This morning the plumber showed up an hour late to fix my broken toilet, which made me stressed as I finally ran out the door to head to work. I checked the mailbox for a package I have been eagerly anticipating, and it hadn’t arrived yet. There was ridiculous traffic on my drive in today. I was NOT in a good mood. As I pulled into the new Wellesley Whole Foods parking lot to pick up some lunch and got out of the car into the cold heavy yucky gray rain, I was thinking about what food I should buy that would lift my spirits. Now, I’ve been sugar-free since May, so I couldn’t buy chocolate or the usual kind of comfort sweets that people think of when they eat to feel better. Besides, that wasn’t really what I was after. I wasn’t thinking about food that would superficially make me feel better, for a short time, from a quick sugar rush or the devilishly deliciousness of its forbidden nature. No, I was thinking about foods that actually make us feel better, on a real, core level. By the time I got into the office, I was so wrapped up in thinking about these spirit-healing foods that I was sure I needed to post something about it here. And then I came across this story on line, shared by multiple holistic health-minded friends on Facebook: “The Yogurt Made Me Do It”. And I knew that this just HAD to be the topic of the day.
The above mentioned article recounts a recent scientific study in which mice that were given high amounts of beneficial probiotics appeared less stressed – and actually produced less stress hormones – when put into abruptly stressful situations, such as being dropped into a pool of water. Moreover, when the connection between the gut and the brain was severed, these mice no longer showed decreased signs of stress. The author concludes that “There's nothing metaphorical about "gut feelings," for what happens in the gut really does influence what we feel.”
Don’t you think that is amazing? Here is scientific evidence that the food we eat DIRECTLY influences our mind and spirit. Moreover, it lends itself to the argument that mind, and body, and spirit, really may all be the same entity.
Now, Traditional Chinese Medicine has operated on this concept for thousands of years. By treating the body, we can improve the mind and spirit, and by treating the spirit and mind, we can improve the healthy functioning of the body. The mind, the body, and the spirit of different dimensions of the same systems. Let me be more specific. If you come in for an acupuncture treatment and you have a headache, I may use the same points that I would use if you came in for acupuncture complaining of depression, if those points corresponded to the energetic systems in your body that were out of balance. One symptom is physical, and one is mental/emotional, but both correspond to the same pathology.
All this is really just to say that by taking care of your body, you can take care of your mental and emotional health, as well. So all the general principles of eating healthy for physical health can also make you feel better mentally, spiritually, and emotionally: Eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Eat a diet high in leafy green vegetables. Be sure you have protein at every meal. Eat warm foods, which are easier for your digestive system to process (or follow a meal with a cup of warm tea.)
Furthermore, there are specific foods that you can eat to promote a sense of well-being and a better mood. The germ and brans of whole grains can be very nourishing to the energy of the mind and spirit. Plus, the fatty acids in the grain germ have a healing effect on the nerves. High carbohydrate diets (of complex whole grains, not simple sugars) have been shown to aid sleep and calm the mind, because of their ability to trigger tryptophan and serotonin, the neurotransmitters that influence mood.
Additionally, the following foods are believed to have the effects of lifting depression in both the East and the West. They can be used for treating mild depression, everday stress, and seasonal depression. They can also be used as a supplemental treatment for more serious mood disorders, in addition to pharmaceuticals, acupuncture, and other healing methods:
Renowned holistic nutritionist Paul Pitchford suggests including at least one of these foods in every meal when you are feeling particularly down.
Leafy green vegetables – like kale, chard, and mustard greens – are also recommended for any sort of mood or mental disorder. In Chinese medicine, leafy green vegetables are both nourishing and stimulating to the Liver system, the system most easily susceptible to stress and emotional imbalance. From a Western medical perspective, these leafy green vegetables are high in folic acid, which is necessary for healthy mental functioning.
Eating fish is also helpful in fighting off the mood blues, due to the protective effect of the Omega-3 Fatty acids and their ability to stimulate serotonin. Supplementing with Fish Oil pills (I like Nordic Naturals), or being sure to include regular (ideally daily) intake of fish in your diet has been shown to boost mood and relieve symptoms of depression. The fishes with the highest Omega-3 content are sardines, tuna, and salmon. Preliminary research has also suggested that Fish Oil supplementation actually increases the efficacy of anti-depressants.
Lastly, something that I often recommend to patients coming in for anxiety or depression is to supplement their daily diet with a Green Drink of some sort (one that I particularly like is made by Amazing Grass.) Green Drinks contain micro-algae, cereal grasses, and other nutritional powerhouses like antioxidant vegetables and fruits, spirunlina, and natural fiber. Cereal grasses and micro-algae have been shown to improve mood and energy. Also, they are good for just about any physical ailment in the body.
And we already discussed how by nourishing our body, we nourish our mind and our spirit. It’s all the same, really. How amazing is that?