Mitra Rash joined us this past Wednesday at our biweekly Global Viewpoints Forum to speak to our global community about Parsley, Peas, and the Pandemic: How to Eat Nutritiously During COVID and Why it Matters. Mitra is Legacy International’s Senior Program Officer, a professor of science at the University of Lynchburg, and a certified nutritionist. She is fluent in English, French and Spanish. Ms. Rash shared her expertise as a nutritionist to offer lists of healthy, delicious and immune boosting foods, advice on emotional or stress eating, and general tips to lead a healthy life. Mitra’s main focus is food-and-mood relationships, diabetes, healthy eating and cardiovascular health, and she is passionate about consulting companies and individuals with health and nutrition concerns. 

Mitra explained that the Standard American Diet typically consists of a lot of sugary, processed foods with additives and chemically altered fats and substances. ⅔ of the American diet additionally comes from starches such as corn, soy, wheat and rice. When eaten over a long period of time, this type of diet can send our body the wrong signals, instead of receiving the energy and information from food that bodies need to function properly. Additionally, the changes in lifestyle brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Americans to change their eating and sleeping patterns. Physical activity may be reduced, causing changes in mental and physical health for many. Fear of losing one’s job, becoming ill or overcoming illness, economic insecurity and loneliness have caused a slew of stress for everyone. Mitra emphasizes that these lifestyle changes require us to eat a balanced diet in order to remain healthy and cope with stress. 

Emotional eating or stress eating is an issue that Mitra often encounters as a nutritionist. With added stresses of COVID, emotional eating may be an issue many of us do not realize we struggle with. Emotional eating is defined by eating to soothe negative feelings, typically followed by feelings of guilt. Mitra suggests several solutions; first, purging your pantry. While not completely ridding yourself of all guilty pleasures, Mitra suggests removing unhealthy foods from your home so that you are not tempted to overeat them. Moving your body daily and starting an honest and open food diary are other ways one can relieve stress and cut back on emotional eating. Finally, Mitra suggests being mindful when cooking and eating; removing distractions and counting each chew will allow your mind to more easily process when you are full. For those of us experiencing emotional eating and heightened levels of stress, Mitra offers a list of stress-relieving foods. Avocado and banana are healthy fats that can improve heart and bone health, and aid in destressing. Crunchy foods such as whole wheat pretzels or carrots, nuts and chocolate are all vitamin enriched and chemically proven to help the mind unwind. Milk or tea before bed can aid in a restful sleep. These foods are beneficial not only for the body but also for the mind. 

Mitra reports that individuals with healthy diets are typically at lower risk of contracting infection and disease. Foods high in vitamin C and easy to incorporate into a “COVID diet” include green bell peppers, apples, bananas, strawberries, kale, lime and broccoli. These ingredients are typically inexpensive and can be incorporated into a variety of meals. Mitra also suggests a healthy diet to include beans and lentils, unprocessed whole grains, nuts such as almonds and cashews, and unsaturated fats such as avocado, fish, and olive oil. Of course, 8-10 glasses of water per day are recommended by most nutritionists, though it varies depending on body composition. Additional tips from Mitra for a healthy diet include limiting salt intake and avoiding all sugary and fizzy drinks, such as juice and soda. 

Tips that resonated with the audience from Ms. Rash’s presentation on healthy eating were to drink a lot of water, eat in moderation, and to enjoy food. Food is essential to life, and healthy eating can not only be nutritious, but fun and appetizing. If you would like to set up a consulting appointment with nutritionist Mitra Rash, her website’s online link at www.healthyeatingwwf.com can be used. A consultation with Ms. Rash is sure to be judgement-free and full of foods that you should eat, rather than what you shouldn’t. A balanced, healthy and immune-boosting diet is vital in a pandemic, and can be found on Mitra’s website, along with countless other food resources.