September 25, 2020
This winter, we face a great deal of uncertainty. How will the pandemic unfold? How long will strict measures need to be implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19? How can we see our loved ones while keeping them and ourselves safe, especially during the cold winter months?
While there are many factors we can’t control, there’s a lot we can do to care for our physical and emotional wellbeing. We spoke to Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), to get her insight on how to nourish ourselves and our brains this season. Dr. Greenwood is one of the creators of Canada’s first Brain Health Food Guide
and co-author of MINDfull
, the first cookbook to focus on brain health.
Follow your heart
“Heart health plays a huge role in brain health,” says Dr. Greenwood. “Research consistently shows that a heart-healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish helps preserve brain health, while a diet high in saturated fat, red meat and highly processed foods is associated with greater rates of heart disease, cognitive decline and increased risk of developing dementia.”
It’s also important to watch our sodium intake. To cut down on salt, Dr. Greenwood suggests using herbs and spices to flavour dishes – for example, pairing salmon with dill, potatoes with rosemary and black beans with cumin.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been told to limit unnecessary trips, especially if we are particularly vulnerable to serious outcomes from COVID-19.
“I always encourage people to use one of the many grocery delivery services that are available today,” says Dr. Greenwood. “If you’re not comfortable using a computer, draw on a family member or friend to help you. Just be sure to place your order before your food supplies get too low, as wait times may be lengthier than usual.”
Buying canned and frozen foods can also be useful in reducing the frequency of trips to the grocery store, since they keep much longer than fresh foods do. During the cold days of winter, it’s the perfect time to make soups and stews using canned beans and lentils. “Research increasingly supports the benefits of consuming a plant-based diet for heart and brain health, and legumes are a great source of plant-based protein,” says Dr. Greenwood. When using canned foods, she notes that it’s important to be mindful of the added salt – where possible, give the food a good rinse before you use it.
Find your rhythm
Various factors can make it challenging to eat healthfully at the best of times – let alone during a pandemic – so it’s a good idea to stack the odds in our favour whenever possible. One way to do this is to lean into our natural rhythm.
Typically, our meals go from smallest to largest throughout the day, reflecting when adults are generally most alert. But as we get older, our circadian patterns change and we tend to have more energy – and appetite – in the morning.
“For older adults, it can be beneficial to focus on lunch rather than dinner,” says Dr. Greenwood. “Eating actually requires a lot of manual skill and energy: cutting, getting food from plate to mouth, and so forth. It’s easier to engage in eating, cooking and meal planning in the morning, when we are more alert.” For dinner, it may be helpful to enjoy something hand-held, like a sandwich made with wholegrain bread or toast, hard boiled eggs, chicken thighs or even a high-fibre fruit muffin.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, many of us are experiencing heightened feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. These feelings can hugely impact our food consumption, either leading us to emotionally overeat or completely suppressing our appetite.
“It’s important to be aware of our emotions and to acknowledge how they may be impacting us,” says Dr. Greenwood. “Find ways to make sure you keep a reasonably healthy diet, but at the end of the day, it can’t all be just about the healthiest nutrients. It’s also about pleasure, about joy. We need to acknowledge that it’s a stressful time, and one way we tend to nurture ourselves is through food. Keeping that nurturing part, that joy, is important.”
For Dr. Greenwood, there’s a lot of joy to be found in local fruits and vegetables. “These days, you don’t need to go to the grocery store or the market to get these things – you can get them from grocery delivery services too.”
Another way to nurture ourselves is to draw on foods that bring up fond memories – especially when we can’t see our loved ones. “Eat foods that remind you of your family and friends,” says Dr. Greenwood. “This can help you access that nurturing aspect of personal relationships in a different way.”
As we continue to face the uncertainties of the pandemic this winter, there’s a lot we can do to nourish ourselves and our brains.
Try this slow-roasted salmon with thyme and wild rice salad for a delicious meal packed with brain-healthy nutrients.
Slow-Roasted Salmon with Thyme
PREP TIME: 5 minutes; COOK TIME: 30 minutes
This recipe is full of heart- and brain-healthy fats.
2- 3 oz salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch black pepper
lemon wedges (for serving)
Preheat oven (or your toaster oven) to 275°F. Place salmon fillets on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Mix together the olive oil, thyme and lemon zest. Spread mixture over salmon fillets. Season with black pepper. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before baking.
Bake salmon for 15-18 minutes, until salmon easily flakes and is cooked throughout. Serve with lemon wedge.
This salmon is excellent when eaten either warm or at room temperature.
WILD RICE SALAD
PREP TIME: 20 minutes; COOK TIME: 40 minutes
½ cup wild rice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped toasted pecans
¼ cup dried cranberries
1½ tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1½ teaspoon olive oil
1½ teaspoons orange zest
Pinch of black pepper
In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, wild rice and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil. Boil, covered, until rice is tender but not mushy, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain well. Transfer to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool.
Add pecans, cranberries, parsley, olive oil, orange zest, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt plus pepper to wild rice. Toss thoroughly. (Salad can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.) Serve cool or at room temperature.
Excerpt from: Carol Greenwood, Daphna Rabinovitch & Joanna Gryfe. “Mindfull.” Apple Books.