Eating right to beat the BLUES
If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, you are not alone. We are in a bad-mood epidemic, which is as large as the Covid epidemic itself. Much of our increasing stress comes from fixing the gut and the brain, which stem from nutritional needs that are not met on a day-to-day basis or our won compromised ability to absorb what we are eating due to our dysfunction of our guts. Depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, stress-related headaches and many other off-shoots of the stress we are going through are the kind of cases I have seen during this period, and it’s sad to see that the very basics of nutrition are lost to so many people, while it is so easy to fix.
So how does the brain work?
A lot of how happy you are is coming from the neurotransmitter or hormone serotonin, it is the key hormone that stabilizes your mood, feelings, emotions of happiness. It also helps with sleeping, digestion, eating; if your brain has less of this hormone it will lead to mood swings and depression. You will be more focused, grounded, stable and happier if you have adequate serotonin. Serotonin is synthesized in your body from tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) found in many foods. Tryptophan first converts into a substance called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which then converts directly into serotonin. This crucial three-step process can be interfered with by many things. If there isn’t enough tryptophan in your diet, thew. Your body will not make enough 5-HTP or serotonin to keep you happy.
What depletes serotonin?
As I mentioned before first the base foods need to be right. Which means, are you eating foods that deplete serotonin? These are:
- Stimulants like too much alcohol, coffee, diet pills, drinks that are high on caffeine; are you consuming artificial sweeteners, as they have ingredients that interfere with serotonin production
- Sugar will also cause melodrama, mood swings and leave you depleted besides gobbling up all that serotonin-the combination of sugar and starches push the adrenal glands into an overdrive causing exhaustion-pushing another hormone cortisol into action.
- Refined oils in Indian diets, as they get oxidized in the body causing cellular damage; and saturated or hydrogenated fats.
- Dairy (cow’s milk) again huge in the Indian context, does not serve well for anxiety issues.
- Consuming high carb meals in combination with other foods like eggs, or tofu or vegetables; make them affect you much less on the sugar load rather than eating them in isolation, and causing those high sugar spikes and lifestyle too will affect serotonin: skipping meals (being nutrient deficient—many vitamins and minerals assist in the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP and then serotonin),
- Large gaps between meals
- Not balancing protein carbohydrates and fats
- Prolonged stress a
- Lack of sunlight
How does food help?
Here are the building blocks of a solid diet to help you combat the blues
- The brains primary fuel is glucose, good sugars coming from the right foods and your carbohydrates, so we need to see are you getting the right carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are a good source of sugars and fibre, and also promotes smooth functioning of the digestive tract; ensuring proper waste elimination. Here, I cannot emphasize the necessity of whole grains from a brown/red rice to any good millet that really aids with the amounts of antioxidants and anti-aging benefits (brown rice alone has 70 anti-aging antioxidants). So minimize what you may have in the day, 20% of daily volume consumption works well.
- Good quality protein helps you stay satiated, keep blood sugars stable. Protein also maintains our muscles; your intestinal lining has muscle fibres; this means lean protein if you eat fish, meats, eggs (non-vegetarians), aged cheese, cottage cheese and plant-based protein if you are a vegetarian/vegan. Excess protein (animal protein) is not good for you, so balance it with vegetables and greens. We don’t want those pathways getting blocked we must maintain the quality of blood being clean and not toxic. Eat 20-30 grams of protein per meal.
- Vegetables, which not only have good quality fibre (4-5 cups a day); especially coloured vegetables that have plenty of beta carotene that converts to Vitamin A to repair skin (of the gut lining). Plus, leafy greens and green vegetables You need the high energy of higher-carbohydrate vegetables like potatoes, corn, pumpkin (lal kaddu/bhopla), and yams in addition to low starch vegetables. Lots of greens, some yellow and red vegetables.
- Fermented foods, are a crucial part of any diet plan. Foods like sauerkraut, quick pickles, non-dairy kefir, kimchee are highly recommended as they feed the gut bacteria, help assimilate food and also aid the gut to secrete serotonin. They help produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for conducting nerve impulses, calming the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Nuts and seeds bring in the trace minerals, good fats – especially omega – 3 fats (increases dopamine) found in also oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and cold-pressed oils are needed. Olive oil and some ghee are always good to use.
- Fruits again provide a plethora of vitamins and antioxidants to help gut repair. Fruits are rich in B6 the vitamin that your brain must have in order to make serotonin. They also protect the brains cell membrane, promoting all neurotransmitter activity. The Vitamin C is a stress fighting vitamin in most fruits.
- Just the right amount of water or liquids as too much will loosen and expand our tissues, a lot of water comes from the foods you eat. An excess of liquids puts a pressure on the kidneys, bladder and sweat glands as well; making us tired over time. We need just enough, one way of measuring this is to ask ourselves: are we really thirsty?
- Adding sea vegetables like spirulina helps in detoxification, vitamins, protein, minerals and antioxidants.
- Workout and exercise regularly, and keep your lifestyle in-check by establishing a regular eating habits, sleep habits and positive thoughts.
- MEDITATE, cultivate the practice of meditation, it’s exercise for the brain, just like you push your weights to build biceps, you need to push your brain to work positively.