Originally posted in her weekly column, licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long answers a humorous question about staying sane naturally for parents who are stuck at home during COVID 19...
Dear Aunt Nonie,
As you know, I’m a high school teacher and am usually working outside the home during the day. I also happen to be a father of two toddlers and an infant whom I usually love to spend time with. Right now my wife (healthcare worker) needs to be on the front lines more than usual so our roles have reversed quite a bit and I find myself taking care of the three kids and the three dogs and the house and an ailing mother and an ailing grandfather all day everyday. All. Day. Every. Day. Naturally, I’m craving sugar like an insaniac and I need something for energy. These crappy keto bombs you recommended are not doing it. As such, I am writing you with some important, time sensitive questions.
First, if I snort sugar instead of eating it, will that kick me out of ketosis? Will it count toward my daily carbs? Second, if the wife can get me an IV, can I take coffee that way? Do you know if it needs to be buffered? And can the beans be eaten in large doses throughout the day without counting toward my macros? Also, are there any vitamins that put children to sleep quickly? I have melatonin and that stinky herbal tea you gave me to make me sleep. What is the actual safe upper limit to that stuff per kg of body weight? Failing that, are there vitamins to help with nerves? And, have you got healthy recipes for me that don’t require ridiculous ingredients nobody has heard of, never mind has on hand, that are easy enough for toddlers and will engage the kids for a while, yet pass their is-this-that-crappy-health-food-stuff-you-try-to-make-us-eat detectors? And failing all that, have you got an extra room where I can hide?
Your favourite nephew, Cody
Dear Favourite Nephew, Cody,
I think a lot of people can relate right now! I’m sorry it’s such mayhem there. I just read that our PM is also playing stay-at-home dad while his wife is in quarantine and I’m sure there are a lot of moms and dads out there feeling quite the same - cooped up with a lot of needs and responsibilities to juggle. And some of them are dealing with sick family members, as well. It’s a very difficult situation that may extend for quite some time still.
I’ve put together a checklist of things that might help you (and others) with energy and nerves as the quarantine persists, as well as holistic tips for sleep hygiene in kids. I’ll continue with healthy recipes for kids next week. And I will be hosting live, short cooking classes through social media over the coming weeks for anyone who wants to do meal prep online together and get inspired by new, healthy recipe ideas.
First though, I want to point out that in holistic, functional nutrition we work on strengthening and supporting the body to help you be your personal best, but no supplement or food in our arsenal can give anyone brain function they didn’t previously have. More succinctly, I don’t have a remedy to fix stupid. And having three kids in four years together with three dogs and four adults living in one home while finishing a masters degree and working two jobs full time simultaneously may well qualify you. But I’m not legally able to give diagnoses, so you’d have to see a licensed physician for that.
Now onto your health hacks.
Energy and Stress:
People on low carb diets can find it hard to have energy if they flirt with carbs and aren’t fully in ketosis. They will crave sugar and caffeine. And not cheating is very difficult when you’re taking care of kids with all that kid snack food around in a time when normal routines have gone out the window. As such, I don’t think ketosis should be a concern right now for people in such a situation. I think it can set us up for failure and added frustration. In trying times we need to keep things simple, so I wouldn’t focus on macros right now. Focus instead on getting nutrient dense meals that avoid excess carbs, with an emphasis on red meat for B vitamins. Vegetarians will benefit from taking their Bs and eating nutritional yeast on everything they can at this time.
For dinners, you might try ground beef (veg substitute: beans) burritos with lots of veggies and salsa, with a low carb option of using a lettuce wrapper. You might try open faced BLT sandwiches one night with thick sliced cheese or a fried egg as your bread (veg: cut the bacon). You might try shirataki noodles (from Asian food stores) to make ramen with the packet of seasoning from a regular ramen pack and stir fried small cut veg and ground chicken or pork over top (veg: substitute tofu). You might try spaghetti and bolognese sauce with these same noodles (veg substitute: tofu bolognese with spinach and nutritional yeast topper). You might try meatloaf with shredded carrots and finely diced bell peppers and almond meal instead of oats, or homemade burgers or chaplee kabobs with lettuce wraps (veg substitute: homemade veggie/ bean/ tofu burgers). There are a lot of things you can do to make it simple to keep carbs lower without counting macros, while focusing on nourishing, whole foods. Those foods with the most protein and vitamins will keep you healthiest during this time.
I can’t recommend strongly enough that you stay away from sugar! It causes incredible crashes, depression, and mood swings, and can reduce our immune function by up to 75 percent for four to six hours by displacing vitamin C, so keeping it out of the home is really your best bet. If you don’t, you will have days when you gobble it up and the day will be a write-off in terms of your mood and energy. A safer alternative, dark chocolate (>85 percent) can be a nice pick-me-up that is much lower in sugar if you feel you need something. But check the sugar/ carb content to be sure it’s not the super sweet kind.
I’ve checked and confirmed that snorting sugar (or anything else) is not recommended by either of my licensing agencies, and ditto a coffee IV. So I can’t advise you to try that. The coffee beans weren’t a bad idea, though! It turns out that about five coffee beans have the caffeine equivalent of one shot of espresso (60mg of caffeine), and the FDA recommends that adults can usually safely consume up to four to five cups of filtered coffee a day or 400mg of caffeine. However, that is a cup - a regular 8 oz cup - not a venti or grande size for those of you who drink Starbucks. Their grande blonde roast has 360mg of caffeine - almost the daily recommended upper limit - in one drink (proving yet again that it’s true: blondes are more fun:). So figure out your normal intake based on these numbers and do the maths from there. If you want to bundle up on benefits and flavour, dark chocolate covered coffee beans are the bomb for energy. But don’t eat too much in one sitting! They can induce vomiting and anxiety when overconsumed. We won’t talk about how I acquired this data.
Supplements for stress and energy:
B complex vitamins (with the methyl form of cobalamin): can help with stress and energy production
Jiaogulan tea: adaptogenic herb - can help with stress response and overall wellness
Ashwagandha: adaptogenic herb - can help with stress response while boosting immunity
L-theanine taken with coffee: can help avoid the jitteriness, irritability, and unwanted side effects of coffee while allowing you to still enjoy the benefits
Melatonin: can help with deepening and normalizing sleep, which has been shown to reduce fatigue in those with chronic fatigue. It’s a little known fact that melatonin is a potent antioxidant and anti aging supplement, as well.
Magnesium: can help with calm, focused energy, reducing anxiety. A lack of this mineral can cause a host of issues from hyperactivity to restless legs to twitches and aches to mood swings to craving chocolate to anxiety to headaches. For more info, read this article I wrote on it. A great Mg supplement is a powder called CALM that you take before bed or in divided doses morning and night.
Zinc: can reduce anxiety and increase resiliency and is known to be antidepressant in nature. It’s a cofactor in the production of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin, and is required for GABA production.
GABA: can help with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. In fact, anti-anxiety drugs work by helping GABA bind to receptors in the brain. This calming neurotransmitter can act as well as anti-anxiety drugs for many people.
Helping children sleep better:
Kids pick up on what the adults in the home are experiencing like little satellites roaming around picking up signals. So it only makes sense that right now they may be feeling a lot of unease and it can interfere with normal sleep quality. Bedtime routines may already be off due to a lack of routine overall. And this can compound the situation. But there are several easy, natural things you can do to help toddlers and children get off to sleepyland with less fuss.
First and foremost, initiating a routine that you stick to helps incredibly because it’s predictable. To be most effective it should include dimmed lights for an hour or more before bed, with no blue lights, and no screen time. This is because bright and blue lights send signals to our brains that inhibit the production of melatonin, which in turn inhibits falling to sleep. Turning lights down and putting on quiet, sleepy music is a simple way to signal to the body that it’s getting ready for sleep time.
It’s beneficial to initiate a nightly warm bath of epsom salts with a few drops of lavender added to the salts before putting them in the water, and follow it with lotion and pajamas and getting tucked in. This can be followed by story time or soft music and a soft light carousel. A diffuser with lavender essential oil will also help the nervous system wind down.
It’s important to turn the heaters down or open windows at this time, as that also signals the body to sleep, and refrain from any excitement or snacks. It’s popular to give snacks before bed but this should not be needed if a healthy dinner was consumed. It only perpetuates not eating a full dinner and not acclimatizing to savory foods in favour of sweeter ones. Children don’t need extra energy before bed and they don’t need to eat two to three hours after the biggest meal of the day. They need to let their bodies wind down and rest, and feeding them snack foods does the opposite to their brains. If they are hungry a cup of whole milk (goat or sheep is preferable) will suffice. Any food that is stimulating or contains significant carbs will signal the body to wake up.
Of course, all of this is only effective if you initiate it early enough, as children typically have a window between 7-8:30 p.m. where they are naturally drowsy, after which they wind up again and become irritable or excitable. Some children have a window that is even earlier than that. But be prepared that putting your children to bed earlier means they are also going to wake earlier.
Let’s review the simple routine I’ve recommended. The magnesium in the epsom salts helps with anxiety and restlessness and helps muscles relax. It helps the nervous system wind down, as does the lavender added to the epsom salts. Warm water helps the body switch from a sympathetic nervous system state to a parasympathetic one, as does rubbing with lotion. This is the function of the nervous system that enables us to rest and digest. You can further enhance this with warm towels and soft lighting. Dim lights signal the brain to release melatonin and that creates body wide drowsiness. Being tucked in warm in a cool room with a soothing voice or music with nice soft lighting helps children feel safe and snug. All of this combined makes bedtime a nice routine to look forward to, rather than an emotional tug of war or melt down, as many families go through nightly.
If children are exposed to this routine, taking up to an hour, at the same time every night for two weeks and aren’t able to relax and sleep easily this is a signal that something may be wrong. I would suggest to parents a visit with a licensed homeopath at this time, to find a remedy to address the underlying imbalance and help cultivate peace at bedtime. Parents can hardly relax with their few precious me hours when a full on war has just ensued. Better to nip this in the bud before it drains you completely. At present the homeopaths I know are seeing clients online and shipping remedies by post so it can be very convenient if you find yourself in need.
I hope this helps parents with frazzled nerves and low energy and kids that may be feeling the stress and finding it hard to wind down at bed. Tune in next week for some kid-friendly healthy recipes the whole family will love.
Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and calm. I will be hosting a keto webinar this weekend and one on holistic immunity boosting next weekend, and I’m open to community suggestions for upcoming classes. Those interested can find these and other online events on my website at hopenotdope.ca/events. As always you can sign up for my newsletter to get events and health news sent to your inbox by visiting my site at hoppenotdope.ca and if you’ve been putting off addressing a health problem that’s bothering you this may be the perfect chance to take the time to address it. I’ve extended my March sale for another month, so clients get $380 off the cost of a normal intake package, including testing, diet and supplement guidance, with a complete education plan and two follow up visits. Find out more here. As always, readers are encouraged to ask their nutrition questions via the email below. Stay safe!
Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.
Do you have a question about health and wellness? Email firstname.lastname@example.org