CAC, SHIP, DPP, Lifestyle Coach
SW MT Community Health Center
Eat Better to Feel Better
Discussions about healthy eating and good nutrition seem most often to be tied in with weight control. While we all know these two things to be related, a more over-looked aspect of a healthier diet is the association with better physical and mental health. I was a bit surprised about the connection between mental health and better nutrition but there is scientific research to support the concept. Good nutrition matters.
Since the number of people with diabetes and prediabetes is now in epidemic proportions, this is certainly a good place to start. Everyone should be tested for prediabetes during their annual wellness checks and diet is paramount in controlling diabetes, as well as preventing diabetes. Staying away from processed foods and simple carbs (i.e. white stuff like flour, sugar and rice) and eating more fruits and vegetables and whole foods like whole grains and lean proteins can help keep sugar levels steady and in a healthy range.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active parts of the body. This means it requires a steady stream of nutrients to keep it healthy and to aid in prevention of dementia. For brain health, be sure to eat foods rich in choline, like soybeans, peanuts and eggs. An antioxidant rich diet is also beneficial so include foods rich in Vitamins A and C. Foods with Omega 3 fatty acids – think fish, walnuts and flax – are critical, as well as whole grains, like oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice, for ample amounts of B vitamins.
It turns out that good nutrition is also important for good mental health and that a healthy gut contributes to a healthy mind. Besides following the general principles of healthy eating, to be at your best mentally, start the day off with breakfast to prevent brain fog. Avoid sugary drinks and excess amounts of caffeine and drink plenty of water – the eight glasses per day is still a good recommendation. Avoiding high-fat dairy, fried, refined and sugary foods while including lots of produce will keep you at your mental best.
For a healthy gut, the addition of foods that contain probiotics help strengthen your gut microbiome and can make a big difference. Foods that are fermented naturally are a good choice. Look for the words ‘naturally fermented’ when buying pickles, kimchi (pickled Korean vegetables) the yogurt-like kefir drink and sauerkraut. Yogurt with live cultures and kombucha are also good choices and all of these can be made at home if you are ambitious, like to experiment and have patience.
The effects of inflammation in our bodies are generally harmful and can contribute to several chronic diseases. Arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and even mental issues can all be aggravated by inflammation. Alcohol, trans and hydrogenated fats, sugars (which have a variety of names on an ingredient list), processed foods and food additives like MSG and aspartame all contribute to inflammation.
Those of us who already have health issues or who struggle with our weight tend to be aware of many of the foods referred to above in either the ‘to avoid’ or ‘to eat’ categories. Sometimes those with naturally good health, body weight and numbers believe that it is not necessary for them to watch what they eat. While good genetics are certainly helpful, over time we can all become susceptible to disease.
Being aware of what we eat and keeping sugary and processed food and drinks at a minimum is a good place to start. Taking the foods you know are not the best out of your diet and having them only as occasional treats helps. If you look at what you eat and make even one change, it can make a difference. Think healthy and happy!