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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Good Mood Food

By Jenna Sanders

On December 31, people across the U.S. vow to start living differently in the year ahead.

Estimates show that 40-45% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, with 55% of these resolutions related to improving health. Not surprisingly, losing weight ranks at the top of these health-related resolutions.

The trendy diet pendulum swung from the reduced-calorie, low-fat diets dominating the 1990s to the resurgence of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet in the 2000s.

Today, the number of food philosophies vying for top billing is dizzying – Whole 30, the Mediterranean Diet, the Blood Type Diet, Paleo, Keto, Plant-based, Whole Food. Proponents for each of these nutritional plans make the same claim, eat this way to reveal your healthiest and skinniest self.

A new field of study has emerged to counter the way we look at food. Nutritional psychiatry shifts the focus from how eating healthier will whittle your waistline to which foods to eat in order to boost your brain functioning.

Evidence from the medical community is clear. The standard American diet, laden with processed foods, excess sugar, and copious amounts of red meat, wreaks havoc on a person’s health. Research conducted by the pioneers in nutritional psychiatry shows these foods negatively impact both physical and mental health.

Consumption of trans fat, often labeled as “partially hydrogenated oil” on lists of ingredients, has been found to increase the risk of depression by 42%. Low folate intake may increase depression as much as threefold. Consumption of aspartame has been linked to an increase in irritability and depression. More than 6,000 food products currently sold worldwide contain aspartame.

Our bodies, brains included, require essential nutrients to achieve maximum functionality. In other words, the food we eat is directly responsible for our overall health and wellness.

Something as simple as an iron deficiency causes incapacitating low energy, a foggy brain, and sadness – all symptoms associated with depression. Low iron intake decreases physical, mental and emotional performance. One study estimates 2 billion people on the planet are iron deficient. If this was reversed, the average IQ on Earth would increase by 13 points.

Symptoms associated with vitamin B1 deficiency include low energy, apathy, brain fog, irritability, and physical weakness. B12 deficiencies cause depression, anemia, and in some cases, psychotic symptoms like extreme paranoia.

The solution: stop eating junk, start eating a diversity of nutrients.

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Diets high in refined sugars have been found to correlate with impaired brain functioning. Studies show high sugar intake can even worsen depressive symptoms.

The Skinny on Fat

Eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fish, boosts brain growth and functioning in addition to reducing inflammation. These fats are critical to maximizing your brain and your body’s health.

Low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to depression and suicide, as well as diabetes and heart disease.

The recommended daily allowance for healthy fat consumption is roughly 200-400 calories.

Eat the Rainbow

Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. The greater the variety of colors, the greater the variety of polyphenols. One study of 1,000 senior men and women found those who ate tomatoes or tomato products daily had half the odds of depression compared to those who only ate them once a week. Increasing your consumption of polyphenols has also been shown to improve brain growth.

Go for Gut Health

An estimated 90% of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in regulating sleep and appetite, mediating moods, and inhibiting pain, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Your gut doesn’t just help you digest food; it also helps regulate your mood.

Eating prebiotic foods including, garlic, onions, and cabbage, as well as probiotic foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir, helps maintain a healthy microbiome. Probiotic supplements have been linked to an improvement in anxiety levels, stress perception, and mental outlook.

Making lasting changes requires radical honesty and a shift in perspective.

Someone who despises oysters can’t realistically commit to slurping down a dozen to increase their consumption of B12. But knowing a diet filled with fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of developing depression by as much as 62 percent may inspire more trips to the Farmers Market.

Start small and focus on progress over perfection. Set a goal of adding two vegetarian dishes to the weekly dinner plan or swap sugary breakfast cereals for eggs and avocado. Achieving small goals boosts confidence, creating a foundation for additional dietary changes.

The evidence from the growing field of nutritional psychiatry makes it clear. Your brain will benefit from the investments you’re ready to make.


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