My little granddaughter turned five last week.  Their family adapted their usual celebrations and she had a happy day.  When we chatted on the phone with her, I said, “Pearl, you’re old enough to remember the birthday you turned five.  Have your mom help you write down your memories! When you’re a grandma like me, you’ll be able to tell many stories of this unusual time!  This is history and you’re a part of it!”

Like it or not, we’re all a part of the COVID-19 pandemic! Most of us will (if we haven’t already) experience grief, disappointments, heartaches, financial reversals and frustration far beyond the level of a small child’s birthday celebration.  And anxiety … crushing anxiety that will have us sleeping too long and eating too much.  I’m very sure that Satan is celebrating every day with his minions as stress and anxiety gain their wicked stronghold.  It is our job to dutifully and cheerfully follow our Prophet and his divinely-inspired optimism that all is well.  His announcement of eight new temples is proof!

For me, part of following his counsel to remain faithful and optimistic is to mitigate and thwart the mental distress as much as the coronavirus disease itself!  Here’s what I’ve learned:

Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, has said, “Stressed people’s immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol.

(Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response.)

They’re unable to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they’re exposed to a virus, they’re more likely to develop a cold.”

While he’s not referring to the COVID-19 virus, it goes without saying that overall health is paramount for each of us right now.

Did you know that one of the easiest methods to control anxiety and influence cortisol is through DIET?  Did you know that there are foods that increase feelings of stress, and foods that reduce it?

“It’s hard to cope with being quarantined and not reach for your favorite salty, crunchy snack because of boredom or feeling on edge. A few pretzels or chips are okay, but many people may not be able to step away from eating the entire bag once it’s open. Also, if you’re already feeling blue, the quick fix of cookies or cake will ultimately make you feel worse. Processed foods and shelf-stable items like baked goods contain a lot of simple carbohydrates that create a yo-yo effect on our blood sugar, which can drive anxiety and worsen mood!” says Dr. Uma Naidoo, a member of the Harvard Medical Health Team.

Stress and Inflammation 101!

A conversation this week said it all: “I’m so stressed I’m eating everything in sight, including lots of sugar.  Once I’ve started, it’s impossible to stop!  I feel lousy physically … and mentally because sugar just does that to me!  I’m even more stressed than I was several days ago and can’t seem to find a way to turn it off!” 

That’s unhealthy stress and it’s way too easy to get sucked into this detour. President Nelson says that “Good inspiration comes from good information,” so here’s excellent info to inspire us:

“Examples of unhealthy stress include inadequate recovery from physical, mental and emotional stress of any kind. This could be related to exercise, constant worrying and repetitive thoughts of a negative nature, and even emotions such as depression and anxiety.  Prolonged stress leads to hyper physiololical levels of of cortisol…. As the human body heals, inflammation becomes a response to stress. Like stressinflammation is beneficial, although when stress becomes chronic, it can lead to constant tissue breakdown and impairment of the immune system.  

(The link for the interesting article Stress, Inflammation Immunity by Robert Kress RPh is at the bottom.)

Well, if there was ever a time of “prolonged stress,” it’s now!  The pandemic and the constant reports about it are not going away anytime soon. This situation, which can easily cause a great deal of unhealthy overeating, is not like Christmas where there’s the deadline  Of January 1 in sight to return to normal.

So here’s some good news to reverse this challenge:

Yes, stress can cause inflammation, but so can diet! And that, my dear Brothers and Sisters, we can control.  At this time, the grocery stores are well stocked with foods that will increase anxiety and foods that will decrease it. The choice is ours. 

Here are the top seven foods that increase anxiety:  (More detailed information about each is in the link at the bottom of this article.)

1.  Fried Foods:  Doughnuts, mozzarella sticks and potato chips, etc. Any food that is high in trans fats has been linked to a long list of side effects.

2.  Processed Meat: Any type of meat that has been smoked, cured, salted, dried or canned in order to enhance its flavor or extend its shelf life: This includes cold cuts, bacon, sausage, etc.

3.  Alcohol:  As members of the Church, we know the dangers and this one we can thankfully check off the list.

4.  Refined Carbohydrates:  Pasta, white bread, cookies and crackers are notorious as some of the top foods that cause inflammation as they undergo extensive processing that strip them of beneficial nutrients.

5.  Artificial Sweeteners: Studies indicate that they may disrupt the health of the gut. For many people, the increased sweetness that they think will satisfy a sweet tooth actually increases the desire for more sweet foods.

6.  Vegetable Oil: Heavily processed or refined vegetable oils.  Consuming more than a small amount can trigger inflammation. 

7.  High Fructose Corn Syrup: This bad-boy sweetener is often found in processed foods including soda, juice, candy and ice cream.  It is at the top of the inflammatory foods chart and  have detrimental effects on nearly every aspect of health.

I believe that sugar in all its forms is an anxiety producer all by itself and should be reserved for occasional treats only.

What to eat instead? There are all kinds of healthy and delicious food swaps! What you eat can still be tasty and satisfying.

Here are the seven best anti-inflammatory foods:

1. Fruits: peaches, pineapple, mangoes, apples, berries, pears, oranges – enjoy them all!

2.  Vegetables: broccoli, kale, spinach, zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, watercress, tomatoes, garlic.

3.  Nuts and Seeds: pistachios, macadamia nuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds.

4. Legumes That Act as Proteins: black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, navy beans, peas.

5. Whole Grains: quinoa, couscous, farro, millet, buckwheat, barley.

6. Healthy Fats: coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, avocadoes.

7. Herbs and Spices: turmeric, black pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, cayenne pepper, dill.

I’ve included a link below to Dr. Josh Axe’s full article about inflammatory foods and better choices. This article even includes a free recipe booklet!

One of our favorite meals is a simple veggie pizza that you might want to try:

Carolyn’s Veggie Pizza
We start with a pre-made frozen pizza.  Amy’s frozen organic pizza with a whole-wheat crust is widely available at Walmart and Target. It does have a little cheese on it, which is outside of a whole-food, plant-based diet, but it’s minimal and easy to remove if you prefer.

1.  One Amy’s frozen spinach pizza. Set aside.

2.  Preheat the oven to 425.  While the oven is preheating —

3.  Thinly slice up at least 6 cups of a mix of onion, tomatoes, green pepper, red pepper, mushroom, zucchini, carrots, etc.

4.  In a vegetable steamer or in the microwave, lightly cook the veggies until they are bright in color and crisp-tender. Drain well. Then use a slotted spoon to place on a paper towel to more thoroughly drain.

5.  Using a fork, carefully arrange the steamed veggies on top of the pizza. 
 
6.  Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese,  garlic powder, oregano and Italian seasoning

7.  Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven.

Enjoy! Please note: This is a very THICK pizza! You’ll need to eat it with a fork and knife!

I have a strong belief that the pandemic will help many people find out from necessity that there is a better way to live. This special  time will be a “bend in the river” to create a new normal where we will be blessed both immediately and in the future for adopting a healthier lifestyle with the foods encouraged in the Word of Wisdom.

For more recipes and detailed information about  foods that will help us beat stress and inflammation, I hope you will check out my links below!

Links:

Article: Stress, Inflammation, Immunity:

https://www.rn.com/featured-stories/stress-inflammation-immunity/

Article: Foods That Cause Inflammation and Cookbook!
https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-inflammation/

Eating during COVID-19: Improve your mood and lower your stress

Best Source For  Whole-Food Plant-Based Lifestyle and Recipes: www.ForksOverKnives.com

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds To Weight Loss Success.  She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, D.C. community since 1999.  She and her husband Bob are happy parents and grandparents, now living as empty-nesters in Jackson, Tennessee where they center their online business for their amazing herbal detox. They love serving the Lord and attending in a tiny Tennessee branch of the Church where Carolyn is the Gospel Doctrine teacher.  They have been sharing their amazing herbal detox with Meridian readers since 2008!