Nutrition for Life - 2015


“Happy” New Year!

By Parul Kharod

It's time to close out another year and reflect on the good and not so good times of the past twelve months. As we wish 'Happy New Year' to friends and family, let's give a little thought to what is happiness? Are there any resolutions we can make in the New Year so we can be a little less stressed out and a little more joyful?

We are designed for survival. Our body ensures that everything for survival makes us feel good. Therefore our brain produces hundreds of neurochemicals that nudge us to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

• Dopamine is known as the reward molecule. It is responsible for reward-driven behavior and pleasure seeking. When we set a goal and achieve it, the brain gets flooded with dopamine and makes us feel happy.

• Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty, face-to-face interactions, connections with your community, and sense of belonging to a group helps release oxytocin. It is also why we feel good when we hug.

• Endorphins are neurotransmitters that help reduce pain and stress. Endorphins are released with physical activity and exercise.

• GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) is known as the anti-anxiety molecule. Studies have shown that yoga increases the level of GABA, making us feel relaxed.

• Adrenaline or Epinephrine is known as the energy molecule. This is what gives us the fight versus flight instinct. The release of epinephrine creates a surge of energy.

• The neurochemical responsible for our self-esteem is Serotonin. Higher serotonin levels give us a sense of accomplishment and a secure feeling.

Did you know that we also have a second brain? Our gastrointestinal system or digestive tract is known as our second brain! When you have a “gut feeling" to make a decision or feel “butterflies in your stomach" when nervous, you're likely getting signals from your second brain. Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. Studies now show that the signals travel the opposite way as well. This two-way highway is being called the gut-brain axis.

For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression caused problems like diarrhea, constipation and stomach upset. Studies show it may be the other way around.

Just as we have neurons in our brain, we also have neurons in our gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin is found in our intestines, not the brain.

Now there is proof that our mental and emotional health depends on our gut health. There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the environment in the intestine and improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder.

Pre-biotic and probiotic foods help in improving the good bacteria that live in our gut. These bacteria help with increased production of the “feel good" hormones and enzymes that travel back to the brain via the vagus nerve, which means that our mood is dependent upon our food!

Diet, exercise, and good sleep are the trinity of good health. So what can we eat for a healthy body and mind?

Whole Grains - Studies have shown that whole grains have several benefits for those with anxiety. Whole grains are rich in magnesium, and magnesium deficiency may lead to anxiety. Whole grains and starchy vegetables like sweet potato contain tryptophan, which becomes serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter. Whole grains are rich in fibers that act as pre-biotics for the gut bacteria. Oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, bajra, jowar, amaranth, quinoa, are all healthy whole grains. Try to eat more actual grains rather than foods made with atta/flour.

Blueberries - Blueberries are rich in vitamins and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that are considered extremely beneficial for relieving stress. Many experts also believe that peaches fall into this category as well, because they have nutrients that appear to have a sedation (calming) effect.

Almonds - Almonds contain zinc, a key nutrient for maintaining a balanced mood – and have both iron and healthy fats. Healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet, and low iron levels have been known to cause brain fatigue, which can contribute to both anxiety and a lack of energy.

Dark Chocolate - Chocolate – especially pure dark chocolate without the added sugars or milks – is also a great food for those living with anxiety and stress. Chocolate reduces cortisol – the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. There are also compounds inside dark chocolate that improve mood.

Kefir - Kefir, an ancient fermented yogurt, might just be the most powerful probiotic ever! It also has fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2, all important for brain health.

Avocados - They are great for brain health and anxiety. They contain potassium which helps naturally lower blood pressure. Avocados also contain beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are needed for neurotransmitter and brain health.

Leafy Greens - If you struggle with stress and anxiety increase the greens! Plant foods like Swiss chard and spinach are rich in calcium and magnesium.

Omega-3 fats - Walnuts, Flax seeds, Chia Seeds, Olive oil are all rich sources of omega -3 fats that help trigger serotonin.

Other foods that increase dopamine levels are almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Beans, lentils and vegetables have a lot of fiber which is a pre-biotic and helps improve the bacteria in the gut.

Foods to Avoid - Sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, fast food and fried foods, processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage and all processed foods with artificial chemicals and preservatives have a negative effect on the gut environment.