The U.S. Presidential candidates may have left New Hampshire, but they’ve also left a lot of fast food wrappers in their wake.
Almost everyone on the campaign trail gains weight, thanks to an endless stream of late night takeout and photo-ops at greasy spoons (see Eater‘s report on how much Democrats Secretary Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders are spending on donuts). But it doesn’t have to be that way. Eating well on the run requires planning—and maybe a pocketful of nuts.
Melissa Snow, a registered Dietician and Nutritionist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, watched the fast-food fury with alarm as the two Democratic and eight Republican candidates crisscrossed the snowy state. “I see the stress they’re under, and I know what they’re eating or not eating is absolutely affecting their performance, energy level and even brain function; what you eat can exacerbate, manage or even relieve stress.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi told a crowd in Windham, New Hampshire, that her husband sings Broadway show tunes to relieve the stress of the campaign trail. But that’s probably not enough.
“Relaxing behaviors like singing can help, but we know that a healthy diet plays a big role. Processed, fatty, high salt-content foods like those typically eaten on the road, increase stress, elevating blood pressure. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids in on-the-run foods create plaque buildup in the arteries and hurt the stomach liner. The gut-brain connection is well established. When your digestion is compromised, so is healthy brain function,” adds Snow.
A check on Clinton’s schedule four days before the vote saw high-stakes, packed, public events from 8 a.m. until midnight—not exactly a recipe for optimal digestion.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t seem to be faring much better. “Last night, when we were finishing up at about 10 p.m.,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio told a packed room of N.H. voters gathered for an early morning rally, “we realized we had forgotten to eat, so we ordered Papa Gino’s.”
Joanne Curran-Celentano, professor of nutrition at the University of New Hampshire, has sympathy for the Presidential contenders, noting they are likely not at liberty to eat what they want. They are forced to eat unhealthy things out of politeness or a time crunch.
She cautions that the candidates and others experiencing intense situations try to “stay away from foods that contain the simple or high glycemic carbohydrates, like hamburgers, pizza, and doughnuts.” She explains that simple carb foods like pancakes, chips or soda may initially be easier to digest but are terrible for vitamin absorption. Conversely, complex or low glycemic carbs; “foods that are high in fiber, nutrients and minerals are a wiser choice; candidates ordering out should choose a Greek salad or sushi or a healthy sandwich packed with veggies and tryptophan-filled turkey.”
The ideal meal for the candidates might be small “grazings” of balanced foods that are low in sugar and fat and high in protein—like the almonds former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he loves.
Snow recommends, “fermented foods like plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and real sourdough bread, because they’re great for digestion, salads; stir-fries, sandwiches or wraps with avocado, fresh fruits—every campaign bus should have a supply of fresh fruit— whole grains including oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, barley or bulgur wheat; and unprocessed meats such as turkey, grilled chicken and fish sandwiches. Nuts are easy and so are hard boiled eggs and freshly-made soups.”
Snow says the stressed body is generating more free radicals so antioxidants are key. “I’d recommend 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C twice a day, green tea, blueberries, cranberries, dried seaweed and plenty of dark chocolate, a powerful antioxidant. Herbal teas are quick and easy and all you need is hot water–chamomile, peppermint, valerian root, a few times a day and definitely before bedtime.”
Also, don’t forget to hydrate. “When stressed, you forget to hydrate and especially for older people like Sanders or Clinton, hydration is crucial for staying at the top of your game,” Celentano reminds.
Logical advice, but perhaps tough to follow on the trail.
Journalist John Harrigan has covered the New Hampshire primary for nearly 50 years. He likens its prolonged stress level to military combat. “In the mad dash that happens here, I’m frankly surprised if the candidates or staffers eat at all. The toughest time is lunch and over the years I’ve seen most just skip it. Candidates get handed food and then a second later they’re inundated by the media or a voter wanting something and their moment to eat is gone.”
Harrigan says he would love to see the candidates eating more often at small, independently-owned restaurants, but often, they just don’t have options, “especially up in the north country of New Hampshire, your only choice might be a fast-food joint.”
Will the presidential hopefuls fare better (and eat better fare) later this month as they campaign in South Carolina? We’ll be watching.
Sarah Brown is a writer who has worked for CNN New York, NBC Moscow, and APTV Moscow. She founded the Green Alliance in 2009, an organization that works with business and consumers on sustainability She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SarahBrownGA.