Even if you’re a watermelon purist who believes the fruit is best in its unadulterated form, we think some of the recipes below will change your mind. There are sorbets, mojitos, salads, margaritas, gazpachos and so many ways to use watermelon that you’ll never wonder what to do with a big old melon again.
When we think of harvest seasons, we tend to think peak summer and fall. But even though winter’s fields look fallow in many parts of the U.S., there are still plenty of delicious in-season fruits and vegetables to enjoy, if you know what to look for.
To help determine those guidelines, we talked to produce pros who’ll walk you through it.
Apples, pears and pomegranates
Laurie McBride, the stand and wholesale manager of Wickham’s Fruit Farm on New York’s Long Island, said apples are their most popular winter fruit, and “can last eight weeks or longer, depending on variety.”
“The flavors in Pink Lady and Granny Smith develop more during storage and frankly, taste better after storing than they do straight off the tree, since apples like [the] cold,” she said.
Next to apples are pears. To test for the best ones, McBride advises looking for hydration, first and foremost. “Proper water content is responsible for the balance of flavors and internal structures,” she said, affecting how juicy the fruit is.
Patrick Ahern, produce specialist and head of procurement at Baldor Specialty Foods, a commercial specialty supplier headquartered in Bronx, New York, said pears should be assessed for signs of softness and color change. “Don’t wait too long to eat the fruit, as the window of opportunity is short!” he said. Pears last around three to five days chilled, and less at room temperature.
Shriveled apples or pears can be described as mealy, sour or mushy. Luckily, there are easy indicators that show when a fruit is at its best. Look for tight skin and test for firmness by handling it, but “don’t squeeze it like you would a stress ball! That leads to bruising, and our motto is, ‘Everyone loses when the apples get bruises,’” McBride said with a laugh.
Ahern also noted that holding the fruit is a quick tell. “You will see a common thread with both fruits and vegetables that it should be heavy for its size, which means there’s plenty of juice inside, it’s not dried out or picked too late. You also want to make sure it’s smooth and unblemished, which shows that it has been grown and selected well, as cuts or bruises during harvest can lead to bacteria getting in and mold and rot to follow.”
These criteria also extend to harder fruits, like pomegranates, another popular winter fruit. Irregularly shaped ― not holiday-ornament round ― is actually ideal, and the color doesn’t matter as long as it’s heavy, solid and blemish-free.
Grapefruit, oranges, clementines and other spherical citrus are often at their peak in the winter months. For these, you want to watch out for soft spots, Ahern cautioned. On the other hand, with oval-shaped citrus like lemons and limes, choose the ones that surrender just a bit to a quick squeeze ― they’ll have less bitter pith. Make sure lemons and limes are brightly hued, not spongey or marred by ugly brown spots, which are indicators of being past their prime.
Spherical citrus fruits don’t follow the same rules. Color vibrancy means much less and the nose will know. That’s particularly true for mandarins, Ahern said. “The ones with a skin that easily peels off are harder to discern ― rub the skin and you should get a fresh, strong aroma from the fruit and a little oil on your skin.” You can also sniff the navel to get an idea of the flavor beneath the peel.
As with the other citrus fruits, feel for surprising heft to ensure that they’re not dried out, and be aware that the thicker the skin, the smaller the yield.
Onions, potatoes and root vegetables
There’s treasure buried beneath the hard, frostbitten ground ― onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are the headliners. Joseph Realmuto, executive chef at Honest Man Co. and its celebrated flagship restaurant Nick & Toni’s, is a huge fan of putting root vegetables on his winter menu, not only for their aromatic or cozy feelings, but because “an interesting benefit is that when the weather turns cold, they actually become sweeter due to the defense mechanism of the vegetable. The sugar drops to the roots of their plants to protect it when it gets cold, which is the part you’re eating!”
This is especially true for sweet potatoes. Look for smaller, squatter ones for the best flavor. Longer, thinner sweet potatoes and yams are more prone to stringiness, particularly at the pointy ends. For sweet and regular potatoes of any variety, you want as even, tight (not wrinkly) and intact skin, with clean eyes that aren’t too deep or moist. Ahern advises you to look for potatoes that are “clean, firm, have no mechanical damage like cuts, and no soft spots.” The same goes for rutabagas, turnips, carrots and parsnips. The latter two should be “snappy, not limp” and have fully green tops.
On the other hand, for onions and potatoes of any kind, avoid green growth (unless you’re trying to start a new winter garden). Sprouting means they haven’t been stored properly, and their flavor changes to accommodate this new life. However, don’t worry about the wispy “hairs” dangling off of them ― these little offshoot feeder roots are perfectly natural, common to vegetables dug out of the ground. All it means is that they haven’t been trimmed.
Finally, make sure your onions are dry and papery to the touch on the outer layer. This is one of the most important things, as onions that are extruding moisture to the surface are typically damaged — and moisture is an open invitation to mold and rot. Ahern says to look for shiny, clear skin for best quality. These will be sweet, juicy and fresh-tasting once you cut them open.
Light leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and other summer shoots may get a lot of glory for their delicate flavor and texture. But hardy, fibrous winter greens are way underrated. In this group are chicories, which include frisée, curly endives, radicchio, escarole and Belgian endives; beet family member chard; and mustards, such as collard greens, kale, broccoli rabe, and rapini.
These are naturally a bit tougher than summer greens and can be woody, bitter or even sour. But picked and cooked properly, they can still be tender and smooth if you get them at their best. Your odds of a good haul are actually better these winter months, as items like radicchio, kale, fennel and their related vegetables ― like winter root veggies ― are sweeter in cooler seasons.
Your cue with this category is vibrancy. Look for plush purple in radicchio, bright white in endives, bold yellow and pink in Swiss chard, and of course, deep, lush green in the leaves, which ought to be tight and free of large imperfections. Crispness is another trait you want to keep in mind, Realmuto said. Additionally, you’ll want to pay close attention to the edges of the leaves, looking for signs of fading, which might appear light yellow or brown. Both indicate age.
McBride’s pro tip: Check the stem. “It was once responsible for nurturing the produce, but it stops growing once harvested. Your goal should be to find the most recently harvested possible out of the pile on display, so look for a fresh cut. Something that is brown or black in color or corky to hard in texture has been out of the field for some time.” Ahern noted that an off smell can be a sign of vegetables picked long ago.
Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
This stem rule also applies to brassicas ― cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. You don’t want to see dry, split stems with signs of decay. Rather, tightness and density are the most desired traits. You want the florets of broccoli and cauliflower to appear in dense clusters, and the sprouts and cabbage leaves should be closed like a budding flower. The latter ought to be a middling shade of green, not washed out or overly dark, as that means they were left in the field a bit longer than ideal.
Broccoli florets can vary in shades of green to tinges of violet, but leave them at the stand if they’re yellow, an indicator of them being past their prime with flowers ready to burst. On the other hand, too-tight florets mean they were cut too early and may not be as flavorful.
Broccoli can also get soft if not stored properly on ice, so handle your crown to make sure it doesn’t feel floppy. Conversely, the stalk can be woody if harvested too maturely, so snap off a floret and see if a layer of stalk peels off with it. If it does, grab a different one.
Cauliflower is a bit more straightforward. You want creamy, with little to no gray or brown discoloration, and pale green leaves. You can cut off the dark bits if a few start to develop, but once they get mushy or dark, that head’s a goner.
If you thought hard squash season was over with the fall, think again! They keep splendidly and forever in cool, dark conditions. Seek out pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash and let weight be your primary guide. They should be hard and dense, almost unexpectedly so for their size.
“When choosing squash, look for natural skin color and stay away from wet or translucent-looking skin with blemishes,” Realmuto advised. Unlike other types of produce that are traditionally waxed to a high gloss for appeal, a shiny winter squash is actually not your best pick. That means it was plucked too early, as mature squash will be more sedate ― duller, matte and more strongly hued. Bumps and color variations are completely acceptable.
Ahern repeated that you should make sure there are no cuts or soft spots. That includes any area at all that allows your nail to break through easily. If you can do that, it’s already past its prime. Also, look out for cracks. Not only does a crack indicate rough treatment, but it breaks the rind’s protective seal, allowing bacteria to enter and rot to commence.
Lastly, check the stem as you would with greens, making sure there are no signs of mold or decomposition. It should be dry, hard and in one piece, which will indicate proper harvest and storage before it hit your market.
When it comes to winter produce, as McBride says, just ask. “When in doubt, ask your farmer. Ask at the farmer’s market. Ask the produce manager. You might be surprised, but we have a passion for what we do and love to share it!”
So, just because the major traditional feast days are behind us, season’s eatings are still ahead. Go ahead and make yourself a wintery mix of your own devising. Your body will thank you.
Most Americans have been cooking at home more during the COVID-19 pandemic, but cooking fatigue may be setting in nearly a year into the crisis. Purchasing precut fruits and vegetables is one way to bring more convenience to the kitchen ― even if it costs up to three times what the whole produce would cost you. But there are a few things you should know before you buy them.
“Precut fruit has some major downsides,” Max Lugavere, health and science journalist and author of “Genius Foods,” noted in an Instagram post a few months ago. Buying whole produce usually brings bigger benefits, he said.
“Generally speaking, I think that it’s better for most people to buy whole fruit from an economic standpoint; it’s going to be less expensive,” Lugavere told HuffPost. “From a food safety standpoint, fruit that is protected by a rind or a peel, there’s going to be very low risk of contamination with other foodborne pathogens, like salmonella and E. coli. I think that whole fruit is nutritionally the best option. It’s going to be fresher, also.”
Precut produce is definitely a timesaving option, Lugavere admitted. And for some people, it may be the only way they’ll realistically eat fruits and vegetables ― especially since it’s more accessible for older people or people with disabilities, who may have trouble cutting or peeling. For those reasons, no one’s suggesting you altogether stop buying precut produce.
But there are certainly cons to precut fruits and vegetables, so we asked food safety experts to unpack some of the issues.
Precut produce is more susceptible to contamination
“With cut fruits and vegetables, you may only have one piece that actually has, say, salmonella or listeria on it,” Brackett explained. “But, when you cut it up and start mixing it, it now cross-contaminates the entire contents of your mixing bowl. And, it’s just inherently adding more risk any time you have human beings handling the food.”
Cooking could kill some of the bacteria, but lots of produce is consumed raw, heightening the risk. Any precut, bagged or packaged fruits or vegetables also need to be refrigerated or surrounded by ice, both in your own kitchen and in the grocery store. Don’t buy it if they’re not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationsays.
Nutrients may be lost through oxidation
Cutting or peeling fruits and vegetables exposes their insides to light and air. This causes oxidation, which could affect the texture, color or taste. They might start to lose nutrients if they sit for a while, too.
Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and vitimin B, and some antioxidants are especially sensitive to oxidation, Lugavere said. “You can see that when you cut open an avocado and the flesh turns brown, or the same thing with an apple,” he explained.
That doesn’t necessarily mean precut fruits and vegetables aren’t nutritious, though. You’ll still get the water and fiber content, and some vitamins, Lugavere said. Just try to eat them as soon as you can after purchase.
Precut produce has a shorter shelf life
Since precut fruits and vegetables are vulnerable to oxidation, they won’t last as long as the whole versions that are protected by a rind or skin. So, paying attention to sell-by, use-by or best-by dates is critical. Look for products with the most recent date, as they were prepared most recently, Brackett said.
“I tend to reach for the fruit in the back, because that’s where they put the freshest stuff,” Lugavere said. “That’s one way to sort of hack the system.”
When you get home, refrigerate the items immediately at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, according to the FDA. “Use your oldest one first, and then later eat the one that’s been around soonest,” Brackett said.
Precut produce is more expensive and comes with lots of plastic
Precut fruits and vegetables tend to be pricier than their whole counterparts. In 2018, Vice found that precut produce was up to three times more expensive. For example, a whole head of romaine lettuce cost $1.99, but a 22-ounce bag ran $3.99. A whole pineapple cost $2.99 a pound, but $4.99 a pound when it was chopped.
“For the value, for the nutritional bang for the buck, for the fact that you’re not using single-use plastic, I think buying a whole fruit is going to be the best option,” Lugavere said.
But, precut produce could get people to eat more fruits and vegetables
Precut vegetables and fruits save the time and hassle of having to cut, peel or chop. And that’s the main draw, Brackett said.
“More people, I think, because of cut produce, are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s a good thing from a nutritional point of view,” he said. “If they’ve got to cut it up themselves, they’re less likely to even bother, so it’s a good way to encourage people to have a more balanced diet.”
Still, if you’re still planning to buy precut fruits and vegetables, Brackett emphasized that storing and handling them correctly is vital, and to only purchase them from reputable grocery stores where you shop regularly.
Look, making pie crust can be therapeutic and rewarding, and many bakers find comfort in the ritual of cutting cold butter into flour, gently working it into a ball and rolling it into a perfect disk. But for everyone else, making a pie crust from scratch can be a true nightmare.
If you love the flavors of pie but dread struggling with pie dough that breaks, shrinks and crumbles, fruit crisp is your new best friend. It’s essentially a great big pan full of your favorite pie filling, topped with a somewhat foolproof topping and completely void of pie crust. It’s delicious served warm or cold, and it’s especially good topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Pro tip: Make your crisp topping in advance and store it in an airtight storage bag in the freezer. When you need to make a dessert in a hurry, you’ll be ready.
Check out some of our favorite crisps below, from apple to pear and even pumpkin ― they’re all perfect for Thanksgiving.
Every holiday season, Greg Gagnon, who owns UPS Store franchises in San Diego, helps people ship gifts, including food items, around the world. Cookies usually top the list, but he’s seen people send everything from cheesecakes and apple pies to cupcakes and burritos.
“And, the whole fruitcake joke is a real thing,” Gagnon said. “People do send fruitcake.”
While Gagnon expects the tradition to continue, 2020 has been full of unknowns, and shipping for the holidays is no exception. “We’re really aware that it’s going to probably be much bigger this year, and we’re preparing for that,” Gagnon told HuffPost.
All this may have you wondering whether it’s safe to send homemade foods this holiday season. Food safety experts say it is, but they urge you to keep a few things in mind as you package items and send them on their way.
Is it safe to ship food?
“The technical answer for that would be if you do it right, it’s safe,” said Archie Magoulas, a technical information specialist with the U.S. Department of AgricultureFood Safety and Inspection Service.
The USDA recommendsshipping perishable items in a foam or corrugated cardboard box with a cold source, like dry ice or a frozen gel pack. Use a speedy shipping method and alert the person on the receiving end about the package so they can open and refrigerate it immediately.
“Ship early in the week: That reduces the risk of a package getting stuck at a shipping facility over a weekend, if weekend delivery isn’t available in the recipient’s area.”
Magoulas, who also helps answer theUSDA’s food safety hotline, said he often receives calls about food packages that have been left at someone’s front door for hours, asking whether the contents are safe to eat. The answer depends on whether the item is perishable or nonperishable, and its temperature.
Perishable foods, like frosted cakes, pies, soft cookies, cookies with fillings, or other high-moisture items, should ideally stay at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in transport. To keep it that cold, Magoulas suggests freezing homemade goodies before shipping, and then using insulated packaging and a cold source.
If foods reach the so-called danger zone, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F, pathogenic bacteria can grow. Any food held in this range for two hours or longer is unsafe to eat and could cause foodborne illness, according to the USDA.
“Even if [the food] feels cool, that doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Magoulas said. But there’s a way you can test food’s safety once you’ve received it. “We say to put a thermometer near the surface and see how cold it is. It should still be 40 degrees or below. You’d be surprised how often people say it feels cold, and when they check it, it may not even be 40 at all.”
Foods may not look, smell or taste spoiled, but could still be dangerous and should be thrown away, Magoulas said. And, immediately toss any package that arrives damaged or opened.
Nonperishable items, like jams, hard cookies and most breads that don’t contain any fillings, are generally less risky to ship. “You can deliver those without even any refrigeration, just in a regular box,” Magoulas said.
How to package foods to ship
Most homemade holiday goodies are mailable, a Postal Service spokesperson told HuffPost, but it’s a good idea to check theUSPS list of restrictions.
To keep your package’s contents safe and preserve freshness, wrap your treats well in an airtight container, such as a zip-top bag or plastic container.Choose a shipping box that’s larger than its contents to leave room for bubble wrap or other packing material to protect what’s inside.
UPS Stores and other shipping outlets accept pre-packaged parcels, but will usually pack items for you, too. Pre-pandemic, Gagnon said customers often brought in foods to ship that weren’t always sealed. This year, to limit contact, he urges anyone shipping homemade foods around the holidays to bring their goodies in a plastic container, sealed bag or wrapped well with foil or plastic wrap.
“Then, we’ll take the item and find the right box for it with enough packaging around it to make sure it’s not a mess by the time it arrives,” Gagnon said. “I know there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be a lot more of these custom shipments this year because people can’t (deliver goodies) in person as easily.”
Most UPS Stores havedry ice and other packaging available for shipping perishables.FedEx also recommends using insulated packaging and refrigerants, like dry ice or gel packs, and offers a cold-shipping package.
Gagnon suggests placing a label inside the package with the delivery and return addresses, in case the outside label gets ripped off or the package gets damaged.
The best way to send your goodies
When you’re sending foods, especially perishables, opt for the swiftest shipping method, Magoulas said, such as overnight or second-day shipping. The cost of shipping homemade goodies over the holidays will vary based on the size and weight of the package, shipping method and service, and the ZIP code where it’s going.
Another tip: Ship early in the week, Gagnon said. That reduces the risk of a package getting stuck at a shipping facility over a weekend, if weekend delivery isn’t available in the recipient’s area.
With the anticipated busier-than-usual holiday shipping season coming up, Gagnon also suggests sending any gifts, edible or otherwise, as early as you can.
“I’ve seen so many holiday seasons, they always are busy, but we’re very aware that it’s going to probably be much bigger this year,” he said.
The Postal Service expects traffic to increase starting Dec. 7, with Dec. 14 to Dec. 21 predicted to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery week, according to a spokesperson.
The holiday shipping deadlines forUSPS,FedEx andUPS are available online.
“Early is always the better thing,” Gagnon said. “You certainly don’t want to have stuff show up late.”
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For many, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. Just thinking about that hot cup of joe or that iced latte is enough to get some people out of bed in the morning. But for the 40 million Americans who live with an anxiety disorder, a daily caffeine habit could be taking a toll on their mental health.
In fact, research studies have used a moderate to high dose of caffeine “as a reliable way for experimenters to generate panic among persons with panic disorder, so that their symptoms can be studied in a safe and controlled setting,” Sweeney told HuffPost.
Reactions to caffeine vary widely from person to person. Some people can down a triple shot of espresso and lie down for a nap, while others would be on edge all day after doing the same. Generally, people with preexisting anxiety disorders tend to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
“Some individuals may experience anxiety, nervousness and jitteriness at much lower doses than others,” saidLaura Juliano, an American University psychology professor and caffeine researcher. “Some of this variability may be due to anxiety sensitivity, genetic differences, other drugs or medications — like oral contraceptives — as well as how much caffeine someone is used to having, causing tolerance.”
“Some people may be consuming much more caffeine than they realize.”
– Laura Juliano, an American University psychology professor and caffeine researcher
So why does coffee give you that jolt? In short, the caffeine binds to the receptors in your brain intended for adenosine. The latter is a chemical messenger that plays a role in a number of bodily processes, including sleep.
“Adenosine builds up in our brains during waking hours and causes us to feel sleepy and less alert,” Juliano said. “When caffeine blocks the receptors intended for adenosine, it causes us to feel more awake and alert.”
“Low doses of caffeine do not typically cause anxiety and extremely high doses will likely cause any individual to feel anxious,” she said. “It generally takes a higher dose of caffeine to produce anxiety in someone who is not normally anxious compared to someone who is anxiety-prone.”
Unfortunately, many people don’t have an accurate sense of their daily caffeine intake.
“A serving of coffee can contain anywhere from 50 mg to 500 mg of caffeine, depending on the type of coffee beans, serving size, and brewing method,” Juliano said. A Starbucks venti Pike Place Roast coffee, for example, contains a whopping 410 mg of caffeine.
“Some people may be consuming much more caffeine than they realize,” said Juliano.
How to tell if caffeine is increasing your anxiety
Not sure if your coffee habit is affecting your anxiety levels? Keep a diary to track your caffeine consumption and your anxiety symptoms, Sweeney suggested. Then see if any patterns emerge.
“For example, on a day when they felt particularly anxious or had more trouble sleeping, was that the same day they had an extra cup of coffee?” she said. “[You] could also tell whether the pattern of caffeine consumption relates to anxiety symptoms, such as whether having two cups one right after the other results in greater anxiety than two cups spread across the morning, or whether consuming caffeine later in the day coincides with greater trouble sleeping.”
How to cut back on caffeine
Do it gradually.
Experts recommend reducing your intake slowly over the course of two to three weeks. If you go cold turkey, you’re more likely to deal with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue and mood disturbances.
“Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable but usually go away within the first week of stopping,” Juliano noted.
It may also be useful to track your anxiety levels in a journal throughout the weaning process, Sweeney said.
Change up your coffee order.
Some may be surprised to learn that one shot of espresso actually contains less caffeine than one cup of drip coffee.
“A 1.5-ounce shot of espresso only contains about 75 to 90 mg of caffeine compared to a 12-ounce drip coffee that may contain 200 to 300 mg of caffeine,” Juliano said.
If you like tea, you’ll be glad to know that even caffeinated varieties — such as green tea or black tea — tend to have less caffeine per serving than brewed coffee. In an 8-ounce cup, green tea has about 25 mg of caffeine and black tea has about 50 mg, according to the Mayo Clinic. But again, caffeine content can vary based on the brewing time, temperature and other factors.
Supposing, however, you consumed the same amount of caffeine from coffee as you did from black tea, would the beverages have different effects on your anxiety levels? According to Juliano, there isn’t sufficient data to say.
“I am not aware of any research that has kept caffeine constant and compared reactions to coffee vs. tea,” she said. “Theoretically a dose of caffeine should have similar effects across different vehicles, but it is possible that other factors could interact with the effects of caffeine — including expectancy and other components of the beverage. It hasn’t been directly tested as far as I know.”
Switch to decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea.
Decaf still contains some caffeine but much less than its caffeinated counterparts — usually less than 15 mg in an 8-ounce cup. By going the decaf route, you can enjoy your morning ritual without stoking your anxiety.
“Someone could also mix caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee to reduce caffeine exposure,” Juliano said.
And herbal teas — such as chamomile, peppermint and ginger — are naturally free of caffeine.
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For whatever reason, you may need a strong drink right now. Or maybe you don’t need it, but you saw this headline and thought, “Ah yes, I’d love a slight numbing agent in my body at this particular moment!”
By “strong drink,” we’re not talking about a champagne cocktail or a spritz. We’re talking about more potent drinks, the ones that travel down the back of your throat with a velvety burn and cozy up in the pit of your belly like a long winter’s nap.
Even if your bar isn’t fully stocked, you’ve got this. Below are recipes that use vodka, whiskey, tequila, gin and more. So make sure you’ve got your ice cube trays locked and loaded, maybe make a quick trip to the store for fresh citrus and carbonated mixers (that club soda you opened in August is probably flat by now!), and you’re well on your way to cocktail nirvana.
Let’s not waste any more time ― here are the cocktail recipes you came here for.
We don’t recommend drinking in excess as a coping mechanism. If alcohol consumption is affecting your life beyond today, reach out for help. In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
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From COVID-19 to election season, there’s no shortage of things stressing us out this fall. And unfortunately, when the going gets tough, the tough get hungry. Tension triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can signal hunger cravings and send us on a search for food (especially the junk variety) to soothe our uneasy souls.
Using food as a coping mechanism for stressful situations ― think emotional eating ― can cause more harm than good. But on the other hand, food doesn’t have to be the enemy. In fact, when you make mindful choices, food can be a useful tool for taking the edge off. It all boils down to selectivity.
Choosing wisely between what will help alleviate overall stress in the long run versus the instant gratification given by unhealthy fixes is how the war on stress can be fought (and won) with food.
Food and stress are connected and should be managed concurrently
The brain and the gut literally feed off each other, so the idea that what we eat triggers and affects our emotions is by no means far-fetched.
“The gut is our second brain,” explains Nikki Ostrower, an integrative nutritionist and founder of NAO Wellness. “Some of the brain’s neurotransmitters, aka happy chemicals, are manufactured in the gut ― 90% of serotonin, for example [a neurotransmitter associated with mood, sleep, appetite and gastrointestinal activity] is produced in the gut, which means there’s a direct correlation between mental health, well-being, digestion and food cravings.”
What drives people in the direction of comfort food is those aforementioned cravings, plus a lack of healthy options at hand. “People turn to food when they’re stressed because it provides easy albeit temporary relief,” Ostrower said. Unfortunately, the quick and easy fixes often don’t offer any health benefits.
Comfort in the moment can be consequential in the future
Often, what we eat for contentment increases physical and mental stress. Those sluggish, tired or foggy feelings that follow an overindulgent meal are no accident, and the side effects are far from comforting.
Judith Joseph, a psychiatrist and professor at New York University, has noticed an uptick in patients “cooking more decadent foods that remind them of happier times” during the pandemic. She warns, however, that “typical comfort foods like fried and sugary dishes boost a chemical in our brain called dopamine, so initially it feels really good eating these things.” But those good feelings are short-lived, Joseph reminds us, because “these foods can cause unhealthy spikes in insulin and lead to a buildup of unhealthy cholesterol in your organs, which puts stress on the body and brain.”
“We reach for the usual comfort food suspects because they initially help us feel better, but they all cause stress in the body’s organs and ultimately end up making things worse,” Joseph said. In order to tap into food’s ability to control angst, Joseph advises choosing healthy foods “as an important component of self-care that can lead to decreased anxiety.”
What to eat when you’re stressed
The urge to stress eat makes it tough to make mindful choices, but fighting that urge can prove beneficial to keeping your emotions in check. Rheumatologist Magdalena Cadet recommends eating any foods rich in zinc (which lowers cortisol levels), magnesium (which encourages relaxation and sleep) and vitamin E (which reduces oxidative stress on the brain) to help with stress reduction. “Sunflower seeds and legumes like chickpeas are great starting points,” she suggested.
Ostrower, who documented her personal battle with pandemic-induced stress eating on social media, attests, “A diet rich in natural whole foods and absent of the packaged processed stuff, can be a strong ally in fending off stress. After one day of mindful and conscious food choices, feelings of clarity and strength slowly returned.”
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna and walnuts have been known to help with combating stress since, according to Cadet, they can “reduce inflammation in the body and help prevent spikes in blood pressure.” Based on their similar stress-busting capabilities, Cadet suggests “opting for flaxseed, soybean or canola oil when cooking” and is also a fan of sweet potatoes and other nutrient-rich complex carbohydrates “for their ability to lower cortisol levels and provide adequate vitamin C and potassium, which are important stress fighters.”
Chocolate devotees have options as well, according to Ostrower, who “always suggests dark chocolate for clients craving something decadent because it’s filled with essential calming minerals like magnesium.” Citrus fruits, chamomile and turmeric are also high on Ostrower’s list because they “support healthy gut function and have mood-boosting qualities.”
Choose healthy foods with similar qualities to your favorite snacks
Switching from potato chips to an apple feels like a downgrade, right? To combat that, Joseph recommends searching for reasonable facsimiles.
“Instead of seeking the crunchy sensation from chips, try crunchy almonds; instead of sipping two glasses of wine, sip one glass of wine and one cup of chamomile tea, which has natural relaxants,” she suggests. “Instead of overdosing on coffee, replace a cup of joe with a cup of matcha, which contains antioxidants and boosts attention without the high buzz or anxiety.”
The world is a jumble of unpredictability these days, but there’s one thing that has held rock steady ― the comfort we get from unapologetically fall foods.
Whenever we want a glimpse of what our readers love to cook (and eat) at any given moment, we take a look at the HuffPost Taste Instagram account. This October, readers’ favorite recipes were basically warm blankets of creaminess and comfort. There were braised short ribs, chicken with white wine sauce, salmon with a rich cream sauce, two pumpkin pastas and a soup that’ll knock your socks off.
See what else made the list, and get cooking. You’ll be sure to find a new favorite or two.
Whether your Thanksgiving traditions include gathering around the table with relatives from near and far or tucking into a multicourse meal at a nice restaurant, things will look different this year.
“This is not the year to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” said Pamina Gorbach, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We don’t want big family dinners to turn into superspreader events.”
COVID-19 is spread person-to-person through small particles or respiratory droplets that are produced when you cough, sneeze or even breathe. That means hugging your favorite aunt, having a raucous political debate over pumpkin pie or just breathing the same air as other dinner guests ― even if no one is showing symptoms ― could transmit the virus.
“If everyone takes turns and talks, it can be a great way to connect,” Gorbach said.
Cut down your guest list for an in-person feast
Enjoying turkey and all the fixings is safest if your table is only set for the members of your household.
A recent Butterball survey showed that 30% of people planned to host only their immediate family this year (up from 18% last year). CDC guidelines for Thanksgiving cite small dinners as the lowest risk celebration, while “attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household” is labeled the highest risk.
There is no “ideal” number of guests, but Gorbach warned that as the guest list increases, so do the odds of transmitting COVID-19. Enter the number of guests and your location into this interactive map to determine the risk that at least one person with the coronavirus will be at an event.
Stay close to home
Going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, especially if it involves air travel and hotel stays, increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure. The latest CDC data has linked several cases of the coronavirus to air travel. The Journal of the American Medical Association calls the risk of in-flight COVID-19 transmission “small,” but Gorbach noted that all of the other activities associated with travel — including hotel stays, stops at gas stations and restaurants and even time spent waiting in the terminal — increases your risk.
Driving to your destination is safer, said epidemiologist Tomás Nuño, assistant research professor at the University of Arizona. Remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands regularly when you’re away from home.
Consider whether out-of-town guests should quarantine
Nuño said it’s important to understand the risks if you want to invite guests from outside your household. Check a COVID-19 dashboard for the states visitors are coming from and traveling to. The lower the transmission rate, the lower the risk. The “safest” visitors are those in communities with fewer than 5% positive testing rates, according to Nuño.
In an ideal world, guests would quarantine for two weeks before and after a family gathering, especially if they are traveling to or from areas with higher community spread, Nuño said. He recognizes that the prolonged period of isolation is not realistic for most, but stressed that quarantining is advised if your holiday plans include traveling to see family members in high-risk groups, including those with underlying conditions such as heart disease, asthma and Type 2 diabetes.
Rethink your tableware
Skip the fine china and go with disposables instead. Nuño recommended paper plates, napkins and single-use utensils for Thanksgiving dinner. The virus can survive for up to three days and plastic and stainless steel, one day on cardboard and several hours on copper, according a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology.
“[Using disposables] prevents multiple people from handling the dishes to bring them back to the kitchen, and wash them,” he said. “Anytime you can minimize how many people touch the same surfaces, it’s safer.”
Setting the table with disposables isn’t great for the environment, but Nuño said it’s the best choice to guard against the virus.
Ask guests to deposit their used dinnerware in the trash or recycle bin. Gorbach also suggested wearing gloves or using tongs to dispose of any items left behind: “You don’t want to pick up anything someone has had in their mouth or used to wipe their face.”
Assign a server
Although there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food, the virus could contaminate surfaces. Ask one person to serve the food to limit the number of people touching the dishes.
You should also skip the buffet. Nuño noted that the more people crowded around a table full of food, the higher the concentration of potentially infectious respiratory droplets.
Even outdoors, it’s still important to maintain social distancing and wear a mask, Nuño said. It’s a misconception that COVID-19 isn’t spread outdoors. In fact, the perfect weather for an outdoor gathering ― warm to cool air temperatures, low wind speed and weak turbulence ― can actually allow the virus to be airborne longer; coronavirus aerosol particles can spread more than one mile in low wind conditions, which means other outdoor Thanksgiving celebrations could make you sick.
Light the fire pit, encourage guests to bring a blanket and serve mulled cider to create a feeling of coziness on a chilly evening, but make sure to maintain social distancing and keep your mask on.
Practice social distancing, always
Skip the hugs and handshakes and encourage social distancing. Gorbach suggested placing chairs at least 6 feet apart — preferably outside — or setting up separate tables where members of the same household sit together.
“Don’t have everyone clustered together around one big table,” she said. “You want to avoid people crowding in mixed groups as much as possible.”
If your Thanksgiving dinner includes guests from outside your household, everyone should wear a mask when they’re not seated at their table, Gorbach said. Data comparing COVID-19 transmission before and after mask mandates took effect shows that mandatory face coverings slowed the daily growth rate; separate research found that coronavirus deaths were lower in countries where government policies favored wearing masks. Hang a sign at the door with the “house rules” and keep a basket with spare masks and hand sanitizer available for guests who forgot their own supplies.
“This year, Thanksgiving should be different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate and still have our family get-togethers,” Nuño said. “We just need to do it in different ways.”
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