May is National Mental Health Month, giving us the opportunity to discuss how food impacts mood.
Nutrition and mental health are closely intertwined. Studies have shown that what we eat can have a significant impact on our mental well-being. In this blog, we will explore the relationship between nutrition and mental health, and provide some tips on how to improve your diet to support your mental health.
The Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health
The gut is often referred to as the “second brain”. A vital component of gut (and overall health) is the microbiome. The gut microbiome is defined as the trillions of microbes (such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi) living in our intestines. Gut microbes produce substances (hormones, messenger molecules, neurotransmitters, etc.) that enter our blood vessels and travel to the brain, impacting our mood. These microbes act as messengers, interacting directly with the central nervous system and the communication between the two is commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis. Just as the gut influences the brain, the brain influences the gut. Our mental state can play a huge role in digestion and motility. During times of heightened stress or anxiety we may experience an upset stomach or constipation.
But, how is food connected to this? Our food choices determine the type of bacteria in our gut which in turn influences the messages sent to our brain, thanks to the gut-brain axis. If we eat foods that promote healthy bacteria, our gut will communicate messages to the brain that improve our mood and vice versa. But, it doesn’t stop there. Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants, are essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, which regulate our mood, emotions, and behavior.
Nutrition Tips That Will Support Your Mental Health
1. Eat a Balanced Diet The best way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients your body needs is to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of different foods. The saying “eat the rainbow” has never been more accurate. Aim to incorporate a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A diverse microbiome is a healthy one, and a healthy gut promotes a healthy brain.
2. Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health, and have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can get omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as from nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseed.
3. Get Enough B Vitamins B vitamins are important for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. You can get B vitamins from a variety of different foods, including whole grains, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and lean proteins.
4. Limit Processed Foods Processed foods (candy, hot dogs, certain frozen entrees, etc.) can contribute to inflammation in the body, which has been linked to mental health problems. Try to enjoy these foods in moderation, focusing on whole foods as much as possible.
5. Add in Fiber Fiber is not digested by our bodies, it is digested by our gut bacteria and they love it! Fiber ferments in our gut, producing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SFCAs are important for our hormonal health, immune system, and brain behavior. High fiber foods include legumes (beans, peas, lentils), broccoli, nuts and seeds, berries, pears, apples, avocado, carrots, artichokes, whole grains, and much more.
6. Enjoy Fermented Foods Fermented foods can benefit the microbiome by optimizing its function by supplying and promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. Examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and miso.
If you are looking to implement any or all of these 6 strategies to improve your mental and physical health, your friendly Well Balanced dietitians are here to help.
1. Elizabeth Pennisi. May. 7, 2020. “Meet the ‘Psychobiome’: the Gut Bacteria That May Alter How You Think, Feel, and Act.” Science, American Association For The Advancement of Science , 11 May 2020, www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/meet-psychobiome-gut-bacteria-may-alter-how-you-think-feel-and-act.
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to discuss one of our favorite topics: gut health.
For those that haven’t heard of it, IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the stomach and intestines, also called the GI tract. IBS causes a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.
While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, research suggests that it may be related to abnormal contractions of the colon, which can cause gas, bloating, and changes in bowel movements.
Despite its prevalence, IBS is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, leading to frustration and anxiety for those who suffer from it. Some people find stress and anxiety will trigger their IBS symptoms making it a vicious cycle of suffering.
Thanks to the internet and emerging research there are plenty of diets and suggested treatment plans out there, inspiring us to break down a few of the most common short-term elimination diets in this post.
What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet involves removing certain foods or food groups from your diet for a short time. The goal of an elimination diet is to remove potentially problematic foods temporarily to heal and rest the gut, then methodically add them back in to detect which foods are likely triggering symptoms. Though they take time and require professional support, elimination diets can help you learn more about your body and feel more empowered in your choices.
However, it cannot be stressed enough that these are not meant to be used long-term or ongoing as they cut out entire food groups and can lead to further imbalance of gut microbiome (aka the bacteria that make up your digestive system). The support of a dietitian is a useful tool as they are there to help support you, monitor symptoms and progress, and make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need during the elimination period.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Simply put, they are sugars that are not completely digested and absorbed by the body. Examples of FODMAP foods include apples, artichokes, garlic, black beans, cashews, and certain dairy products.
As FODMAPs make their way down the GI tract, they pass through the small intestine attracting water. Then, they reach the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria. The water and fermentation process causes the intestinal wall to expand because the fermented sugars produce gas. The expansion from gas and water can be a painful process for those with IBS.
A low-FODMAP diet has shown to be effective in reducing general symptoms of IBS in randomized controlled trials. The low FODMAP diet works to reduce these sugars in the diet during an elimination period that lasts 3-6 weeks. This time is thought to help the gut heal and identify if the high FODMAP foods are causing issues for your body. After 3-6 weeks, FODMAPs are reintroduced one at a time to help you identify any trigger foods.
Although this can be a tedious process, your friendly nutrition coaches can help you through it. At Well Balanced we have many resources that make low FODMAP approachable, including a low FODMAP meal planning software that is available as an add-on service to our clients.
According to the website the Whole30 Program is structured in 2 phases: 30 days of elimination and 10 days of reintroduction.
During the first 30 days, you eliminate real and artificial sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, sulfites, healthy versions of treats or junk food, and the habit of weighing yourself.
As for the reintroduction phase, the program states “introduce one food group at a time, then go back to the elimination phase for two days to reset.” The reset time is to monitor your body’s reaction and/or symptoms to each specific food or beverage category.
You’ll reintroduce food groups in order of least likely to be problematic to most likely: gluten-free grains, legumes, dairy, and gluten containing grains. You can also reintroduce added sugars and alcohol; however, these are optional and best to do under the supervision of a registered dietitian.
The Whole30 diet is a non-scientific way to find out if dairy, grains, legumes, or sugar are specific triggers to your IBS symptoms.
LEAP therapy, as described by Susan Linke, RD, MS, CLT, is an effective anti-inflammatory eating plan “that simplifies what used to be a very difficult process by combining the best blood test with a simple but extremely effective method of building a healthy and delicious diet.” So, let’s break it down:
The blood test included in LEAP therapy is called a Mediator Release Test (MRT®). What makes it unique, according to LEAP, is its ability to “quantify the degree of the inflammatory response in sensitivity pathways.” But, what exactly does that mean? MRT® not only identifies the foods that cause reactions, but it also determines different degrees of reactivity to foods giving insight to what foods are friends or foe based on your unique biology.
With these results, and the help of a professional, you can build an eating plan that is rich with the foods you enjoy and free of those that cause symptoms (digestive issues, headaches, brain fog, etc.) making it a valuable tool for those suffering with IBS. With this unique yet accessible science, your life can be more than symptom free, it can be healed by getting to the gut of the problem.
If you are interested in learning more or want to make friends with your tummy and better understand your symptoms, schedule a clarity call with Nutrition Coach Lucy (our gut health guru) today!
March is National Nutrition Month, and this year the theme is all about fuel for our future. Food choices impact more than our physical longevity. The food we purchase has the potential to significantly harm or help our planet, influencing the life expectancy of the environment we leave for future generations.
Over the years at Well Balanced Nutrition, we have promoted healthy eating and lifestyle habits that promote a healthy mind, body, and environment. These practices include eating local, buying seasonal foods, cart-smart options, and more! However, there is one food group that we particularly love because it not only promotes a long healthy life but it also supports a prosperous planet. That food group is… LEGUMES!
What are legumes?
Legumes are a family of plants that includes beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas. They have been a staple food in many cultures for centuries and are known for their nutritional value. Recent research has shown that legumes may also have a role in promoting longevity.
What is longevity?
Longevity, or the ability to live a long and healthy life, is influenced by many factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and diet. The Mediterranean diet, rich in legumes, has been associated with lower rates of chronic diseases and longer life expectancy.
How do legumes promote a long healthy life?
Here are some ways in which legumes promote longevity:
Rich in nutrients: Legumes are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as folate, iron, and potassium. These nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy body and preventing chronic diseases.
Lowers the risk of chronic diseases: Legumes have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This is due to their high fiber content, which helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Reduces inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many age-related diseases, such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Legumes contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce inflammation in the body.
Helps maintain a healthy weight: Legumes are low in fat and high in fiber, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. Eating legumes can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is associated with a longer lifespan.
Improves gut health: Legumes contain prebiotics, food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for overall health and may play a role in longevity.
Sustainable food source: Legumes are an environmentally sustainable food source, as they require less water and fertilizers than other crops. Choosing legumes over meat as a protein source can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable agriculture.
Now you can understand why we’re hooked on legumes! They are a nutritious and environmentally friendly food source that can help promote longevity. Including various legumes in your diet can provide numerous health benefits and may help you live a longer and healthier life.
New year, NOT new you. A change in the calendar year does not mean you have to change who you are. Quite often New Year’s resolutions make us feel we are not good enough the way we are.
That’s why we’re here to tell you that you are worthy just as you are right now.
At Well Balanced we believe that resolutions can start at any time since each new day is a fresh start. However, if you like setting new goals in the new year we are here to help! Below are red flags to look for and simple tips for creating a plan that fits your needs.
Resolution Red Flags
Restrictive Whether it is a diet or lifestyle change, if it restricts aspects of your life or foods that you enjoy, then it will likely be hard to maintain. Not to mention it is not healthy to cut out food groups, dramatically reduce calories, or withold things we love. Instead of cutting things out, focus on balance or adding in healthier foods and habits.
Costly Resolutions do not need to break the bank. In fact, many life changing shifts are free. For example, adding in a meditation or gratitude practice costs you nothing financially, but gives you priceless mental gains.
Shaming If a resolution includes negative words that make you feel less than or guilty, then it may be beneficial to rethink or reframe it. Instead of telling yourself to “stop” a certain behavior, ask what you can add in or change. Words matter, so make sure your goals have a positive ring to them.
All or nothing When making changes, it is important they’re flexible and realistic. If you have to completely stop a behavior or cut out a certain food altogether, then it is not sustainable in the long run. Focusing on small reductions or taking baby steps towards cutting something out will actually make the change more sustainable.
Tips for a Well Balanced Resolution
Have a list of values Before setting goals or coming up with your resolution, write down your core values. Setting goals for goals sake is not always beneficial, whereas goals aligned with your values will help you stay connected to yourself and what matters most to you, making it easier to stick to them. If you need help identifying your values, we recommend starting with Brene Brown’s core values exercise.
Make them SMART SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. The more specified the goal or resolution, the better. For example, rather than saying “I want to workout more in the new year” make it SMART by saying “I will go to the gym 3 times a week for the next 3 months and use a workout plan.” When you specify what exactly you are going to do and put time limits around the goal, you are more likely to follow through.
Visualize obstacles When setting goals, it is important to visualize possible roadblocks in order to equip yourself with the tools to overcome them. When you imagine possible challenges, you weaken the element of surprise and make it easier to stick to a new habit.
Remember: consistency over perfection Resolutions are not about perfecting a certain aspect of you or your life, rather they are about growth and evolution. So when it comes to your goals, remember it is more important (and beneficial) to do something consistently rather than perfectly. The more often you participate in a behavior or do something routinely, the more likely it’ll become a habit.
If you’re not sure how to get started, be sure to book a complimentary coaching call with one of our friendly dietitians at Well Balanced Nutrition!
During the season of giving to others, you deserve something special too. And there is no better gift than the one you give yourself. Besides, the transition into the new year is the perfect time to treat yourself to something that’ll make it even better. If you’re thinking, “What am I supposed to get myself?”, don’t worry, because you’re in the right place. We have waited all year to share some of our favorite things that make Well Balanced living easier.
For the meal planner: A weekly meal planning notepad This notepad allows you to write all your meals in one place while also serving as a grocery list
For the cook: A veggie chopper/spiralizer Save time in the kitchen with this awesome kitchen tool that serves as a veggie chopper, dicer, and spiralizer.
For the egg lover: DASH rapid egg cooker This contraption not only makes poached, hard-boiled, and scrambled eggs, but it also can be used for omelets! Bonus: it comes in cute colors
For those who don’t have much time to cook- A slow cooker If time is limited, a slow cooker may be what you need. It can provide a wide variety of meals without the hassle of prep and kitchen clean up. Plus, slow cooker meals can easily provide a week’s worth of lunch or dinners.
For the environmentally conscious: Stashers Plastic bags are so 2022. Leave the unnecessary waste behind and invest in reusable silicone storage bags. They’re great for snacks, lunches, traveling, and even safe in the freezer, dishwasher, and microwave.
For those with trouble sleeping: Sleep headphones If you toss and turn at night, have trouble falling or staying asleep, or simply dislike bulky headphones then this is the gift for you. It is a headband that contains bluetooth speakers making it perfect for sleeping (or exercising).
For the coffee/tea lover: Pressure activated mug warmer Do you love to sip on something warm throughout the day but get sick of several trips to the microwave? If you said yes, then this gift is what you need. This mug warmer is the perfect addition to your desk, assuring your beverages stay warm all day long.
For those that don’t drink enough water- 64 oz. motivational water bottle Ditch dehydration with this awesome water bottle that reminds you when to drink. Not only is it motivational, it also provides your daily water needs.
For the busy bee- Home gym equipment Don’t sweat it if a gym membership isn’t in the cards, this home workout set has enough gear to keep you fit without the weights..
For those interested in learning more about nutrition- A clarity call with one of our coaches If you are wanting a friendly guide to walk with you on your health and wellness journey, then it might be time to chat with one of the Well Balanced coaches. Click here to book your complimentary clarity call.
Whether you’re getting readjusted to having your kiddos back in school, feeling the demands of those extracurriculars, starting classes, or getting back into the swing of things as the school year ramps up, it can feel like a juggling act to stick to your nutrition or wellness goals.
The start of this new season is the best time to revisit and renew your health and wellness goals! Below you’ll find plenty of simple and time-saving ways to ensure your nutrition gets an A+.
Nutrition Tips for Meal Planning
Recipe note cards. It’s an oldie but a goodie (or new to you!), write down a few family favorite recipes on note cards and keep them somewhere accessible. When it comes time to plan out the week’s meals and create the grocery list, you’ll already have a stash of recipes you know everyone enjoys.
Opt for frozen produce. These days numerous different items are equally convenient and nutritious. Most grocery stores sell frozen bags of veggies that can easily be popped into the microwave. This is an excellent option for lunches when there is not enough time to cook ahead. The steamed veggies can easily be paired with leftovers or a protein of your choice. (Tip: top the veggies with your favorite dressing or sauce to add some extra flavor)
Make a little extra. If time allows, when preparing dinner, cook an extra chicken breast or serving of that meal, that way, you’ll have something already made to eat with the steamed veggies. This cuts back on cooking time the next day and provides an easy meal without the stress.
One pot meals. If you have a slow cooker or instant pot, one-pot meals such as chili or stew can make dinner less of a hassle. The slow cooker can also be used to cook a side dish ahead of time, such as cabbage, carrots, or potatoes. It can be as easy as throwing the ingredients in and letting them cook while you tackle the to-do list. For some one-pot slow cooker recipes, click here.
Nutrition Tips if You are On the Go
Keep snacks in the car. There is no shame in the car snack game! If you are spending hours driving each day, keep some items like trail mix, protein bars, jerky, or whole grain crackers in your car.
Pack breakfast AND lunch ahead of time. Not only having your lunch packed and ready to go, but also your breakfast, can set you up for success–especially if you find yourself rushing out the door. Skipping breakfast can often lead to cravings and poor food choices throughout the day. Opt for options like overnight oats, yogurt parfaits, smoothies, or egg bites that can be made the night before and are easy to grab on the way out. Another option is to have things like trail mix, protein bars, protein shakes, and fruit like bananas, apples, or oranges around that way, you can grab a few items and skip the meal prep.
Plan ahead. If your day is booked back to back with meetings or classes, then scheduling in time for mealtime may be helpful. Some of the brilliant members of the Well Balanced Tribe have voiced how putting lunch on their schedule helped them take the time to stop working or studying to eat. Simply looking at the day or week ahead can help you get an idea of when and where you might be able to eat.