With social distancing and the closure of restaurants due to coronavirus precautions, the opportunity has arisen to utilise this time to develop skills in the kitchen. While our change of lifestyles might cause feelings of stress, it’s not uncommon for sugar cravings to be prevalent if we’re finding ourselves more stationary than usual.
When we are stressed, our bodies are programmed to crave sugar as it triggers the release of serotonin, leading to feelings of relaxation. However, this can actually create a lasting stress-sugar cycle, as studies have proven that diets high in sugar can decrease the metabolization of serotonin in the body, slowing down the body’s metabolic rate. Processed foods also require less energy to digest due to high levels of refined ingredients, which means that you expend less metabolic energy.
Paola Atlason, New York-based Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach, says “The key to keeping stress eating under control is to first have the awareness of it, and to notice the occasions when the habit arises: if you’re feeling tired in the afternoon and looking for a sugary snack, it’s likely that you need to rest as the body is asking for energy. Or if you find yourself being bored in the evening and go to the kitchen for something to eat, you can often curb the craving by calling a friend, playing a good song or moving around to entertain yourself. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger too; if you’ve had complete meals and are not truly hungry, drink a glass or two of water, and add a pinch of sea salt or good electrolytes for extracellular hydration.”
As a mother of two, Paola is well-versed in creating nutritious meals for the family and explains how it needn’t be a daunting task: “To me, the biggest misconception around food is that it needs to be complex to cook. Simple and as close to its natural state as possible is always best. Grill, roast or sautée a vegetable and a protein in a little olive oil or butter with a few of your favourite spices for dinner. The biggest challenge to feeding a family right now is the reduced accessibility to a variety of foods, restaurants and take out. The task at hand is to cook every meal, so you may as well find simple ideas that excite you, and get everyone to participate—even the little ones.”
Paola explains that extending your stress eating to children when they’re restless can be avoided: “Multiple snacks a day are not necessary. Breakfast, lunch, a simple mid-afternoon snack like a piece of fruit and a proper dinner is all they need, just like grown-ups.” So what does she recommend having on hand in the pantry? “A good bottle of olive oil to cook with and drizzle over food, two or three great spices (I like smoked paprika, royal cinnamon and black pepper from Burlap and Barrel), and a fancy salt (smoked Maldon or Salttverk Black Lava). These ingredients add an ‘easy-fancy’ feel to any meal. Focus more on whatever fresh produce you can get: a couple of fruits like bananas and mandarin oranges or apples, roots like sweet potato, and green veggies like broccoli and your favourite lettuce (make sure to wash everything with water and a dash of dish soap, and rinse well). Add to that simple proteins like a whole chicken, a dozen eggs and a bit of ground beef in the fridge, as opposed to grains and pasta which cause inflammation and are counterproductive to immune support.”
For our Good Mood Food series, Paola has pulled together the perfect alternative to a weekend take out with her simple, nutritious recipes for unfried chicken and smashed beans.
Unfried Chicken (Serves 4)
Paola recommends chicken as one of the most bioavailable forms of protein (amino acids to rebuild muscle).
8 chicken drumsticks or thighs with the skin / or a whole chained cut in 8pc (about 3lb)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp smoked paprika
1tbsp sea salt
2 grindings fresh pepper
- Mix all marinade ingredients together in a bowl
- Add the chicken to the bowl and let it sit for 30min to bring the chicken to room temperature
- Place chicken in a baking dish and pop in the oven for 40min
- Turn chicken pieces and roast for another 10min
- Grill on high for 5min, then turn and do 5min on the other side or until crispy (keep an eye on it so the skin doesn’t burn!)
Smashed Beans (Serves 4)
The bean mash has fibre (prebiotic) and magnesium (a mineral good for the nervous system). Paola uses a can or two as an equally comforting substitute for mashed potatoes if she doesn’t have fresh produce handy.
3 14oz cans of white beans (cannellini are great)
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice and grated zest of 1/2 lemon or lime
Salt as needed (some beans have salt)
Pepper to taste
- Add oil to a saucepan with the minced garlic and lemon zest to warm through.
- Drain the beans and rinse under the tap to get rid of the liquid they come in. Then add to the pan and stir and smash with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with the chicken and a simple green lettuce salad (green or red leaf) made with sliced tomatoes and onions, and drizzled with olive oil, lime, your favourite salt and a good cracking of pepper.
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