Need a Mood Boost? Eat This.

No question that what you eat can affect how you feel, right?

Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While, we don’t know the exact mechanisms how food and nutrition help, we know a few ways food impacts our moods.

First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate (ever heard of serotonin?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.

Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings.

Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.

Mood-boosting foods

Some nutrient deficiencies look like mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you’re eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.

Also pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. Selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet.

Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body’s main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and meat.

Third, complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.

Fourth, fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms.

FUN FACT: One study showed that giving one multi-vitamin and one omega-3 fish oil tablet per day to prison inmates reduced the incidence of violent behavior by 50%!

Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.

Mood-busting foods

You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.

“But it makes me feel good!”

Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the “pleasure” centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… for now.

A few other things to avoid are:
● Alcohol (nervous system depressant)
● Caffeine (may worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep)
● Sugar (messes with your blood sugar and can worsen inflammation).

Conclusion

Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits; and, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.

And remember, sometimes “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily. So, try my newest recipe for fruit salad, below.

Recipe (mood boosting): Fruit Salad

Serves 6-8

1-2 cups watermelon, cubed
1-2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1-2 cups blueberries, fresh
1-2 cups blackberries, fresh
1-2 cups green grapes

Instructions

Place all fruit in a large bowl and gently toss.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute or add any ready-to-eat fruit, like chopped peaches, or raspberries.

References:

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/foods-increase-happiness/

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

It’s official! Organizations and governments are (finally) declaring a maximum amount of daily sugar intake.

While this is a step forward, there are still a few problems. One – they don’t all agree with each other. And, two, I don’t necessarily agree with them either.

We all know sugar is NOT a health food. It isn’t full of nutrition, and excess consumption is not associated with great health.

The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring. It’s also added to just about every processed food there is. And this “added sugar” is a factor in many chronic diseases we see today. Sugar is inflammatory. Too much is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and cavities. Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.

So let’s talk about how much sugar is “too much.”

Added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar. What do some of the officials say?

Before we talk about the “official” numbers (and why I don’t agree with them), you need to know the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.

Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar. They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. They are good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.

“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sweetened beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, candies, soups, sauces and other processed foods. You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.

So, “Total sugars” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”

The “official” change is the new Nutrition Facts tables. You may remember that in Canada and the USA, they declare the amount of sugar, but don’t give it a %DV (% daily value); this means, they’ve never had a “benchmark” maximum daily value to use. They haven’t declared how much is too much. Now, both countries are implementing a %DV for sugar.

In Canada, the %DV is based on 100 g/day of total sugar. Unfortunately, this number is large because it includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. The %DV is in-line with the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s recommendations of no more than 90 g of total sugars per day.

In 2008, the average daily total sugar intake in the USA was 76.7 grams per day; this is less than these two benchmarks. Yet, it doesn’t seem that people are getting healthier. I’d argue that 100 g per day total sugar is still too high.

In the USA, the labels are changing too. They are not declaring “total” sugars but will differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars. They have decided on a maximum of 50 g of “added” sugars each day. Unfortunately, this is still more than the American Heart Association’s recommended maximum of 24 g/day added sugar for women, and 36 g/day added sugar for men.

What is a better daily sugar goal?

While these official numbers are a step in the right direction, they’re not what I would recommend.

For one thing, I’d ditch as many processed food as possible, regardless of their sugar content. There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health. Period. I wouldn’t recommend eating your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods. I don’t recommend even 50 g of “added” sugar per day. Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits first.

Second, you don’t even need to max out your daily sugar intake. I promise! Try to reduce your sugar intake below these “official” amounts for an even better goal.

Tips to reduce your sugar intake

Here are some of my most popular recommendations to reduce your sugar intake, so you don’t get too much:
● Reduce (or eliminate) sugar-sweetened beverages; this includes soda pop, sweetened coffee/tea, sports drinks, etc. Instead, have fruit-infused water. Or try drinking your coffee/tea “black” or with a touch of cinnamon or vanilla instead.
● Reduce (or eliminate) your desserts and baked goods and bake your own instead. You can easily reduce the sugar in a recipe by half. Or try my delicious (no added sugar) dessert recipe below.
● Instead of a granola bar (or other sugary snack), try fruit, a handful of nuts, or veggies with hummus. These are easy grab-and-go snacks if you prepare them in a “to-go” container the night before.

Let me know in the comments your favorite tips to reduce your sugar intake!

Recipe (No added sugar): Frosty

Serves 1

¾ cup almond milk (unsweetened)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
½ banana, frozen
Ice cubes

Instructions

Add everything into a blender except ice. Blend.

Add a handful of ice cubes and pulse until thick and ice is blended.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Double the recipe to share.

References:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-labelling-changes.html?_ga=2.256456139.1337838755.1500915116-364691916.1498677123

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#images

http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/reduce-sugar

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Added-Sugars_UCM_305858_Article.jsp#.WXYtbYjys2w

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-sugar-per-day/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-break-the-sugar-habit-and-help-your-health-in-the-process

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-spot-and-avoid-added-sugar

Healthy Fats and Dangerous Fats

All fat is NOT created equal!

Fat is one of the three critical macronutrients; along with protein and carbohydrates. Some fats are super-health-boosting; and, others are super-health-busting.

Health-building fats support your brain, hormones, immune system, heart health, and moods. Health-busting fats pretty much bust all of these (brain, hormones, immune system, heart health, and moods). So, this is why the information I’m sharing today is so important.

As a general rule, the fats from whole foods that are the least processed will be the healthiest for you. But, you already knew that, right?

So let me give you a definitive list of the fats to use, and the fats to ditch.

Health-boosting fats

Health-boosting fats are from:
● Nuts and seeds (hemp, flax, and chia)
● Fish
● Seaweed
● Pasture-raised/grass-fed animals/eggs
● Olives
● Avocados
● Coconuts.

I love “virgin” oils, and here’s why. Getting the oil out of a whole food involves some processing. Sometimes it’s by squeezing, or heating. Other times it’s by using chemical solvents. The word “virgin” is used to show minimal processing (and no solvents!).

According to the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius:

“Virgin fats and oils are edible vegetable fats, and oils obtained, without altering the nature of the oil, by mechanical procedures, e.g., expelling or pressing, and the application of heat only. They may be purified by washing with water, settling, filtering and centrifuging only.”

For example, Extra virgin olive oil must:
● Be cold pressed
● Not contain any refined olive oil
● Possess superior quality based on chemical composition and sensory characteristics.

Don’t you think these standards ensure higher quality? I sure do!

Plus, the minimal processing helps to maintain some of the quality of delicate fat molecules, as well as their antioxidants. Win-win!

Health-busting fats

Health-busting fats are from:
● Seed and vegetable oils like safflower, soybean, and corn oils
● Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.

Hydrogenated oils are particularly bad; this is because they contain small amounts of “trans” fats. Studies show that trans fats lead to insulin resistance, inflammation, belly fat. They also drastically raise the risk of heart disease. Lose-lose!

Don’t forget, we’re not just talking about buying bottles of these fats for home cooking. We’re also looking at the processed foods that contain them.

How to get more health-building fats

First, you have my permission to ditch any foods in your cupboards that contain safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, or any hydrogenated oil. Soybean oil alone accounts for over 75% of oils consumed by Americans, so it’s pretty popular in the “non-health food” department.

Second, try substituting one of the health-building oils whenever you have a recipe that calls for the other stuff. Try flax oil in your salad dressing, avocado and/or olive oil in your cooking, and coconut oil in your baking.

Third, make healthier versions of your go-to processed foods. I’ll help you out now with my super-simple mayonnaise recipe below. It’s way better for you than the unrefrigerated stuff you find at your grocery store.

Now tell me: What’s your favorite fat and why? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (healthy fat): Mayonnaise

Makes about 1 ½ cups

1 large or extra large egg
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1 cup olive or avocado oil

Instructions

Add all ingredients except oil to your food processor. Process until creamy (about 10 seconds).

With the food processor running, add a few drops of oil into the egg mixture. Every few seconds add a few more drops. Continue until the mixture starts to thicken.

Now you can do a slow drizzle. Stop pouring, every once in a while checking that the oil gets fully incorporated.

Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 1-2 weeks.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Use this in place of mayonnaise for egg, salmon, chicken salads, etc.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/extra-virgin-olive-oil/
https://authoritynutrition.com/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/
http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/fats-and-oils/eng/1392751693435/1392751782638?chap=5
https://eatingrules.com/cooking-oil-comparison-chart/

5 Natural Ways to Deal with Bloating

Do you ever feel a bit “overextended” in the belly after a meal? Perhaps “gassy?” Have you ever carried a “food baby?”

Well, bloating is common. Up to 25-30% of people experience it regularly. It happens when you have trouble digesting. The symptoms come from excess gas, reactions to foods, or food not moving through you as well as it could.

There are many reasons you might experience these symptoms. Maybe because of a serious condition (disease), or a food allergy or intolerance (what you eat). It can also result from how you eat.

If you have a serious digestive issue like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), then make sure you eat accordingly. Same goes if you know certain foods give you gas. Simply avoid them.

If you’re already doing those things, and still experience bloating, here are some great tips for dealing with it naturally.

1 – Don’t overeat

If you overeat at a meal, then you’ll feel bigger around the mid-section. You’ll feel more pressure in your abdomen. Plus, you’re giving your digestive system a hard time. It’s better to eat until you feel almost full and not overindulge. Grab an extra snack or small meal throughout the day if you have to. Just don’t over-stuff yourself in one sitting.

2 – Avoid sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sweeteners made from sugars. In an ingredients list, they end in “-ol,” and include things like sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol. They’re found in some chewing gums and sugar-free foods. Some people experience bloating after eating foods with these. So, try avoiding them and see if that helps you.

3 – Avoid swallowing air

Sometimes the gas that causes pressure in your digestive system is from swallowing air. Things like carbonated drinks are the biggest culprit here. You can also swallow air when you chew gum or drink through a straw, so try ditching these.

You can also swallow air when eating too quickly or while talking. Which leads me to…

4 – Eat slower, more mindfully, and less stressed

Eating too fast isn’t doing your digestive system any favors. You can help the food move along by chewing it thoroughly and slowing down your eating habits. Be mindful and enjoy the time you are spending eating your meals. Savour them.

The feeling of stress can also cause increased bloating. Stress-reducing techniques can help improve your digestion. Try meditating or deep breathing (but not while you’re eating). 🙂

5 – Try peppermint

Peppermint oil has been shown to improve bloating. It’s thought to increase transit time by relaxing the stomach muscles and increasing the flow of bile. Try steeping fresh peppermint leaves, or a peppermint tea bag, and drinking it slowly. See if that helps reduce your symptoms.

Conclusion

There are a bunch of natural ways to deal with bloating.

First, avoid it by not eating things that give you gas or aggravate a digestive issue. Try not to overeat, consume sugar alcohols, or swallow air. Also, eating more mindfully and reducing stress can help too. Finally, if you are experiencing bloating, enjoy a cup of peppermint tea.

If you do all of these, and still experience bloating, then you may have a food intolerance; this could be from an allergy or intolerance. If you have a major concern, then please see your doctor. Your doctor can help to rule out a serious and/or chronic condition.

Recipe (peppermint): Peppermint Mocha Creamer

1 can coconut milk
½ cup almond milk, unsweetened
2 tbsp cacao powder, unsweetened
½ tsp peppermint extract or essential oil (food-grade and safe for internal use)
3 tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional)

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined.
Store in a sealed container in your fridge.
Serve & enjoy!

Tip: While the non-peppermint ingredients in this creamer may or may not be “de-bloating” for you, try these ideas too:

Grow peppermint yourself;

Chew on the fresh leaves; and/or

Steep them for tea.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-ways-to-reduce-bloating/