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The Mindful Edit – nutrition through the lockdown

Your mindful thought for the week.

This is: ‘The Mindful Edit.’

In times such as these, we believe it is so important to remain positive, hopeful, to spark conversation, and to stay connected with each other. ‘The Mindful Edit’ is a weekly initiative that will offer thoughts and tips to encourage wellness mentally, emotionally and physically. This curated content will be written by Alastair Agbaje (our Chaplain) and guests. 

This week, Ana Thompson (who is currently undertaking an MSc in Human Nutrition) talks us through the ways in which we can remain healthy and eat well during the lockdown. Ana has also created a special recipe video for her ‘Easter Weekend Brownies’ that we invite you to try out for yourselves this weekend. 

How to maintain a healthy diet during lockdown

While living the #quarantinelife can make us feel #sociallydistant, the truth is that we are never alone. Any nutritionist would tell you that living inside each of us is a cosmopolitan crowd of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and viruses (yes, really, viruses!) that form what is known as the gut microbiota. This community of trillions of microbes is so crucial to our physical and mental well-being that it’s actually considered to be another organ.

The gut produces certain vitamins (such as Vitamin K), supports weight management, improves fitness levels, and plays a role in the development and maintenance of a healthy immune system. No two people have the same gut microbiota, not even identical twins!

In the last few years, the microbiota has taken centre-stage in the world of nutrition as researchers work to unveil the mysteries of our gut and the vital role it plays in our physical and mental well-being. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated a link between having an unhealthy gut and depression. Furthermore, with the gut functioning like a ‘second brain’, sleep, stress management, and daily exercise play vital roles in gut health too.

Here are six principles to guide you as you negotiate the challenge of maintaining a healthy diet (and gut microbiome) whilst on lockdown:

1. Eat More Plants – your meals should be primarily plant-based, which doesn’t mean vegan – it just means that your meals should mostly centre around eating different kinds of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Aim for 30 different kinds each week (this sounds like a lot, but herbs and spices count too!). It doesn’t matter if your veggies are fresh, tinned, or frozen. Just make sure you’re eating lots of them!

 2. Feed on Fibre – Some sources of dietary fibre are known as prebiotics, foods that feed our beneficial microbes. Our gut bacteria love to feed on fibre, and well-fed bacteria means hard-working bacteria.

3. Love your legumes – beans and pulses are a great source of fibre and protein, and are extremely versatile. You probably stocked up on a lot of dried legumes before lockdown, so now is the time to use them. Just remember to soak them overnight before cooking.

4. Include some fermented foods – If you ended up with a bunch of random cabbage and carrots in your fridge during a moment of panic-buying at the supermarket, why not turn them into sauerkraut? Or if you love baking, why not have a go at making your own sourdough? Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, the good kind of bacteria that we want in our guts.

5. Avoid processed foods – it is tempting to indulge in junky comfort food at what is an undoubtedly stressful time. But while filling up on crisps might make you feel good for a few minutes, you are doing no favour to your gut. In general, we should be eating whole, natural foods – the kinds our grandparents used to eat growing up!

6. Maintain a balanced lifestyle – Make sure you’re getting enough sleep (7-8 hours), getting some daily exercise (at least 30 minutes), and managing your stress levels through practices such as prayer, mindfulness or baking brownies!

The challenges presented by COVID-19 are nothing short of extraordinary, and with the present economic, social and psychological challenges that life on lockdown presents, the need to pay special attention to what we eat has become all the more important. What we put in our bodies is essential to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, so in addition to our newfound habits of remote working, home-schooling and social distancing, why not add looking after our guts to the list? Your microbes will love you for it.

Ana is passionate about food and nutrition and is currently undertaking an MSc in Human Nutrition.

Ana’s Easter Weekend Chocolate Brownies Recipe (adapted from Simply Whisked)
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup cacao powder or cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs (or 2 flax eggs*)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (only if using the flax eggs)
  • 1 1/3 cup spelt flour

* mix 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds with 6 or 7 tablespoons of water or plant-based milk and let sit for around 5 minutes until the mixture takes on a “gloopy” consistency

Method:
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC or 350ºF and line a square baking dish (roughly 9×9”) with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder (if using) and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the cacao and salt.
  4. Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil and boiling water and mix until smooth.
  5. Add in the sugar, eggs or flax eggs, and the other 1/3 cup of olive oil and combine until you reach a smooth consistency.
  6. Add in the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
  7. Pour the batter into the pan. At this stage, you can also top the batter with nuts or berries if you’d like.
  8. Bake for around 20-25 minutes.
  9. Let the brownies cool before slicing. Serve with ice cream, berries, or a cup of tea. Enjoy!