheddar)
  • OPTIONAL: pickles OR the Dill Pickle Hummus from Trader’s as a spread *drool*, arugula, hot sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Slice red peppers into strips. Toss in 1-2 tsp olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes on each side- 40 minutes total.
  4. In the meantime, make your tuna mixture. Drain the tuna cans well. Add the tuna to a large bowl.
  5. Finely chop the red onion and jalapeño. Add to tuna. Measure and add seasoning salt and mayo. Mix until combined.
  6. Assemble sandwiches! I used 2 slices of pepper jack cheese on the bottom slice (added 1 cheddar slice for JP). Then added about 1/3 cup (maybe a little more) of the tuna mix.
  7. Transfer the red pepper strips on top of the tuna. Place top piece of bread.
  8. Toast for 5 minutes in the oven, still at 425F.
  9. Let cool and add any other cold toppings you would like. I HIGHLY recommend the Dill Pickle Hummus if you like pickles.

That’s it! A pretty easy recipe for a fun dinner for 1, 2, 3 or 6! You decide. Please leave comments if you try this out so I know what you think. 🙂 Happy eating!

Changes in Appetite and Weight Gain are Normal When Self-isolating

Changes in Appetite and Weight Gain are Normal When Self-isolating

Uncertain times. Self-isolation. Social distancing. COVID-19. Pandemic. All words or phrases we can go the rest of 2020 (or our lives) without. The harsh reality is, all of these things currently describe our social climate, and this climate and environment are not what we’re accustomed to. As a result, our routines have changed, habits have been broken, and new rituals have been adopted. Eating is at the forefront of these changes, and many have struggled with their relationship to food and eating since lockdown.

I have spoken to many friends who have made self-deprecating comments about their weight gain over these past few months. While all I want to do is comfort them with “Oh no, you look great!”, I also want to relay the reality that it is okay if you’re not moving as much, eating more, or have gained weight in self-isolation. Here’s why.

1. Your routine has changed.

The fact is, all of our schedules have changed. Your Sunday meal prep may no longer be because it is no longer necessary. You can make your meals day to day since you’re home. You might not be waking up as early to eat breakfast, or you might be snacking later on in the day. A small grab-and-go breakfast with your nonfat latte is no longer, neither is your salad you used to have 15 minutes to scarf down at work. THIS IS ALL OKAY.

Embrace the change in your routine. Realize that while normalcy as we knew it has now evolved for the time being, we can still be empowered and take control of our meal prep, eating habits, and how we choose to accept that things are different. We can even try new things in the kitchen!

2. You’re likely not moving as much.

Replay your pre-COVID work or school day in your head. Go ahead. Take a moment to do this. Did you bike or walk to your destination? Climb the stairs to your office or the train? Walk or run with a family member, friend, or your pup? The point I’m trying to make is that we were much more active prior to all of this. It’s tough to say and acknowledge, but it’s true, and this is also OKAY. But why is this okay?

It’s okay that we’re not moving as much because this means that those who are still under the shelter-at-home order are abiding by the guidelines. It means we care about people and are showing it by social distancing. It means we’re doing our due diligence for society and the greater good of public health. While people are still getting out for runs and walks, it may not be as far or as long. Of course, there are the few exceptions for those who are still self-motivated to do at-home workouts. Kudos to you, my friends, but you must admit it’s still not the same as intense as gym workouts. We have to give ourselves and others grace, exercising or not.

3. Your sleep pattern may be off.

We no longer have to be in bed by 11PM since we no longer have to answer to our 6AM alarm. A lot of us are staying up and sleeping in later. Some may still be getting the suggested 7-9 hours per night, but many are not due to stress, anxiety, insomnia, and/or “quarantine dreams”.

When an individual is chronically sleep-deprived (less than 7 hours per night), ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases and leptin (the satiety hormone) decreases. When this occurs, you eat more. Dr. Michael Grandner from the University of Arizona shared at the Food and Nutrition Conference of 2019 that those who are chronically sleep-deprived tend to eat 300-500 more calories per day than those who sleep well.

Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation on how to achieve a better night’s sleep.

4. Your hormones are out of whack.

In addition to an increase in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and decrease in leptin (the satiety hormone), epinephrine and cortisol are released when the body is under stress. Worrying about finances, anxiety about contracting COVID, and the psychological effects of self-isolation all qualify as stressors.

When epinephrine (aka adrenaline) is released, your body breaks down glycogen (stored glucose/simple carbohydrate) in the liver. When cortisol is released, your body actually produces glucose in the liver. Yes! Our body is so incredible, it can produce glucose when the body is in need. Any fight-or-flight response instigates both hormones to be released. Having more glucose, or sugar, in the body actually decreases appetite because our body is considered “fed”, so people in isolation may be experiencing waves of no appetite followed by ravenous bouts.

5. Objective or perceived life stress (PSL) can lead to binge eating.

According to a study about isolation and eating habits, “perceived social isolation [is] associated with greater binge eating”. Isolation means we’re alone and/or separated from society- our friends and family- those who bring us joy and meaning to life. With a lack of socialization, loneliness increases, and behavioral changes ensue. Behavior is directly correlated with eating habits, thus, these behavior changes and possible cognitive distress can trigger binge eating. Another study concluded that perceived life stress (PLS) and cognitive restraint can lead to stress eating comfort food. This type of stress eating can be addicting and difficult to break because this behavior can give a false sense of emotional relief and control over something.

Psychologically speaking, eating can be about control. For those with eating disorders- behavioral  issues, trauma, stress, and perfectionism can all be reasons for their existing condition. You can see how self-isolation, losing a job, or the unknown would all be fairly aggressive triggers for these disorders- worsening the condition or causing one to relapse. If you or someone you know is struggling with their relationship to food, check out this article titled, ” Binge Eating Disorder and Isolation: How to Break Out of the Cycle”.

Here are some other resources to seek help. In addition, please contact your physician or a local eating disorder clinic for better care and guidance.

NEDA: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support

NIMH: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/education-awareness/shareable-resources-on-eating-disorders.shtml

In Summary…

A change in appetite and weight gain are normal when self-isolating. Our minds and body’s adapt and meld to our environment and social climate. This adaptation might involve eating more and moving less. It is our bodies response to stress, change, and boredom (which I failed to mention earlier). Please be kind to yourselves, give yourselves grace, process and feel your emotions, and reach out to loved ones or medical professionals if you need help. I am always here as a listening ear should you need one.

Love you all. Stay safe and take care. Xo Danielle