This is part 2 of a four step plan on Defending Our Health. You can find part one here.
Step 2 – Nutrients and Stress
Stress on our system uses up our resources more quickly than normal and can cause nutritional deficiencies even for those who eat well. In addition to protein which I mentioned in part one, we should be eating fresh, non-processed fruits and vegetables daily with a strong focus more on vegetables than fruit. One of the side effects of long term stress is the effect of cortisol raising our blood sugar. In order to foods that do not increase our blood sugar excessively we should seek to limit servings of fruit as well as grains, especially processed grains, which convert to glucose in our blood very easily.
Getting nutrients from the foods we eat is not just about making high quality and nutritious selections. We also must equip our body with what it needs to digest and absorb nutrients. Probiotics are foods that contain beneficial organisms to boost the normal bacterial flora within our digestive tract. Foods like yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, kombucha and others contain beneficial bacteria that can help our own digestive microbiome develop a bacterial blend that will lead to good health and protect from invasive bad bacteria.
A prebiotic is fiber that instead of being digested by our body is digested by our microbiome. It may help to think about this digestive microbiome world as having two parts. Probiotics are the ‘livestock’ we introduce into our digestive ‘farm’. Prebiotics are the ‘feed’ we give to the livestock to make them healthy so they will produce what we need. We get great prebiotic nutrition from the fiber of vegetables. We can also take fiber supplements like chicory root to give a boost to our critters.
For more on probiotics, check our my previous post: The yin and yang of good bacteria.
Vitamins and Stress
This group of vitamins is essential in helping our body deal with stress. Their effects range from energy production to boosting the immune system to the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that effect our ability to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
Although most of the time we can get these vitamins from eating fresh foods that include meats, vegetables, beans, and nuts, stress can increase our need for these vitamins. Yet, we don’t need extreme amounts and many B complex supplements provide ten to one hundred times more than we need per day, which is far more than we can absorb. One of the better ways to supplement our B vitamins is to take a low dosage multivitamin that has 25 mg or less of most of the B vitamins. This way you won’t overwhelm your body’s ability to absorb these nutrients and you will be taking them with other vitamins that act as important co-factors.
(science article about b vitamins and stress: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21905094 )
We typically think of vitamin C as helpful in preventing colds, but in regards to stress, this vitamin helps us reduce the levels of cortisol in our system. It also is vital in creating collagen, the precursor to muscle and bone tissue. It has even been found to help reduce inflammation. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables will help increase your vitamin C level. Supplements also can be used and it is best to take forms that are buffered to reduce the acidity of this vitamin. A good amount is between 250 – 1000 mg per day.
(for more on vitamin C, check out my post: 5 things to ask yourself about vitamin C)
Many people have less than ideal blood levels of vitamin D. Low D levels can reduce the body’s ability to keep a healthy immune system. High cortisol levels interfere with the uptake and activation of vitamin D in our body. A good idea is to have your blood levels of vitamin D checked. If you levels are low, daily dosages of between 1000 – 4000 IU per day can help you bring the level to an optimal amount. (Home Vitamin D test kit)
Fish Oil – Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil is a known anti-inflammatory, but it also helps us regulate stress in the brain. There are two omega 3 fatty acids in our brain, DHA and EPA. EPA helps control neuro-inflammation, so eating foods high in EPA or taking supplements high in EPA will help keep this inflammation under control. One study showed that a diet high in fish oil reduced cortisol and other stress hormones in the body. Those who don’t like to eat fish can use supplements to improve their levels of the omega 3 fatty acids available to the body and brain. (more about fish oil).
(science articles regarding fish oil: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818 and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-zone/201201/anxiety-and-omega-3-fatty-acids)
In general, we will get the best nutrition when we seek out these things:
Protein – high quality protein is essential for your muscles, your bones, and also to help reduce inflammation. Good protein sources include grass fed beef, organic chicken, wild caught salmon, organic eggs, grass fed or organic dairy and organic grains, nuts, beans and seeds.
Carbohydrates – eat lots of vegetables especially those high in fiber. If you don’t find yourself attracted to vegetables as a side dish, why not try a vegetable soup. Eat fresh, organic fruit, especially low sugar choices such as berries.
Fats – don’t avoid good fats right now. Your body needs this to repair tissue. Avocado, olive oil, fish oils, and saturated fats from organic meats, dairy and eggs are all very important to your add to your diet.
In my next post I will talk about Step 3 in Defending Our Health
All the best!