Day 15 of Cleanse: Eating for Mental Health

In the words of Freddy Mercury, “Don’t stop me now…I’m burning through the skies”! It’s day 15 of the cleanse which means I’m officially on the back end of the 30 day Whole Foods Cleanse. I must say, it is an empowering thing taking control of your body and improving your overall well being, so I encourage you to try the 30 Day Cleanse at any time that best suits you. Just remember, there is no better time then now!

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Not only do I physically feel great, but I sense a decrease in the stress and anxiety I typically feel in my day-to-day life. This is why I am so passionate about nutrition because I believe wholeheartedly in the mental and emotional benefits of eating well.  I have a long history with anxiety and feel that eating a clean diet focused primarily on whole foods minimizes any mental dis-ease and imbalance. Clearing out processed sugar, gluten and dairy means our body can put all its energy into digesting foods rich in healthy nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Ultimately, when we think of changing our diets our immediate goal is the physical benefits that will be produced from making healthier choices in our daily lives. It is OK to anticipate these external things – a slimmer waistline, gleaming skin and shiny hair – but we tend to dismiss the internal way in which healthier foods promote a better mood, attitude and overall outlook on life.

Look at it this way: fundamentally, your body’s systems are intertwined and controlled by the brain and nervous system.  As we know, in depth medical studies show us that stress can cause heart disease because of chemicals that are released into the body by the brain as a response to stress.  This produces negative affects on our body, such as tearing down our immune system and causing high blood pressure and extreme inflammation in joints.  With this, we see how emotions can undoubtedly affect biology, so why do we dismiss the notion that what we consume will affect our mental health?  When we make unhealthy food choices, our body chemistry is affected in a negative way.  Chances are, your brain chemistry will equally be affected.  Food for thought!

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Here are some tips I have for eating for mental health:

1. Plant-based diet – Focus on this!  Just think of how vibrant and fresh the vegetables and fruits are at the Farmer’s Market when you go on the weekend.  Hell, they are so beautiful people take pictures of them as if they were flowers.  Well, I know I do. The beautiful colors are a reflection of the healthy nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are found in these power foods. I like to think very simply that what I put in my body will be visible to others.  I am sure I’m not the only one that would  rather depict a bright and shiny peach instead of a pop tart!  And remember – vegetables have protein!  If you take a 100 calorie serving of sirloin steak you will get approximately 7 grams of protein, whereas a 100 calorie serving of broccoli gives you 11 grams of protein!  Eat up!

2. Healthy fats – Get them in!  Healthy fats protect your heart and support your overall physical and emotional health, whereas bad fats increase cholesterol and put you at a greater risk for disease.  Look for your healthy fats in nuts and seeds, avocados, olives and sesame, flax, and olive oil.

3. Gluten grains – Cut them out, seriously.  The majority of us have food allergies and sensitivities to wheat, rye, barley and oats and don’t even realize it.  Gluten can be very toxic to our bodies and can cause fatigue, depression and anemia.  Some of our bodies can’t digest the proteins found in gluten which creates many problems, one of which is the inability to absorb the nutrients our body needs.  Be sure to check and see if you have any allergies and adjust your diet accordingly.

4. Sugar and Processed Foods – Run, Forest, RUN!!  I am not a fan of refined sugar, if you can’t already tell.  Eating foods high in sugar causes sudden peaks in the glucose in your bloodstream and, consequently, produces symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.  Refined sugar and refined carbohydrates offer no real nutrients when consumed, so there is nothing to miss besides the taste and the “comfort” these foods bring. The paradox is, we reach for foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates when we are feeling down and fail to realize that these foods actually disrupt the production of natural mood enhancers, such as chromium. This mineral keeps blood sugar levels stable and is considered the “magic mineral” to Duke University scientists.  (Great article in Psychology Today here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200304/magic-mineral-lifts-your-mood )

There are many other suggestions for eating for mental health, such as getting enough vitamin D, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and cutting out foods with hormones and chemicals.  I think if you start with the four listed above you will be well on your way to a healthier and happier life.

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