I saw a Ted Talk by a functional nutritionist in early 2018 that changed how I think about food. I have searched for this specific Ted Talk to share and I can’t, for the life of me, find it—OR remember her name, but I can share with you what I learned.
What she shared that day—or maybe more specifically how I heard it that day—was a game-changer for me. The take-aways that stuck with me were this (paraphrased):
-dark green leafy vegetables are loaded with good stuff but more specifically B vitamins
-B vitamins are the pre-cursors to the production of your serotonin (your happy brain chemicals)
-B vitamins are frequently not absorbed because they compete to be absorbed with sugar and alcohol
-Even if you take B vitamin supplements or eat all the leafy greens—if you follow it with alcohol or a lot of sugar—the sugar wins; the alcohol wins and you can end up malnourished
-Caffeine taps your adrenal glands for that spike of energy; if you keep using caffeine to deal with fatigue or sugar highs/lows, your adrenal glands can stop working effectively
-Omega-3 fatty acids also helps in the healthy creation of good brain chemicals
At this particular time I was grappling with a very long stent of deep depression. I had given up alcohol during this time, but I had replaced it with sugar and a lot of it—as many people do.
None of this new information was rocket science, but on this day I heard it for real. I used to use afternoon coffee and cookies to get through the long days at work. I had a really hard time saying no to the sweets and treats that were offered at my job. After hearing this information I had a new resolve, because I desperately—more than ever before—wanted to feel better.
I couldn’t handle the dark days anymore and I would have balanced lemons on my head daily if you told me it could get me out of the deep hole I was in. So, I went to the health food store and I bought a B-complex vitamin, Fish oil (for the Omega-3) and I started drinking lower caffeinated teas in the afternoons if I really needed help with fatigue.
Suddenly, I could look at the cookies at work and see them as an object that was stealing away my joy—not just a moment of sweet on my tongue. The willpower was different because the motivation was from true facts—nutritional science.
Since becoming a women’s health coach I have done a lot of research on diet related to mood, brain health, and depression/anxiety symptoms. It’s unanimous that the correlation is HUGE.
Sugar, alcohol and refined grains are stealing your happiness.
In an article published last year by betterhelp.com they have consolidated the top 12 nutrients that are essential for brain health.
I’ll break it down and give you a few examples.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, chia, or hemp seeds, walnuts. Also an option to buy a salmon or cod oil capsule)
- Vitamin A-not made by the human body-so must be consumed (Egg yolks and milk or squashes, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and papayas)
- Vitamin B6 (chickpeas, chicken or turkey, bananas, onions, cottage cheese, rice, and raisins. Also available in a supplement)
- Vitamin B12 (eggs, milk, fish, yogurt and cheese. Also available as a supplement)
- Vitamin C (not just oranges—bell peppers, kale, and broccoli have more vitamin C than an orange, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwi, mango, and pineapple)
- Iron (beef, lamb, shrimp, clams, tuna, eggs, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, strawberries, watermelon, and beans)
- Folate (asparagus, romaine lettuce, and spinach, beans, peanuts)
- Magnesium (Banana, raspberries, avocado, spinach, kale, nuts, peas, broccoli, cabbage, and salmon)
- Potassium (apricots, bananas, oranges, a variety of beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini, yogurt, and salmon)
- Selenium (chicken, turkey, beef, shellfish, and brown rice, milk and yogurt)
- Thiamine—also known as B1 (whole grains, tuna, trout, pork, beef. Or as a supplement)
- Zinc (pumpkin seeds, oysters, beef, chickpeas, oatmeal, peas. Or as a supplement)
(A note on supplements—they’re great, but the ideas is use food first, then supplement where you’re lacking.)
Basically-to simplify—if you eat a modified mediterranean diet and make sure you’re eating all the colors of the rainbow daily—you’re going to be in a good place. Add in weekly wild-caught salmon, walnuts, and some pumpkin seeds to seal in all the goodness. If these foods aren’t making their way onto your plate-then supplement. Find a quality Super B complex, a wild fish oil, Vitamin C, Zinc—and add in Vitamin D/K combo while you’re at it.
And if you consume alcohol, seriously consider reducing the amount you intake. Try to have multiple days/week where there is ZERO alcohol intake so that you are able to properly absorb the nutrients that are going to help increase your happy brain chemicals. And always drink in moderation.
Alcohol and sugar give us a VERY temporary fix, and the after effects are worse than the initial desire to feel better. Choose better and feel better—it can be simple. It takes a little re-wiring of your habits, but it’s possible.
Side note-there are individuals out there that don’t absorb B vitamins in their gut very well—it’s hereditary—and may require B vitamin supplementation through injection periodically. Check with your local Naturopathic doctor to find out. Need a reference? Message me, I’ll find you a good one.
You’ll notice that none of the foods listed above that contain nutrients are processed. They’re all real whole food items. There’s no added sugar, chemical, preservatives in there. We add sugar for flavor and sugar has 20 different names when you’re reading ingredients. (List below in additional info)
So, sugar not only competes with your nutrients for absorption; it actually aids in the making of proteins that are linked to depression and anxiety. Sugar is the villain here.
In a study performed by a mental health research institution in England:
“Meanwhile, too much sugar has been found to decrease a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in the development of depression and anxiety, “
“In a study of 166 individuals with moderate to severe depression, they show significant improved symptoms after 12 weeks on a modified greek diet.”
“Vitamins in the body help the function of enzymes that enable reactions such as the synthesis of serotonin, which plays an essential role in our happiness.”
Food fuels your brain, so it makes sense that what you eat has an impact on your mental health. By making an effort to regulate your nutrition, you may discover that your depression and anxiety is far more manageable.
Suddenly that cookie, Frappuccino or chips and crackers aren’t a treat for a momentary pick-me-up—it’s what’s stealing your joy. And the idea of eating a nutritious dinner isn’t just about eating healthy because you “should” it’s about re-claiming your life.
What you eat matters and you’re worth it. Your life deserves to be filled with so much happiness.
1. For help in starting a modified mediterranean diet:
2. When reading labels and trying to avoid sugar look out for the following names that all mean sugar:
Agave nectar / Barbados sugar / Barley malt / Barley malt syrup / Beet sugar / Brown sugar / Buttered syrup / Cane juice / Cane juice crystals / Cane sugar / Caramel / Carob syrup / Castor sugar / Coconut palm sugar / Coconut sugar / Confectioner’s sugar / Corn sweetener / Corn syrup / Corn syrup solids / Date sugar / Dehydrated cane juice / Demerara sugar / Dextrin / Dextrose / Evaporated cane juice / Free-flowing brown sugars / Fructose / Fruit juice / Fruit juice concentrate / Glucose / Glucose solids / Golden sugar / Golden syrup / Grape sugar / HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup) / Honey / Icing sugar / Invert sugar / Malt syrup / Maltodextrin / Maltol / Maltose / Mannose / Maple syrup / Molasses / Muscovado / Palm sugar / Panocha / Powdered sugar / Raw sugar / Refiner’s syrup / Rice syrup / Saccharose / Sorghum syrup / Sucrose / Sugar (granulated) / Sweet Sorghum / Syrup / Treacle / Turbinado sugar / Yellow sugar