There's no doubt about it: what we eat, and how much we eat, has a direct impact on our physical health. But did you know that those same choices also influence mood, mental alertness, memory, and emotional well-being? Food can act as medicine, have a neutral effect, or it can be a poison to the body and mind. When it comes down to food, it is important to bring awareness to the body-mind connection.
When food acts as poison, it creates inflammation, which alters the body's balance of nutrients, hormones, and neurotransmitters. This inflammation acts as a stressor to the body and over time if not addressed may become chronic, leading to chronic dis-ease. This directly affects your body's ability to manage and heal from other stress or illness.
While some body-mind effects are due to naturally occurring nutrient content in food, much is due to hidden additives. Below, are four common culprits. If you're experiencing symptoms that interfere with your quality of living, talk with your natural health practitioner about the role these or other foods may play in your health.
FOODS THAT IMPACT BODY-MIND WELL-BEING
CAFFEINE. The most socially accepted psychoactive substance in the world, caffeine is used to boost alertness, enhance performance, and even treat apnea in premature infants. Caffeine is frequently added to other foods, so be mindful of total consumption. Too much caffeine (500-600 mg daily) interferes with sleep quality, which affects energy, concentration, and memory. Caffeine can aggravate other health conditions, cause digestive disturbances, and worsen menstrual symptoms and anxiety.
FOOD DYE. Those brightly colored, processed and packaged foods come with a rainbow of health risks. Listed on ingredient labels as "Blue 2," or "Citrus Red," food dye has been documented to contain cancer-causing agents (e.g., benzidine). They're also associated with allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Dyes are sometimes used to enhance skin color of fruits and veggies. A number of dyes have been banned from use in foods and cosmetics around the world.
SUGARS. Increased sugar consumption (as much as 30% over the last three decades for American adults), is linked to decreased intake of essential nutrients and associated with obesity, diabetes, inflammatory disease, joint pain and even schizophrenia. Too much dietary sugar can result in blood sugar fluctuations, causing mood swings, anxiety, irritability, headaches, and increased depression. Sugars that can act as poison include High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), table sugar, artificial and "natural" sweeteners.
MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer common in packaged and prepared foods. Although the FDA considers MSG "generally safe," some individuals experience a complex of physical and mental symptoms after eating MSG-containing foods. Symptoms vary but can include headache, sweating, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations, and over-stimulation of the central nervous system which can lead to alterations in sleep, mood, and immunity.
Becoming aware of your food choices, why you make them, and how you feel mentally and physically is an important first step in understanding your personal body-mind food connection. Your practitioner may ask you to keep a mind-body food journal to provide a clear picture of how your food choices affect your health.
A favorite in vegan and omnivore cuisine, eggplant can be baked, roasted, grilled, used as a pizza topping or in stir-fry recipes. It has a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture that may vary depending on the color/variety of eggplant selected. Dress your cooked eggplant with herbs, sauces, and condiments and you'll be sure to please even the pickiest guest at your dinner table.
Eggplant contains a phytonutrient (plant chemical with nutritional benefits) called nasunin. Nasunin acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage. In addition, eggplant contains a wealth of other antioxidants that support brain and heart health. In research studies, one variety of eggplant - called Black Magic - was found to have three times the antioxidant properties compared to several other types of eggplant. It's also a terrific source of dietary fiber, copper, potassium and B vitamins.
It's best to buy eggplant in-season during the months August through October. It comes in all sorts of shapes (baseball size to a thick crescent) and a cornucopia of colors such as lavender, jade green, and yellow-white. Choose eggplants that are firm, vivid in color, and heavy for their size. The skin should be smooth, shiny and without damage.
To test for ripeness, press your thumb into the eggplant. If the skin doesn't "spring back," it's not ripe. Eggplant is highly perishable so don't cut it before storing. Keep it stored in a food crisper or on the shelf in the fridge for a few days.
RECIPE: EGGPLANT CAPONATA
Satisfying and versatile, eggplant can handle a variety of flavorful accompaniments, several of which give a kick to this Sicilian favorite. The tomato base is spiked with anchovies, garlic, and capers, creating a mouth-watering aroma and a burst of flavor in every bite. Serve as an appetizer, a main dish or as a side with your favorite fish. All organic ingredients.
Makes 4-6 Servings
2 large Italian eggplants, peeled and medium diced
2 tbs Himalayan salt
5 tbs coconut oil, ghee butter, or other high heat oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle
2 anchovies, in oil (optional)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup capers, in brine
Peel and dice the eggplants, peel and slice the onion, peel and slice the garlic and slice the celery. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the salt. Transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for 2 hours. In order to facilitate the draining, top the eggplant with a heavy weight, such as a dinner plate topped with full cans.
Heat 3 tbs of the coconut oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and celery and sauté for 5 minutes more, or until the garlic softens but does not brown. Add the anchovies and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the paste turns a deep red, almost brown, and starts to stick to the pan.
Add vinegar and stir until mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off heat. In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tbs coconut oil over high heat until smoking. Add the eggplant and carefully toss it in the oil, letting it sear before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is translucent and soft. Transfer eggplant to the caponata mixture and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the flavors combine. Add the capers and their brine and stir to incorporate. Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied by organic gluten free toast points or buckwheat crackers.
OAT, MY GOODNESS!
Avena sativa, also called the common oat, is a grain full of healthy goodness. Oats are often used for breakfast cereal, oatmeal, granola and as a flour for baking breads and cookies. A dietary source to fuel the body, a 3.5 ounce serving of oats provides over 60 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of protein, and about 7 grams of fat.
Oats contain beta-glucans, which are known to decrease saturated fat in the blood and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Most people are familiar with oat as a medicinal food for its ability to regulate cholesterol.
Other important effects of having a serving of oats in your daily diet include: support for digestion, sexual health, and bone health, as well as enhancing energy and maintaining a positive mood. Oat is a fantastic source of dietary fiber, which helps maintain a healthy gut. Oat has been studied in the management of male sexual dysfunction as well as managing menstrual symptoms and regulating blood sugar levels. It's also an excellent source for B vitamins and the mineral manganese, which play important roles in physiological processes that support the health of mind and body. It is best to opt for gluten free oats.
- Keogh, G.F., Cooper G.J., et al., "Randomized Controlled Crossover Study of the Effect of a Highly Beta-Glucan-Enriched Barley on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Men." Am J Clin Nutr (October 2003), 78(4): 711-718. PMID 14522728. Accessed on July 3, 2016.
- Whitehead, A., Beck, E., et al., "Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of Aat β-glucan: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials." Am J Clin Nutr (December 2014), 100(6): 1413-1421. Accessed on: July 3, 2016.
- Malviya N., Jain, S., et al.,. Recent Studies on Aphrodisiac Herbs for the Management of Male Sexual Dysfunction-A Review. Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica. (2011 January-February) 68(1):3-8. Accessed on July 3, 2016.
- Singh R1, De S, Belkheir A. "Avena sativa (Oat), A Potential Neutraceutical and Therapeutic Agent: An Overview." Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. (2013) 53(2):126-44. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.526725. Accessed on July 3, 2016.
SOOTHE EMOTIONAL ANGST WITH MOTHERWORT (Leonurus cardiaca)
A plant in the mint family, Motherwort gets its name from its ancient use: helping women who had a tendency to "over-mother" and thus experienced more stress, and less joy, in their maternal role. Today, throughout Europe and in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's used as a medicinal herb to treat emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression. It also helps ease symptoms of menstrual distress, as well as physical and emotional exhaustion.
Motherwort can be prepared as a tea, tincture, or in capsule form. Depending on the the type of preparation, it can have a rather bitter taste and an odor some may find unpleasant. However, for many users, it becomes an "acquired taste" and the benefits outweigh any bitterness.
Motherwort has the ability to calm without causing drowsiness, and it has medicinal effects on circulation and heart rate. Because it can thin the blood, this herb should be used carefully and under the guidance of a qualified herbalist or natural health practitioner.
- Mars, B. & Fiedler, C. Home Reference Guide to Holistic Health & Healing. (2015.) p.191-192. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.
- NatureGate.com "Motherwort." Accessed on July 3, 2016.
- NDHealthFacts.com "Leonurus cardiaca." Accessed on July 3, 2016.
- Hoffmann, D. Medicinal Herbalism. The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Healing Art Press 2003. Pp. 501, 502, 509, 514-517.
- Murray, M. "Hypertension." As cited in Pizzorno, Joseph E. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO Elsevier. (chapter 174), 1475-1485.
- Johnson, R.L., S. Foster, Low Dog, T. and Kiefer, D. "Plants and the Heart" in National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World's Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2012. 100-101.
KEEP A MIND-BODY FOOD JOURNAL FOR HEALTH & HEALING
How would you like to understand, once and for all, the relationship between what you're eating and how you feel? A great way to do this is by keeping a mind-body food journal. It's a powerful way to gain insight into your eating habits and the impact of food choices on your mental and physical well-being. A mind-body food journal is different from a "diet diary" because the intention is different: it's not just about the fit of your jeans, it's about how food fits your life and your lifestyle.
Too often we eat mindlessly - on the run, watching television or behind the computer. Have you ever noticed that when you eat while doing something else, you finish your food quickly and don't feel satisfied, often craving more? That's because you are mindlessly eating away without paying attention to the food. We are all guilty of it. By stopping everything else to focus solely on your food and you build a better relationship with your body and mind.
A mind-body food journal helps create clarity between what we choose and how we feel. It leads the way to improved choices and - because food is medicine - supports total mind-body health and healing.
Start your journal today and make it fun! Track your eating habits for a few weekdays and at least one weekend day. Do this for at least two weeks.
WHAT TO TRACK IN A MIND-BODY FOOD JOURNAL
When did you eat?
What did you eat?
How much did you eat?
Why did you eat?
How did you feel after eating?
What was your overall mood before and after eating?
Did you have headaches, or mental/emotional fatigue?
What did you notice about your body before and after eating?
SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Who were you with for the meal?
Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
Were you doing another activity while eating?
Review your journal at the end of each day and summarize your habits. Remember that the best way to provoke change is to become aware of what currently is- your relationship with eating and food. Note the key factors for why you chose to eat the way you did, what was going on, how you felt and if there were any physical symptoms. You and your holistic healthcare practitioner can use this information to help make healthier food choices.