You have to be resilient to stay healthy and happy. Discussions of human resilience usually involve exercise to toughen you physically, or meditation to strengthen you emotionally. But what about dietary resilience? Eating well provides the biological foundation for dealing with the stress of coping with change and taking advantage of opportunities.
Coping with stress
Stress, change and new challenges can affect good nutrition in negative ways. For example, stress is notorious for compelling us to seek foods high in fat, sugar and salt like donuts, ice cream and potato chips. These foods are known as “comfort foods” because of the immediate gratification we feel from eating them. But what goes up must come down. Surges of blood sugar and hormones ultimately crash, leaving us depleted, irritable and even more affected by stress.
Dietary resilience will help us cope with such things as starting a new job, relocating to another city, unexpected household expenses, injury, or death of loved ones. Eating the right foods and boosting your intake of certain nutrients can help you dramatically increase your physiological reserves, so you feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
Your body and your brain are assemblages of trillions of individual cells. Each cell is made from trillions of molecules. The resilience of each individual molecule relies on proper nutrition from a diverse variety of antioxidants, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that can only be received from a healthy, balanced diet.
For example, getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, free radical-fighting antioxidants, B vitamins and vitamin D will improve your resilience by taming your body’s response to inflammation—a potent protector against illness or emotional stress. Good, affordable sources of omega-3s include fish like sardines or canned tuna. Good plant-based sources of omega-3s include flaxseed and chia seeds.
Eggs provide lots of B vitamins and protein—and also sustain you better at breakfast than carbohydrate based cereals. Leafy greens and most fruits and vegetables deliver antioxidants and plenty of vitamins and minerals, including potassium and magnesium and zinc, which along with vitamin D is a key nutrient for resilient immune health.
Those trillions of cells in your body include trillions of bacteria that line your intestinal tract. It’s becoming known that your gut bacteria function like a vital organ, helping digestion and strengthening the immune system. Yogurt and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut and even the common domestic pickle can help make your gut bacteria, and yourself, more resilient.
Practicing dietary resilience
How do you begin to practice dietary resilience? This is a question addressed by a study published a few years ago in the journal Appetite. The researchers identified a variety of traits that resilient eaters had in common. Those who maintained or improved the quality of their diet over time made eating well a priority. They did whatever it takes to keep eating well.
Those who prioritized eating well made a conscious effort to maintain a healthy diet. Some individuals were motivated by the health benefits. Others simply enjoyed the pleasure of healthy eating by doing such things as getting creative in the kitchen, experimenting with new foods, tastes and textures, and making meals an inviting social occasion. Those who place a priority on dietary resilience that couldn’t always do it for themselves got help when they needed it.