Well, seeing as how it’s the first day of October and we’re “technically” into autumn now, I’d say it’s time for the next installment of that Back to School series. (Even if “autumn” out here pretty much just means that I can go out at night wearing boots with my daisy dukes and not sweat to death. Oh winter, where art thou?) Today we’ll cover some ways you can level-up your nutrition/diet in order to optimize your health and general kick more ass while you tackle school/work/the upcoming holidays/raking endless piles of leaves.
If you’re the kind of human who has a full schedule and to-do lists coming out your ears, meal prep is going to be your best friend. Everyone has a different definition of what it means to “do” meal prep, but it’s really pretty flexible (as any sustainable habit should be, remember?) For some folks, meal prep will be the most beneficial if they literally prepare most of their meals for the coming week. For others (like yours truly), that sweet spot is just preparing a bunch of basic foods at the beginning of the week that can be used to build quick/portable meals in 5 minutes flat. The basic premise of meal prep is that you do any labor-intensive cooking/food preparation ahead of time. Self-explanatory, right? I like to take a few hours and do this on Sunday or on my day off from work, depending on how the rest of my schedule looks. I’ll be sharing more detailed suggestions for meal prep later, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Slap some chicken breasts in the slow cooker. What do you know, you’ve got
- Wash and chop all the veggies you can get in your grubby little paws. Good bets always include bell peppers, broccoli, onions, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, and other vegetable-y things.
- Get a rice cooker. Use it. (If you’re not all about that Asian life, you can cook other things in there, like quinoa, barley, steel cut oatmeal, etc. But I happen to be partial to the rice thing…part of the whole biracial package, yadig?)
- Cook up some potatoes. Bake ‘em, grill ‘em, throw ‘em in a crock pot. It’s your choice, because it’s the 21st century and I’m progressive like that.
Foods To Support Cognitive Function
These foods can improve your ability to focus and to remember things, which in turn can help you learn better and retain more information…so eat up, and then study up.
- Micronutrient spotlight: Omega-3 fats, B vitamins, magnesium, anti-inflammatory compounds
- Food sources: walnuts, olives/virgin olive oil, wild-caught fish, avocados, berries, whole grains, dark chocolate, coffee, wheat germ
- Brain Food Superfoods
- 9 Healthy Foods to Boost Brainpower
- Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain
Foods That Boost Immunity
Autumn usually brings with it a wave of flu viruses. In addition to being a hygienic human (you know, wash your hands often, don’t let strangers sneeze on you, the usual) and getting a flu shot, you can boost your immunity by making an effort to include more of the following foods in your diet:
- Micronutrient spotlight: Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, selenium, zinc,
- Food sources: a generally balanced diet; additional fermented foods, garlic, richly colored produce, grass-fed/pastured dairy and red meat
- How to Boost Your Immunity
Plenty of Protein
Amino acids (proteins) are required for the building and regulation of hormones. If your body lacks sufficient protein (either total or a deficiency of particular amino acid), your hormone situation can get a little hairy. The results of hormonal imbalances can range from small potatoes (increased cravings for sugar, irritability) to big leagues (infertility), but all of these effects are unpleasant and distracting when you need to concentrate on school/work/taste-testing all the candy corn you can get your hands on. Furthermore, protein is crucial to brain health. Studies have shown that protein therapy can not only protect cognitive function, but also reverse the effects of aging on the brain. You likely don’t need to be force-feeding yourself 300g protein each day, but making sure that you get sufficient protein from high-quality sources is definitely a good move.
To be successful in school and at work, it helps to have the energy to stay awake in class and/or on the job. Don’t be one of those people who are scared to eat carbs. Not only will carbs improve your energy levels, but they are necessary for your body to properly utilize protein for repairing muscle tissues, building brain cells, and bolstering immunity. If you really, truly, honestly have some kind of gluten allergy or other intolerance, then choose carb sources that won’t give you digestive hell. Otherwise, don’t overthink it- love the carbs, and they’ll love you back. It’s hard to go wrong as long as you’re choosing whole-food sources of carbs rather than, say, Red Vines. (Not that those aren’t delicious in their own right. But they’re not brain food, no matter how you spin it.)
Now is the time to eat well. Eat foods you like, and which support your health – plenty of protein (be it from plants or animals), plenty of carbs, brain-lovin’ healthy fats, and generally plenty of good food from whole-food sources. Plan ahead and prepare some foods/meals in advance to make this more realistic. And when those special occasions involving delicious and maybe not-quite-so-healthful foods come up, indulge away and get on with life.
Favorite food of the season?
Do you change up your eating habits when autumn rolls around?
Do you ever meal prep? What does that look like for you?