General diet Tips
- Choose whole grain, whole foods, fresh fruit and vegetables every day, especially green ones
- No more processed foods, foods out of a packet or a box, pre-made is out.
- Soft drinks should be your enemy (yes, even ones with artificial sweeteners)
- You don't need to 'diet'. You just need to eat well. Full Stop.
- Yes, include good fats! Advocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil
- Brown instead of white (bread, rice, chocolate - the darker the better)
- Eat gut healthy promoting foods - garlic, onions, banana's, vegetables that are high in fibre. (See below for more info on gut health)
- Get tested. If you are not feeling 100% - the first place to start is your GP. Check your thyroid function, your iron levels, your hormone levels, your vitamin D levels (you will need to pay for this) a full blood count and get a full physical examination
Should you eat Nuts?
Studies show that those who eat a handful of nuts daily are likely to weigh less and less likely to suffer from a heart attack than those who don't. Despite being high in calories, nuts offer great nutrition, provide the body with 'good' fats (Omega three's), full you up when you are feeling peckish and well, lets face it, they taste delicious!
Choose the unsalted, raw variety. Even better, people believe that soaking the nuts makes them easier to digest and easier for your body to extract the nutrients. Walnuts, macadamia, hazelnuts and even the humble peanut provide you with some good nutrition. Munch away! (In moderation!)
After all the bad hype about eggs - they are back. Science suggests that you can safely eat an egg a day without causing ill effects, high cholesterol or overdoing your saturated fat content for the day. Eggs provide you with a great source of protein, vitamin D (one of the few foods to do so), as well as other often hard to find nutrients. Once again, how you cook them and how you eat them make a difference - have them without the layers of bacon on the side and try poached or only lightly fried. And if you care about the chickens (like I do) choose free range eggs - preferably from hens who can roam around outside.
Alcohol - Benefits overrated
Sadly, most of the alcohol related benefits are mostly overrated. Moderate (one-two glasses a day) alcohol use is associated with some benefits (reduced heart disease for example), but in women, research concludes that as little as three glasses of alcohol per week can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by 15% - the risk increases with consumption. 'Heavy' use (which is described as being more than seven drinks a week for women or more than three drinks in one day, and more than fourteen drinks per week or four in one day for men) is associated with significant health issues including cancers, heart disease and liver disease. (For more depressing news on alcohol - see this article in the NZ Herald)
So... keep your alcohol intake low, sip and enjoy.
The latest research is showing incredible evidence about how the health of your gut - can relate to your mental well-being. (Article here) What can you do to achieve optimum gut health?
- Eating fibre dense foods and vegetables help to feed healthy gut bacteria (prebiotic foods) - especially onions, garlic, beans, asparagus and oats. Don't underestimate the impact that your diet can have!
- Eat fermented foods - including pickled vegetables, sauerkraut and yoghurt - these contain natural probiotics (good bacteria)
- Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary - and if you are prescribed them - take probiotics during and afterwards, and ensure your diet is rich in prebiotic foods (the foods that probiotics feed off). Some people's gut bacteria can take up to a year to recover after antibiotics are used.
- Avoid anti-bacterial soaps - they are totally unnecessary and damage all the good bacteria we need to stay healthy
- Filter your water. Chlorine is anti-bacterial - you do not want this in your body 10 times a day!
- Get outside - get dirty. Being outdoors and getting involved with nature, all help improve our 'good' bacteria in and on our body
And although this is on animal studies - this short TEDx talk gives an example of what they have discovered so far and this is a great summary of our human 'microbes' - (part of which is bacteria) which makes us 'us'.
B vitamins, Zinc, Folate, Omega 3, Magnesium and Zinc are all an important components in cellular function and consequently in mental and physical health. Supplementation is not a replacement for a healthy diet but it will support and fill the gaps when your body is not able to extract what it needs from food. I am surprised at how many people I have seen who have had anxiety - which resolves with a few dietary changes and a good multi-vitamin supplement (especially one which includes those mentioned above). Minerals which are generally low in NZ soils are selenium, boron, iodine. New Zealanders are also commonly deficient in Zinc, vitamin D, iodine and magnesium.
Practicing meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety... even as little as five minutes a day can make a difference. If you are confused about meditation, I have written a blog with an example and some explanation here. In short, it's best to find a teacher or instructor, but if that is not possible - there are many guided meditations on the internet. To start with, guided meditations are generally easier - and you can progress to simple breathing meditations as time goes on. The website Headspace offers some simple techniques and explanations about meditation and it's benefits.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, it is important that you do not practice meditation without support or guidance. The negative cognition (thoughts) and poor level of concentration which often accompanies a depression can overtake and interrupt the benefits. (See here for more about that). So if you feel that meditating is making things worse for you - stop. Take a break. Seek help. It might be more beneficial to immerse yourself in mindful activities instead.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation (or is it that meditation is a form or mindfulness....?) Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and being aware of what, how and where we are at any given time. No time is more important to practice mindfulness than when you are eating. Paying attention to your food choices, how you are eating your food, why you might be eating your food and the impact that the food then has on your body can be life changing. Read my article about Mindful Eating here.
You think exercise is only good for the body? Think again.... it can improve depression, reduce anxiety, reduce fatigue and improve quality of life. it stimulates the mitochondria (the powerhouse/battery pack of your cells) - giving you more energy rather than taking it away - hence improving mood and energy and reducing fatigue. Don't under estimate it! Watch this video it's a fantastic example of what exercise can do. If you struggle (like I do sometimes!) with doing exercise - break it down. Just put your walking/running shoes on. Just go for a five minute walk. Once you are outside and doing it - chances are you will have the motivation to continue. You don't need to be an athlete - just get started!
Quite some time ago I discovered an article on 'earthing' - and how it can reduce stress and cortisol levels in the body. (I wrote a summary of my understanding of it here.) It remains a controversial topic - but there does seem to be a natural perceived benefit about being in nature, let alone all the good bacteria that you pick up from being outside - especially if you are getting your hands dirty.
Sleep is incredibly important for both mind and body function. Not getting enough, or sleeping too much are both equally bad for your health and often are signs of mental or physical ill health. Depression, anxiety and menopause can contribute to lack of sleep. Low mood can cause you to over-sleep. Try to keep to a routine, don't turn to sleeping tablets unless you absolutely have to. Get your room very dark and remove all computers/laptops etc from your bedroom. Most importantly work on reducing your cortisol levels and increasing your melatonin levels in the evening, with relaxation exercises, dimming lights, staying off computers/mobile phones. Read more on tips to help you get to sleep here.
Sometimes you need to speak and seek counsel from someone else. Be this a minister, a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist etc. What matters more than anything is that you feel that you have a connection with them, that you feel understood by them and that you feel that they are helping you to move forward. Your friends are generally not the people to do this (they are biased and may not offer the best advice!) Never hesitate to pick up the phone to call a therapist/counselor for help.
Eat low glycemic index foods - goods which release glucose into your blood stream gradually. This will reduce the highs and lows of blood sugar and insulin spikes, resulting in a more balanced mood, less cravings, less likely to suffer from anxiety. High levels of phytonutrients are in densely coloured foods - this is nutrition for your cells. In this study - 30% of people who ate a Mediterranean style diet resolved their depression.
Your immediate environment connects with your soul - whether you are aware of it or not. If you spend your day in a falsely lit air-conditioned office, surrounded by negative people - chances are you're going to feel quite different that if you spent your day in an environment that includes fresh outdoor air, natural light, natural surroundings and warm caring people. What's around you right now? What have you been exposed to today? What might you be able to change in your environment to enhance your well-being?
Loneliness is a predictor of early death. More so than smoking or drinking alcohol. Having a network or friends or family, however small is imperative to good health and well-being. If you struggle with this in 'real life' finding a supportive online community can be helpful. Churches, clubs, supportive group meetings (AA, OA etc) or companies like meetup.com can be extremely helpful in finding support, people with common interests and reducing alone time. If you struggle with this, massage can be a lovely way of having therapeutic touch. There are many schools in massage that offer discounted massages like this one in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch
Sometimes, when the chips are down - the best thing you can do is to give to someone else. How hard is this? It can be very challenging to think outside of ourselves when we are not in the best of moods, and even more so if we are suffering from depression or anxiety. Giving money as shown in this TED talk has been shown to improve happiness - but small acts of kindness as well as larger acts of donating time and money can stimulate reward centres in the brain - not only making two people happy - but it can also make you live longer (see this article here). So even a smile to a stranger can do wonders for your (and perhaps their) soul.
Create an attitude of gratitude. Having gratitude can have health benefits well above 'just feeling good' (an article from Harvard Medical school on gratitude here) In short - having gratitude has been shown to improve not only your mental health and well-being, it has also shown to improve physical health and reduce GP visits. Keeping a gratitude journal, writing a thank you note, and counting your blessings are all ways which contribute to having an attitude of gratitude. Read more about having an attitude of gratitude and how it can help you in my blog here.
Please note, all the advice above is given with the best intention and is not meant to replace the advice of your medical or health practitioner