By Brenda Baran, BA (Chemistry), NTP
Did You Know?
- The Standard American Diet (SAD) includes fast foods, processed foods, fake foods and microwaved foods which can lead to various imbalances including hormonal, and nutritional imbalances
- Fake foods, or man made foods, are loaded with with additives that are known to be toxins to the body including MSG and artificial sweeteners
- Most conventional meats are teaming with steroids and antibiotics
- Conventional milk is full of hormones and chemically altered
- Some commercially grown oranges contain no vitamin C
- Farming methods used have a HUGE impact on the nutrient content in produce
This Lesson Includes:
- How Diet Is Important For Mental Wellness
- What Exactly Are Neurotransmitters
- What Does A Properly Prepared, Whole Food, Nutrient Dense Diet Consist Of
- The Six Classes Of Nutrients Including Their Roles And Sources For Them
- Steps For Getting Started
- Book Recommendations
- Whole Food Resources
How Diet Is Important For Mental Wellness
Many mental health concerns are related to or are a result of nutritional imbalances in the body. The imbalances could be either too much of certain nutrients or a deficiency. We get these nutrients from the foods that we eat.
Nutrients including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, enzymes, etc. all impact the body’s level of neurotransmitters. If we do not consume nutrient dense whole foods, then the body will not have the building blocks necessary to produce the neurotransmitters we need. Imbalances in neurotransmitters lead to a variety of mental health concerns including anger, depression, hyperactivity, drug, alcohol and sugar addiction, anxiety and more.
What Exactly Are Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are molecules that relay signals between nerve cells or neurons in our brain. This allows for information to be communicated throughout the brain and body. Imbalances in neurotransmitters can lead to a variety of issues some of which include mental health issues. Different types of molecules can act as neurotransmitters. Some of these include plain amino acids, monoamines or modified amino acids, proteins or peptides which are chains of amino acids and more which can also include inorganic chemicals. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins therefore foods dense in protein are very important for the production and balance of neurotransmitters. The most common talked about neurotransmitters include serotonin, GABA, and catacholamines including dopamine, neuroepinephrine, and epinephrine.
What Does A Properly Prepared, Whole Food, Nutrient Dense Diet Consist Of
There are so many diets out there! It is hard to know which one is best. I will review the six classes of nutrients, and explain some of the roles they play in our body including those related to mental health, and what foods are the best sources for them.
The Six Classes Of Nutrients
Let’s briefly go over some of the roles they play in our body including those related to mental health, and what foods are the best sources for them.
Improves oxygen delivery to our cells
Aids in waste removal
Improves cell to cell communication (including neuron communication)
Absorbs shock to joints and organs
Contributes to Mood: Transports nutrients within our body including neurotransmitters and hormones which both affect our mental health
The body can produce 8% of our needed water supply itself. The remaining 92% must be ingested. I personally avoid tap water because of its fluoride, chlorine, and traces of pharmaceutical drugs. I like to drink filtered spring water which is rich in minerals. I don’t recommend distilled water nor reverse osmosis water because it is stripped of its minerals and can potentially throw off electrolyte balance.
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Provide a source of fiber
Quick source of energy for the muscles
Along with fats and proteins, carbohydrates help lubricate our joints and promote growth of body tissues
Contribute to Mood: Quick source of energy for the brain
Consumption should be of only unrefined carbohydrates and the majority should be complex carbohydrates. Unrefined means the way the carbohydrate occurs in nature an example would be raw honey, not processed in any way. Complex carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It is important to properly prepare your grains and legumes by soaking or sprouting them before cooking. This rids these foods of enzyme inhibitors making the nutrients within them easier to absorb. Consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars has been shown to deplete various nutrients and can lead to depression.
Proteins are very important as they make up many, many molecules in our body, which are necessary for life, some of which are listed below
Enzymes are important in all metabolic reactions that occur in our body
Antibodies are necessary for immune function
Hormones regulate many functions in our body
Hemoglobin carries oxygen in our blood stream
Specific Roles Related to Mental Health
As you might have noticed from above, the proper balance of neurotransmitters relies heavily upon the consumption of proteins, which are chains of amino acids. When we consume proteins our body digests them and breaks them down into amino acids which it can use individually or rearrange to make other proteins. As mentioned above plain amino acids, modified amino acids, and chains of amino acids can all act as neurotransmitters.
Articles & Posts On Proteins: Choosing Healthy Meat, Dairy & Seafood
Good sources of proteins include naturally raised animals like pasture raised chicken & grass fed beef, raw whole dairy products from grass fed animals including cows and goats, wild caught seafood, and properly prepared soaked and sprouted legumes. Online sources include pasture raised chicken, grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, grass-fed bison, seafood, also check out US Wellness Meats. Local health food stores, and food co-ops usually carry organic, grass-fed, and pasture raised meats. Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s definitely do.
Required for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
Slow down absorption (it is a good idea to pair a fat with a simple carbohydrate to avoid blood sugar dysregulation)
Provide a source of energy and aid in energy regulation
Satiate our body
Contribute to mood: Satiate our brain; brain is primarily made of fatty acids; fatty acids are need to create neurotransmitters, cholesterol, found in animal fat, is a precursor to every steroid hormone in our body including all our sex hormones
A good rule of thumb is to have about 30% of your daily calorie intake come from good quality fats. A balance of all fats is important including omegas 3, 6, 9 and saturated fats. A good source of omega 3 fatty acids, as many of you probably already know, is fish. Many nuts and seeds are rich in omegas 3, 6, and 9, make sure you soak your nuts and seeds before consumption, as this aids in nutrient absorption and digestion. Good sources of saturated fats include cold pressed coconut oil, grass fed butter, and other animal fats from pasture raised, grass fed animals. Online sources include grass-fed butter, coconut oil, tallow & duck fat. Local health food stores, and food co-ops usually carry organic, grass-fed, and pasture raised animal fats Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s definitely do, they also carry cold pressed coconut oil.
Function as coenzymes in metabolic reactions
Are essential for growth and vitality
Helpful in digestion and elimination
Needed for immunity
Contribute to mood: Deficiencies can lead to a variety of disorders including mood issues; depression for example can be a result of vitamin deficiencies of biotin (B7), folic acid, pyridoxine (B6), riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1), cobalamin (B12), or vitamin C
The best sources of vitamins are properly prepared, whole foods. It is important to incorporate raw foods into your diet. Make sure about 50% of your food is not cooked. Fresh leafy greens and veggies are very important. Organic and sustainably farmed veggies are best as they come from more nutrient rich soils therefore making them more nutrient dense themselves.
Maintain pH balance in the body
Contract and relax muscles
Facilitate the transfer of nutrients across the cell membrane
Provide structural and functional support
Contribute to mood: Act as cofactors for enzyme reactions including neurotransmitter function, activate sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous system which affect our mood and mental state; mineral imbalances of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, or potassium can lead to depression, excesses of magnesium or vanadium can lead to depression; lithium or rubidium can act as a nutritional antidepressant
Mineral rich foods include, you guessed it, properly prepared, whole foods. Including mineral rich bone broth, unrefined salts (Himalayan salt is an example), veggies, and mineral rich water like natural spring water. Again, organic and sustainably farmed veggies are best as they come from more mineral rich soils.
Specific Nutrient Dense Foods
Fermented Foods: I also want to note that probiotic rich fermented foods should be a staple in a nutrient dense, whole food diet. Fermented foods make the nutrients in the food more bio-available, this means making the nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. Fermented veggies are rich in minerals, vitamins, and complex carbohydrates; fermented dairy products are rich in good quality fats and proteins.
Bone Broth: Bone broth is known to be a very powerful gut healing, nutrient dense tonic which is loaded with minerals and healthy fats.
Organ Meats: Organ meats are an extremely nutrient dense food teaming with minerals, vitamins (especially B vitamins), healthy fats, and proteins.
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A properly prepared, whole food, nutrient dense diet includes incorporating a balance of all the macro-nutrients, water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. A good rule of thumb is to start off with 40% carbohydrates (mostly veggies, which are complex carbohydrates), 30% proteins, and 30% fats per meal. Making sure they are all unrefined, nutrient dense, whole food sources as listed above in their corresponding sections. The micro-nutrients vitamins and minerals, will be taken care of, in most cases, if you have a healthy digestive system and are consuming properly prepared, whole food, nutrient dense whole foods. Ensuring to get your foods from sustainable farming methods is a sure way to go. It is also important to make sure that not all of the food you consume is cooked. 50% of the foods in your diet should be raw. Many vitamins, and enzymes are altered by heat.
Steps For Getting Started
Sometimes changing your diet can seem overwhelming, but it can be fairly easy if you start gradually! Start by changing one thing at a time. Once you have that down then change something else. If you keep doing this eventually you will be eating a properly prepared, whole food, nutrient dense diet as described above! Below are some ideas on how to get started with the process.
Make sure you are properly hydrated, drink good quality water like filtered spring water, drink about half your body weight in ounces
Eat more vegetables (vegetables are complex carbohydrates), try to buy organic, sustainably farmed produce, make sure 50% of the veggies you consume are raw
Avoid simple carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates like white breads, pastas, crackers, cookies
Start incorporating good quality protein as much as possible, try to by organic, grass-fed, pasture raised animal products including meat, dairy, and eggs to limit exposure to chemical toxins including hormones and antibiotics
Avoid highly processed or packaged meats, meats that contain added fillers including hydrolyzed protein, and soy products
Eat only clean fats from organic, grass-fed, pasture raised animals, animals store their toxins in their fats; Start using cold-pressed coconut oil for cooking in place of refined vegetable oils
Avoid deep fried foods, trans-fats, partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fats and oils
Use natural sweeteners like raw honey and grade B (less refined, more nutrient dense) maple syrup in place of refined sugars
Avoid refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, refined honey, refined maple syrup, agave nectar, white granulated sugar — Learn more about what sweeteners you should use
Avoid chemical food additives — Examples include: MSG, artificial sweeteners, food coloring, anti-caking agents, thickeners, high fructose corn syrup, “natural flavors” a cover up on the ingredient list, etc…
Learn more about food additives here:The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply– and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself
Eat in a relaxed state and make sure to chew thoroughly, this will aid digestion
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Whole Food Book Recommendations
Whole Food Recipe Book Recommendations
Whole Food Resorces
- The Weston A. Price Foundation
- WPF Shopping Guide
- Find A CSA In Your Area
- “Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.” – Local Harvest
- Find A Local Farmers Market