A Four Step Process for Healthy Living
If you are like most people, stress is not exactly a new thing, but when stress levels climb above what we ordinarily deal with, we need to take action to defend our health.
Stress comes in many different packages, but for the sake of simplicity we can divide it into two categories: Involuntary Stress and Voluntary Stress. Involuntary stress is something that happens to us without our consent. It is the loud honk of the car horn behind us. It is the sudden appearance of a barking, snarling dog. It is the 72 hours of rain on our roof with the threat of or actual flood water in our house, it is the hurricane bearing down on us requiring us to evacuate.
Involuntary stress produces a reaction in our body in the part of our brain that responds to emergencies. The fight or flight response is initiated when a stressful situation occurs and this natural body response produces a cascade of hormones designed to arm us with greater speed, greater strength and a narrow focus that has saved humankind throughout time. Adrenaline is released which turns off our normal muscle inhibitions allowing us to become suddenly strong and suddenly fast. This way we can fight or flee from whatever is threatening us. Cortisol is released to allow the body to get quick access to energy through the digestion of body protein. Our vision is altered to focus more acutely in a narrow field to give us greater clarity so we can see the opportunity to escape.
So, in response to this involuntary stress we have an increased heart-rate, improved reflex reactions and are more prone to quick decisive actions. This is exactly what we need if we are confronted by a life threatening ‘thing’.
Long Duration Stress
Unfortunately, this natural response, while great in the short term, while wonderful in cases of extreme need, is also detrimental to our long term health if it remains in place for a longer duration.
For many people who have recently been affected in Houston by Hurricane Harvey or in Florida by Hurricane Irene, the stress came days in advance of the actual event, was profound during the event, and has lingered and looks to try to become a semi-permanent uninvited guest. However, it doesn’t take a natural disaster to give us a stress event. Many situations qualify, including health issues (our own or a loved one), financial downturns, changes in relationship (divorce or marriage) and so on. Any event that causes us stress and does not resolve in a timely manner fits into this category.
We Must Take Charge Of Our Health
We can make a big difference in our health in spite of having encountered a long duration stressful event. All we need to do is focus on the systems of our body that are being activated and we can bring our body what it needs to remain healthy. In fact, the following suggestions will not just defend us from a downturn in health, they can also enhance our current health.
4 Step Plan to Defend Your Health
Step 1 Protein and Stress
One of the most overlooked aspects of stress is the effect of cortisol on our body. Cortisol does several things for us that are crucial for surviving a catastrophe. It is released through our adrenal glands and its main role in the stress state is to give us access to glucose to power our cells and muscles. It does this by enhancing the breakdown of our tissues. It also happens to prevent inflammation by depressing our immune function and it also reduces the formation of bone. The higher the cortisol level and longer the cortisol remains high in our body, the initial positive effect changes into a negative one. We can have trouble with our blood sugar, problems in healing wounds, problems in protein synthesis and trouble building bone.
While we are under stress and after a stressful event it is very important to focus on increasing our dietary protein. We use protein for multiple processes in our body, including muscle building, hormone creation and immune cell building. Providing our body with adequate supplies of high quality protein is number one on the list of things we can do to help defend our health.
30 Grams of Protein
Set your sights on eating 30 grams of protein for at least 3 meals per day. This suggestion is supported by this study. Although this might sound like a lot of protein, it actually is a very normal amount of many foods. Here are some great examples:
- 4 ounces of boneless, skinless, chicken breast = 31 grams
- 5 ounces of ground beef = 28 grams
- 6 ounces of canned tuna = 30 grams
- 1 cup of cottage cheese = 28 grams
- 1 scoop whey protein powder = 26 grams (amount of protein varies by brand)
- 1 cup of greek style yogurt = 22 grams
Other foods supply excellent protein, but our typical serving size will not provide all the protein we need. These can be eaten with other protein sources to reach our 30 gram goal:
- 1 whole egg = 6 grams
- 1 cup milk = 8 grams
- 1 ounce cheese = 5 – 7 grams
- 1 cup rice = 5 grams
- 1 cup beans = 15 grams (varies slightly depending on the type of bean)
- 1 cup vegetables = 2 grams (this can vary based on which vegetables are consumed)
- 1 ounce nuts = 5 grams (this can vary based on the type of nut)
If you are eating animal protein then select either organic sources or grass-fed sources. You want to increase your dietary protein, not your exposure to antibiotics, pesticides and other negative by products of regular factory farming.
Organic is best for plant protein as well and it is important to understand that plant protein is less biologically valuable. This means our digestive tract is not ideal for breaking down the cellular walls of plants. This limits the amount of protein we can digest from a plant to about 55% of the protein that plant product contains.
If you are vegetarian and consume some animal proteins such as egg or milk, then you are likely not to have trouble since your diet will include the more biologically valuable animal proteins. However, vegans who eat exclusively plant products need to plan on eating more than 30 grams of plant protein in a meal. So, if 2 cups of rice and 1 cup of beans and 2 cups of vegetables will give you 29 grams of protein, your digestive tract may only be able to absorb about 16 grams of that protein.
In the next post I will outline further steps for Defending Our Health.
All the best!