Having just had a week off work I found myself meandering slowly round my local supermarket (I usually do a mad dash) and reading labels. I do this from time to time to see if anything has been easier for the consumer to understand. They are getting there slowly but to be honest I glazed over many products and thought if I didnt do the job I do I wouldnt have a clue whether this product was good for me.
I will therefore let you into a secret I tell all my clients – if its got more than ten ingredients in it, put it back on the shelves. If you buy produce one ingredient at a time ie broccoli, or frozen peas – you know there is only one ingredient in it, its when you get to packaged food it starts to get complicated. If you are confused with low fat, low salt, free from, natural, good for you, fresh etc I would instead look at the amount of ingredients on the back of the packaging. The highest amount of an ingredient will be listed first and the least last. This should give you some idea of the quality of the food. If you are prone to allergies/food intolerances the number of ingredients are important.
Take for example two popular packets of crisps.
One brand contains: Potatoes, sunflower oil, salt.
This month I’m involved in two seminars on mental health and nutrition. It astonishes me even now that people still do not relate what they are putting into their mouths with not only their physical health but also their mental health. We are now quite accepting of the fact that if we have high cholesterol we should cut out saturated fat, or if we have high blood pressure we should cut out salt in our diet, but why does mental health get pushed to the back of the pile?
Last year I visited a private and an NHS psychiatric unit. Although there has been changes in a few hospitals, sadly not enough has been done in the last ten years I’ve being doing this job. The diet is high in caffeine, sugar, and saturated fat and the chocolate and drinks machines all too visible and widely used.
In the governments 2008 paper The Links between Diet and Behaviour (go to www.fhf.org.uk/inquiry to read the full report) there are clear indications that change needs to happen.
“The scanty training for GP’s and other medical professionals in nutrition and diet detracts from their ability to support their patients physical and mental health.”
From anxiety to bi polar disorder it is vital to get the basic building blocks of good daily nutrition into your body for your brain to function properly.
As the brain is made up from 75% water and 21% essential fact even on a basic level your brain needs to be well hydrated and your diet high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids which the body cannot make on its own ie you need to source it from your diet.
Many of my clients with mental health problems have low levels of omega 3, zinc, vitamin B, and magnesium. Their diet is usually high in caffeine, sugar and saturated fat, all detrimental to good mental health. An astonishing 70% have had problems with maintaining good blood sugar levels as a consquence of their diet.
A low protein diet is also common. Amino acids found in proteins provide the raw materials needed to make neurotransmitters and a low protein diet is often at the route of neurotransmitter imbalance.
Some foods directly stimulate a neurotransmitter response for instance carbohydrates influence serotonin production and caffeine stimulates adrenaline synthesis. There are many other specific vitamins and minerals that have a powerful effect on your mood. Without proper neurotransmitter balance brain function and mood can be seriously affected. Feelings of anxiety and stress are commonplace in today’s society. The body’s stress response has not yet evolved to deal efficiently with modern life, meaning the slightest emotional stress still causes a powerful release of chemicals. Two minerals, calcium and magnesium play an important role in regulating your nervous system. By making sure you have adequate dietary intake of these two nutrients you can help yourself combat feelings associated with stress and induce calmness and relaxation.
Two particular neurotransmitters are also especially helpful. GABA restores calm after a stressful event, helping you to relax. Another called dopamine enables your body to deal with stress more efficiently, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Foods to calm you down
Include dark leafy vegetables like watercress, kale, broccoli, spinach along with brown rice, almonds and walnuts, wheatgerm and sardines to top up on calcium and magnesium. To boost GABA formation include cheddar cheese, cow’s milk, chicken, turkey and eggs in your diet. For dopamine add in a few soya products like tofu, miso and soya yoghurt with peanuts, almonds and tuna.
Foods to make you happy
Cold water oily fish such as salmon and mackerel contain the good fat omega-3, helping with cell function and production of serotonin. To boost serotonin increase tryptophan rich foods like cashew nuts, bananas, figs, cheese, milk and turkey.
Avocadoes, lentils and bananas all contain high levels of B6, helping with conversion of tryptophan into the necessary serotonin. B-vitamins can’t be stored in the body so it’s essential that you get a daily to up.
Foods to beat the blues
Complex carbohydrates have a slower release of sugar so include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, lentils and beans. Replace your white refined foods with the wholegrain alternative – brown rice, granary bread, wholewheat pasta. Include some form of good quality protein at every meal, especially breakfast helps to stabilise blood sugar and up your production of serotonin. Increase your intake of oily fish which contain the omega-3 fats needed for proper brain function these have been shown to aid mood and concentration. Increase your intake of zinc rich foods including fish, nuts and seeds since zinc is needed to help make serotonin.
It is a rarity in my clinic to have someone who doesn’t complain about bloating in one form or another. I would say 70% of people I see have gut problems, ranging from IBS to more serious conditions like crohns disease but the overall complaint is nearly always bloating. Bloating is one of the main symptoms of IBS consisting of alternating constipation/diarrhoea, pain and gas. Apart from the physical symptoms, it also can leave people extremely incapacitated and in extreme cases can ruin the quality of people’s lives. The confusion over IBS leads people to self diagnose and eliminate gluten and dairy from their diet – this is not the full story and the problem may be the gut itself rather than the food you are eating. However, even more confusingly it can be both the food you are eating and your gut.
If you have seen your GP/consultant and they have found no obvious cause of your symptoms and you have been diagnosed with IBS then read on…
Causes of IBS
The most common causes of IBS are
Prolonged levels of stress decreasing the immunity and making the gut more vulnerable to opportunistic bacteria, yeast and parasites
Low levels of gut flora leading to gut dysbiosis. This happens after stress, a bad diet, or after a course of antibiotics
A higher than normal level of candida or yeasts in the bowel usually after antibiotics, bad diet or high levels of stress
Parasite infections – with the amount of people travelling now, nearly 30% of people I see have undiagnosed parasites in the bowel
Too much food creating gas i.e. indigestible carbohydrates like onions, garlic, leeks, and vegetables in general
Too much sugar in the diet leading to severe bloating and trapped wind. If the bowel has an overgrowth of yeast, the sugar will feed it. The patient will often describe this as feeling nine months pregnant!
Food intolerances or allergies i.e. wheat, gluten, cows milk etc
Undiagnosed lactose intolerance, coeliac disease, ulceratative colitis or crohns disease – if you are in any doubt, see your GP and ask for a test.
How do you find out if you have any of the above?
A simple stool test and allergy test will sort out the cause of your symptoms.
Click on IBS clinic for more information.