Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian, is famed as a consultant for five different professional sports teams and nutrition counselor for Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy winners.
The three-time New York Times best-selling author, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition science and a master’s degree in public health, talked in an exclusive interview with Monsters and Critics about diet and how to improve what you eat while staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Alkaline diet: Are there real benefits?
With so many unknowns about coronavirus, social media has gone into overload touting different diet trends and supplements. One of the main ones to gain attention during the current crisis is the alkaline diet, especially around its supposed health benefits in helping to strengthen your immune system.
Cynthia explained exactly how the alkaline diet works.
“The theory behind the alkaline diet is to eat in a way that optimizes pH balance, by avoiding or minimizing foods like meat, dairy, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, artificial and processed foods, and consuming more plant based foods, including fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, and seeds,” summed up Sass.
She stressed that there is no scientific evidence that an alkaline diet can actually help when it comes to preventing or treating coronavirus. After reviewing the National Library of Medicine for published articles related to COVID-19 and nutrition, she found nothing that related to the alkaline diet — and said there are “no well-controlled published studies” at all about diets and their relationship to the disease.
However, there is good news when it comes to helping your body prepare if you do become ill, according to Sass. She emphasized the importance of doing things to try and maximize your immune system, such as:
- limiting or eliminating processed foods, sugar, and alcohol
- prioritizing whole plant based foods, including a wide variety of produce colors and types
- eating whole grains, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices.
Although there are similarities to an alkaline diet, Cynthia emphasized the importance of not limiting or eliminating whole plant foods that can support your immune system, regardless of if they are shown as more acidic.
“For example, citrus fruits are often listed as acidic, but they are important sources of vitamin C and other nutrients that support immunity,” pointed out Sass. “It’s also worth noting that there is no one research-based standardized alkaline diet. You may see a food listed as acidic on a chart on one website and listed as alkaline on another.”
How to improve your diet if you’re on a budget
Many people face a challenge right now when it comes to their nutrition. Perhaps they have lost their jobs, been laid-off, or experienced salary cuts. How can they improve their diet while cutting back on their budget?
Cynthia recommended some simple swaps that can help you stay on your budget while eating healthier.
“Don’t skimp on fresh veggies and fruit, but rely on the most affordable options, which may include produce from your local farmer’s market, produce that’s on sale, or even store brand frozen options where the only ingredient is the veg or fruit itself,” Sass suggested.
Meat can rank as one of the most expensive items on your grocery list. Change that financial concern by replacing meat with pulses, the term for the food group that includes beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, said Cynthia.
And if you’ve never experimented with pulses, prepare to be pleasantly surprised at the benefits.
“Pulses are probably the most underrated superfood group in the market,” revealed Cynthia. “They’re very inexpensive and provide high quality protein in addition to fiber, antioxidants, key vitamins and minerals, and they’re versatile.”
You can choose either canned pulses that you drain and rinse, or bags to be boiled or cooked in a crock pot. To cut down even more on the cost, Sass recommends seeking out “store brands or bulk sections for healthy staples, like oats, brown and wild rice, and nuts.”
Sleep helps mind and body: What to eat if you’ve got insomnia
To sleep, perchance to dream…
Sleep has been shown to be beneficial for the mind and body. But right now, many of us have reported having problems sleeping because of the stress of staying at home and worrying about the future. Could changing your diet be the panacea that counting sheep doesn’t quite provide?
What you eat and drink can make a significant difference in the quality and quantity of your sleep, revealed Cynthia. And that includes what to avoid as well as what to include.
“Alcohol has been shown to interfere with sleep quality,” she cautioned. “Even if it helps you fall asleep faster you’re less likely to stay asleep or get a good night’s rest.”
Alcohol isn’t the only beverage that may affect your sleep. Sass recommends stopping all forms of caffeine a minimum of six hours before you go to bed so that coffee and other caffeinated beverages do not affect the length and quality of your sleep.
To improve restorative sleep, Cynthia recommends we all:
- Enjoy more produce and fiber
- Cut back on sugar, saturated fat (contained in some meat and dairy), and low-fiber food
- Munch on vegetables at dinner paired with a food rich in fiber, such as beans
- Use healthy unsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, for cooking or sprinkling on vegetables
- Eat whole grains like brown rice, starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or squash, and experiment with a sprinkling of chopped nuts
However, be cautious about using too much spice at dinner, which can also apparently affect your sleep.
“A sleep-supporting dinner might include black beans and brown rice with a side of sautéed broccoli, or lentil and potato soup with a side of sautéed green beans topped with chopped nuts,” suggested Sass.