The Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health

The Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health By Ariel Suazo-Maler Understanding the ‘best diet’ for mental health, is to unpack the word ‘diet’ and its different uses. Taken literally, ‘diet’ describes what we eat; someone can have a vegetarian diet, omnivorous diet, carnivorous diet, etc. With regards to mental health, as a result of research into disease correlates, longevity, and mental acuity, you’ll hear people adhering to a Mediterranean Diet, or Blue Zones Diet in the hopes of doing what’s best for their brains. These diets, comprised of dark leafy vegetables, antioxidant-rich fruits, sources of omega fats, nuts, seeds, and legumes, have been shown to offer protection against Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Thanks to a greater understanding of our microbiome and the gut-brain connection, we know that eating these foods positively affects our mental health. However, importantly, it’s not only what we eat, but how we interact with food that influences its effect on our bodies. While there are foods whose nutrient composition provides countless benefits, a diet that is best for brain health is one that also honors balance as well as the joyfulness of eating. Counting calories and ascribing an emotional value to food, rendering it either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, i.e. dieting, removes the trust in one’s own ability to do what’s best for one’s body at any given moment. This practice can contribute to feelings of stress by having you see food as harmful before healthful. When used as a form of restriction, a diet can actually increase feelings of anxiety and depression and be deleterious to our mental well-being. While there are foods—mostly highly refined and ultraprocessed—that may not top the list of best things to consume for optimal brain health, it’s still all about balance. A slice of frosting-rich chocolate cake eaten mindfully among friends while smiling, can have a greater health benefit as compared to cauliflower rice eaten while stressed, worried and guilt-ridden. Breaking eating down to food’s chemical composition and associating that with a benefit or detriment is like looking at a painting under a microscope and rendering a judgment without stepping back to take in the impact of the full picture. Ultimately, diet’s role in mental wellness is understanding that fermented foods can be connected to feelings of happiness, and increased intake of refined sugars with feelings of sadness and depression. But it’s also about accepting that a childlike interaction with a…

Personalized, Holistic Healthcare Isn’t as New As We Thought

Personalized, Holistic Healthcare Isn’t as New As We Thought By Emily Noronha In an age of a rapidly increasing number of pharmaceuticals and prescriptions, we often forget how our everyday food impacts our health and can be used to treat many chronic diseases. While Western medicine has been focusing successfully on the battle against cancer and infectious diseases, and on diagnosis and treatment, it has traditionally relied on the principles of a reductionistic biomedical model for problem solving. Interestingly, the current emphasis on personalized medicine, is beginning to show some convergence with some key concepts of ancient traditional healing traditions, which were not based on scientific discovery, but rather on centuries of astute clinical observations. Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional form of medicine that originated in South Asia over 3,000 years ago, views health both in a holistic and in an individualized way, positing that each person’s mind, body, and spirit must find balance with the world in order to reach a healthy state, and that the path to this goal differs between individuals. Aruvedyic medicine views health and “being” in terms of happiness, longevity, and contentedness (Payyappallimana, 2016). This holistic viewpoint greatly differs from that of Western medicine, which tends to study only the physical self, and focuses on diagnosing and treating a particular organ or symptom. This unique view is illustrated by the concept of Prakriti. Prakriti refers to an individual's physiological, psychological, and spiritual attributes, which shape her or his eating habits, tastes, and preferences (Dey, 2014).One’s tastes can be understood as sour/salty, sweet/bitter, or pungent/bitter, and therefore shape the effect of food on one’s body and mind. In the Aryurvedic view, similar to the views of traditional Chinese Medicine and the Hippocratic prescientific concepts, food is considered not only as a means to satisfy our metabolic needs, and our personal cravings, but as an important form of medicine. Many Aryurvedic remedies, such as turmeric, ginger and ashwagandha have been rediscovered as modern “superfoods”. Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t only follow food at what one is consuming, but how and when it is consumed. There are specific instructions in an Ayurvedic Diet as to when to consume certain foods - yogurt, for example, is not to be consumed at night. In recent studies, the microbiome and metabolic function have been found to be different during day and night (Uhr, 2019). The timing of food intake has become a popular topic…

Moments of Mindfulness

Moments of Mindfulness By Suzanne Smith, MSN, NP, CMT-P Mindfulness is a quality of attention that is open, nonjudgmental, curious, and kind. Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness and cultivate these qualities creating possibilities for more ease, insight, and a kinder relationship to experience. However, we can bring the quality of mindfulness to any moment. We often think we do not have time to take a moment away from the activities we need to do. Mindfulness does not take you away from experience, it increases presence and allows us to expand our awareness to experience the fullness of the moment and engage in life in a more informed and skillful way. For example, as you are reading these words, notice where your body contacts a surface, now shift your attention to the breath moving in and out of the body. Where does the breath enter the body? Where does the breath leave the body? Now notice how you are feeling in this moment, calm, restless, tired, etc. Can you receive this experience with a kind attention without judgment? If you are still reading this, and followed along with the prompts, then you just practiced mindfulness while you were engaged in the activity of reading. Below are 3 mindfulness practices to bring more awareness, presence, and connection to your day. 1) Bring awareness to daily activities Choose any activity you do every day such as walking to or from your mode of transportation, taking a shower or eating a meal. Open to your senses as you engage with the activity. For example, before you eat, look at the food, the colors, and imagine all that went into getting this food here in front of you, how it was prepared by someone with care, and that you are nourishing your body with this food. Then as you begin to eat, enjoy the aromas, the flavors, and textures of the food as you nourish yourself. This simple practice of engaging fully with the activity of eating can help decrease overeating and increase your sense of nourishment. 2) Practice presence How often are we really present for one another? The next time you are with a friend or family member, practice presence by putting down the phone or a project that is competing for your attention and give that person your full presence. Listen to the person with the intention of connecting and…

Ribollita

Ribollita By Elisabetta Ciardullo Ribollita is the boiled-twice hearty soup from Tuscany. Its origin, in a simplified version of the XVI century, points specifically to the beautiful town of Arezzo, close to where my mother was born. A few summer vacations spent there as a kid at some cousins’ casale (rural farmhouse), make it easy for me to imagine how and why this simple, vegetarian soup was created. In catholic Italy, Friday was a day where no meat could be eaten, so the habit of putting together some vegetables and let them boil for hours on a Friday was born. To get rid of all bread leftovers of the week, stale bread was added to the soup to make it thicker and give it the consistency of a vegetarian / vegan stew ante litteram. Consider also that all the ingredients were readily available in the vegetable garden that every farmer maintained, so the dish was typical of the “cucina povera” tradition, namely cooking with few inexpensive ingredients, but still making some appetizing dishes. The soup was re-boiled before consumption, even more than once, and each re-boiling concentrated and enhanced the flavor. There is a general consensus about the ingredients to use, but as always in Italy, each family has its own recipe, or maybe the twist is simply a consequence of what is available in the pantry. Two ingredients are always present though: lacinato kale and beans. The first is also known as black kale, or, in English, as dino kale for its bumpy, dark green leaf. Usually, this kind of kale grows in winter, it is very resistant to cold temperatures and actually needs to be exposed to ice-cold nights to become more tender. All of which of course never happens here in California, where we can enjoy this tasteful and healthy vegetable all year long. Black kale, as all the other members of the large kale family, has been shown to have significant health benefits. On top of that, black kale contains a massive amount of polyphenols and antioxidants, which through their anti-inflammatory effects are thought to decrease the risk for many chronic diseases including asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and many more. It also contains large amounts of carotenoids, who help ensure eyes’ health. The beans used are mostly Cannellini, a variety of medium sized white beans typical from Italy, but they can be substituted with…

Pisto Manchego

Pisto Manchego By Marta Diaz Megias Pisto Manchego is a wonderful Spanish dish rich with juicy flavors from seasonal vegetables, including tomato, bell pepper, onion, and zucchini. Pisto Manchego is a traditional Castilian dish that originated in La Mancha region in central Spain. Pisto in Spanish generally refers to diced vegetables of all kinds. It is derived from the Latin word pistus meaning crushed or pounded. The most popular versions of pisto include pisto andaluz from the Andalusian region, pisto toledano from Toledo and pisto bilbaína from Bilbao, the Basque region, which includes scrambled eggs. The Basque version makes this kind of pisto very popular among vegetarians, because of its simple preparation and the use of commonly available vegetables. The origin of pisto is believed to be from the ancient Moorish dish al-buraniya or as it is known in Spanish as alboronia. In the year 822 Al-buraniya was specially created and served at the wedding of the Moorish princess Būrān. Hence the name al-buraniya in her honor. There is no doubt that today’s Spanish cuisine is still influenced by the Arabic flavors. The Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula for seven centuries (700 AD to 1400 AD). Moors introduced the technique of frying in oil to the Spanish community and advanced the production of olive oil. Originally this dish was cooked outdoors in the fields with easy-to-get local produces by farmers in La Mancha. The real pisto only has green and red bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini, but the vegetables used varied depending on the area, season, or local preferences. The ancient recipe only had eggplant, olive oil and garlic. The discovery of the Americas brought new products such as tomatoes and peppers, these elements soon became basic in Spanish cuisine. Over the years, eggplant was gradually replaced. In today’s pisto, tomatoes and bell peppers are a must and as per the availability other vegetables are included. It is a vegetarian dish that makes use of the Mediterranean vegetables that are in season. Ingredients: 300 grams Onions finely chopped 1 Red bell pepper diced and seeded 1 Green bell pepper diced and seeded 300 grams Zucchini diced 100 ml extra virgin olive oil 400 grams Tomatoes peeled and seeded 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 tsp salt 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper My personal suggestion is to add a tsp of turmeric Preparation: 1. Crush the tomatoes. 2. Heat the…