“There’s certainly more and more research indicating that diet can influence brain chemistry, with the latest studies adding more weight to the idea we can eat ourselves happier.”
-Nutritionist Linda Foster
It’s easy to get lost trying to determine what’s really “healthy” to eat with the oversaturation of recommended diets, lifestyles, and weight loss plans. Weight loss experts, nutritionists, doctors, and trainers claiming to know the truth about what’s healthy, what isn’t healthy, and what people need to eat in order to feel great. It’s no wonder so many of us are constantly wondering, “Should I eat dairy or not?” “Is gluten okay, or is it going to give me a bloated gut?” “Is organic food a money-making scam?” “Are carbs the ultimate enemy?” I know I’ve had all these thoughts and have found myself confused at times, wondering what the best way to eat really is. I mean, who doesn’t want to be healthy and feel great mentally and physically? But with all the information that’s out there, it’s much easier said than done. Sometimes it’s tempting to throw our hands up and then use them to stuff our mouths with French fries, pizza, and cookies. Yum!
When I started college I was so afraid to gain the infamous Freshman 15 that I bought everything with the label “fat-free” on it. I thought, “I’ll be the one to stay slim and not eat pizza until I develop a muffin top.” The result of this commitment to stay slim was that I felt weak, bloated, tired, and always hungry. Those fat-free foods were loaded with chemicals and had absolutely no nutritional value. I wasn’t properly fueling my body; I needed to be running on premium but was settling for regular unleaded. That experience taught me that dieting isn’t all about staying skinny. And it got me wondering: With all the diet and nutrition information out there, how can we know what to eat to maintain our mental health, lose weight, and satisfy our hunger?
“Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives”
You know serotonin, that well known neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy when it’s released? Well, it’s estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract! This means that one of the hormones directly linked to making you feel better is in your gut. Therefore, it makes sense that the foods you digest affect your mood. Research on food’s effect on happiness shows that dietary changes cause changes in our brain chemistry, releasing the hormones responsible for governing our mood.
Healthy eating has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers and improved overall health. It’s now also been linked to keeping depression away. When it comes to taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority, it’s important to take into account the foods you eat. A major aspect of self-love is properly taking care of your body, gut, and mind.
When I started to realize that all of those fat-free foods weren’t working for me, I made an appointment with a nutritionist. We made a plan that fit in with my lifestyle. As a college student, it wasn’t realistic for me to swear off junk food forever; but I found ways to seek balance and moderation. I followed a plan that worked for me, which included nutritional foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish. I ate food of value to the extent that it worked for me and made me happy. Now, over 10 years later, I follow a healthy lifestyle and determine what’s healthy according to what works for me. I still enjoy my “cheat nights,” but overall, I aim to eat the foods that make me feel better after I eat them. I eat foods that most nutritionists, doctors, and weight-loss experts would agree on—food with more natural ingredients that come from the earth. I don’t decide what I should eat based on how many calories it has; instead, I look at the ingredients. I eat smaller portions throughout the day, which helps keep my energy up. As Liana Werner-Gray, author of The Earth Diet: Your Complete Guide To Living Using Earth’s Natural Ingredients explains, “You should always listen to your body and trust your intuition. Do what feels right and best for you.”
Foods that naturally boost our serotonin levels—such as bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes—can lift our mood. Conversely, foods that interfere with its production—such as junk food and alcohol—can increase levels of anxiety and depression. Over time, I have come to appreciate more natural foods and cut down on processed food. This has helped me heighten my mood; maintain a healthy weight; and fit into my skinny jeans, even after a baby.
If you want to maintain good mental health, you need to fuel your body with the proper nutrition; that includes enjoying the foods you’re eating and not being too restrictive. Below are some great dietary tips from Liana Werner-Gray that can improve your mental health:
1. EAT FOODS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE BRAIN.
Elements that are essential for brain health include B vitamins, folate and zinc. People who get these micronutrients may have lower risk of depression, and have what they need to restore a chemical imbalance in the body. Foods that contain these components elevate our mood instantly.
Brain foods are “natural antidepressants” and include:
• Berries; blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, goji berries
• Chia Seeds
• Flax Seeds
2. DRINK A FRESH JUICE EVERY SINGLE DAY.
For good mental health we need to feed our brain with adequate nutrition. One way to ensure we get the foundation of nutrition we need every day is to have one fresh juice. It is medicine for our brains and cells. Either make it at home or go to a juice bar. If you don’t have a juice machine you can buy them from $40, a great investment in you and your health. This is one thing I have committed to doing every single day and have done so for the past 6 years. We can’t help but feel better after a juice. No matter how tough my day may have been, if I’ve had a juice I have peace of mind that I’ve taken really good care of my body that day!
Here’s a really simple recipe that’s easy to remember:
Total time 5 minutes
1-2 green apples
4 celery stalks
½ lemon with rind
1 thumbnail piece of ginger
Direction: Add all ingredients to your juice machine and drink immediately.
3. CUT BACK ON INFLAMMATORY FOODS.
When we eat and drink the following, it can cause instant inflammation in the body, which affects clarity and confidence in our thinking.
• Refined white sugar
• Corn syrup
• White flour
• Genetically modified ingredients (includes ingredients listed as numbers or things you cannot pronounce)
• Added colors and flavorings
• Processed meats
• Processed baked foods like cakes, cookies and bread
Scientists speculate that the pro-inflammatory nature of processed foods are what triggers depressive symptoms. Studies show that women whose diets were higher in these foods had elevated levels of known inflammatory markers: C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor a receptor 2. If you do eat something that causes inflammation, drink a lemon water or a ginger tea to reduce swelling.
Many of us are nutrient deficient and don’t even know it – no wonder we might feel depressed! Our body is not getting the proper nutrition it needs to thrive and maintain consistent health.
(The tips above were quoted directly, from Liana Werner-Gray’s article “Three Simple Dietary Changes for Mental Health” published by Huffington Post.)
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier