Food and Mood
Life is challenging enough with simple day to day living. Add to that the challenges of living with an autoimmune condition that relies entirely on one’s strict diet to manage the disease, and before we know it we find ourselves tired, frustrated and sometimes depressed. There are medications for depression, anxiety, weight, cholesterol and just about everything else (it seems). But before we throw up our hands and expect a miracle drug from our doctor (who is not necessarily trained in nutrition), we should carefully examine our diet.
If you follow my articles/postings, you know I have mentioned those folks who think going gluten-free is somehow magically healthier. If that were the case, there would be no overweight people that eat gluten-free. Such is not the case. The harsh reality is going gluten-free is not a panacea. Just as with so-called “normal” people that consume supposedly “regular” food have challenges with weight, depression, and irritability, those of us in the GF community also suffer from these same conditions and challenges. So what might be the commonality? Diet, GF or otherwise.
It is critically important for us to understand our attitudes can truly depend in great part on our nutritional status. Hypoglycemic and we’re irritable. Ask my wife, Debbie, how fun I am to be around when my blood sugar gets too low. Paranoia can result if we are low in certain B vitamins. Iron deficiency might result in being anxious or apathetic. All these share a potentially common theme – food and its nutritional value.
There are many more examples beyond our mental state to consider. Alopecia (thinning hair), for example, may be an indication of iron deficiency. If a room is brightened because of the reflection off your scalp, you could drive (walking, trotting or jogging is healthier) to the doctor and get a prescription for thinning hair, however, you could also consider discussing nutritional root causes (no pun intended) for alopecia or any other condition that might be related to iron deficiency with your doctor. In this example, one possible solution might be to adopt a diet that includes lean red meat, dark leafy greens, beans, lentils and shellfish such as clams, oysters and scallops. Adding fresh fruit, rich in vitamin C, will aid in the absorption of iron. This is just one of many potential examples where nutrition should be considered with, or instead of, medication.
Those in the GF communities must always be on the “look-out” or carefully plan for their next safe meal. This can often be a tiring and frustrating experience, especially if you are extremely busy and extensive travel and business dinners are part of your norm. This level of stress and frustration will eventually affect mental health. Here are some things to consider for your mental well-being:
· In order to keep your blood sugar steady, eat small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Someone came up with the arbitrary idea of three meals a day. To maintain even blood sugar levels, five small meals a day is better than three. You will tend to eat smaller portions and reduce the intensity of those hunger signals going to the brain.
· Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Our brains as well as our bodies need fuel. Skipping breakfast puts you behind the energy curve throughout the day. When lunch comes, you’ll “chow down” resulting in overeating then want a nap when you need to be at the top of your game in the afternoon. You’ll repeat the same thing at dinner time when you should minimize eating in order to prepare for sleep.
· Don’t consider any extreme low fat diets. Fat is needed to keep your brain working and elevate your mood. This is why I am most happy when eating crispy apple-wood smoked bacon. Seriously, make sure your diet plan includes healthy, monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil and fatty fish, instead of saturated fats, like the kind found in butter and fast foods.
· Limit your consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages. While I enjoy coffee to start my day, the whole carafe is not what the doctor (or Chef David) recommends. While you may have more physical energy, mental processing is “scattered” and less focused when too much caffeine is consumed.
· Make fresh fruits and vegetables a central part of a healthy diet. Getting enough vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin C and zinc is essential for your body to manufacture serotonin. Most serotonin is located in the gut, where it is used to regulate intestinal movements. The remainder is manufactured in neurons of the central nervous system where it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. Serotonin also has some cognitive functions, including memory and learning.
· If you’re feeling low, try eating a meal with a food containing the amino acid tryptophan, such as chicken or turkey breast, or milk if not casein or lactose intolerant. Add complex carbs to your meal to help your body efficiently absorb the tryptophan.
· Don’t consider “diets” where an entire food group is eliminated, such as the Atkins diet.
· Exercise at least 20 minutes daily. Exercise helps reduce the severity of anxiety disorder symptoms, such as anxiety attacks, as well as increased blood flow to the brain. A brisk 20 minute walk is a great start.
Sometime diet alone will not address health issues. However, it is the best place to start. Why? In most cases, a healthy well-balanced diet will not possess those risks associated with the long list of potential side effects of drugs. Secondly, cost – drugs and doctor visits are very expensive. We are going to lay out significant amount of cash to eat anyway, so why not consider a dietary change addressing the nutritional aspect for treatment for a “condition,” prior to investing in our physician’s retirement plan.
The key to becoming well and staying healthy in celiac disease (and even for non-celiac individuals for that matter) is understanding and identifying our nutritional deficiencies and correcting them. This applies to attitude, digestion, energy level, eyes, bones, skin, and every system in the body. Once we identify the relationship between a condition and nutrition, we can help ourselves and our families by selecting or designing menu for better health.
Eat well and joyful.
Chef David Hall
Thyme for a Chef