QUICK NUTRITION: Don’t Worry, Eat Happy
EATING WHOLE FOODS HELPS US FEEL BETTER
Karen Wang Diggs, CNC, describes the difference between whole, enriched, and fortified foods and gives tips on how to pack the most nutrients into your diet. Meanwhile, Tina Turbin supplies nutritious recipes to add to your weekly dinner rotation.
Most people don’t realize that what they put into their mouths has a direct correlation with how they feel. Conclusions drawn from a study done in the United Kingdom and published in The British Journal of Psychiatry shows that a processed food dietary pattern is a risk factor for depression, whereas a whole-food pattern is protective.
Whole vs. Enriched vs. Fortified
Since most modern processed foods are enriched or fortified with vitamins and minerals, all is well, right? Actually, no. First, let’s look at the difference between “enriched” and “fortified.”
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “enriched” means that nutrients destroyed during processing have been added back to a food. For example, rice that has been stripped of nutrients may be enriched with B vitamins. Fortifying involves adding nutrients to a food that were not naturally there. An example is orange juice that has vitamin D added.
So, is eating processed foods that are enriched or fortified the same as eating whole foods? Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, thinks not. “Processing destroys nutrients, and the more processing there is, the more destruction you get. ‘Fortification’ adds back some nutrients, so overall you’re better off with a processed fortified food than a processed unfortified one. But a whole food is always going to be superior.”
Fundamentally, whole foods nourish us by providing complex structures of nutrients from a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that work synergistically together.
Good Moods with Whole Food
What is the connection between whole foods and feeling good? Our digestive system is really a technologically sophisticated laboratory in which ingredients we ingest are transformed into “precious substances” that we need to survive physically and to thrive emotionally. Just as the best materials are needed to build a solid, beautiful home, we also need the best whole, organic ingredients to build a happy, healthy body and mind. Those precious substances are neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are made of protein and they help us function, acting as “bridges” between neurons to direct cell to cell communication. They are the spark plugs that define our moods. While there are hundreds of neurotransmitters, there are a few well– studied ones that affect our mood and behavior.
DOPAMINE WHAT IT DOES: Helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, regulates movement and emotional responses, and enables us not only to anticipate rewards, but to take necessary steps to move towards them SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY: Inability to concentrate, obesity, fatigue, low libido, and depression (common in low-protein diets) DEFICIENCY CAN TRIGGER: Cravings for alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or chocolate FOODS THAT BOOST LEVEL: Foods high in tyrosine, such as dairy, almonds, avocado, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and animal protein
ACETYLCHOLINE WHAT IT DOES: Critical for memory, such as recollection of events, names, and numbers, also affects our ability to learn and our processing speed SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY: Forgetfulness (where you parked your car, placed your keys, phone number), paranoia, loss of creativity, and wanting to be alone (common in low-fat diets) DEFICIENCY CAN TRIGGER: Craving for fatty foods such as ice cream, cheesecake, and fried foods FOODS TO HELP BOOST LEVEL: Healthy fats, choline-containing foods such as eggs, beef liver, cauliflower, and lacto-fermented vegetables SEROTONIN WHAT IT DOES: Brings a sense of joy, social engagement, healthy self-esteem, and good digestion SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY: Insomnia, waking frequently during the night, IBS, PMS, aches and pains, anxiety, sadness, and depression DEFICIENCY TRIGGERS: Cravings for carbs, sugar, and salt, increased appetite in the late evening, especially for carbs FOODS TO HELP BOOST LEVEL: Foods high in tryptophan such as poultry, lamb, sardines, cashews, and sweet potatoes
GABA (GAMMA AMINO BUTYRIC ACID) WHAT IT DOES: Promotes sound sleep, helps relaxation, helps to tolerate stress and pain, supports good digestion and sedates SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY: Insomnia, anxiety, low tolerance for pain, heartburn, headaches, IBS, and emotional eating. DEFICIENCY CAN TRIGGER: Overeating FOODS TO HELP BOOST LEVELS: Glutamic acid containing foods such as almonds, walnuts, halibut, lentils, and broccoli
Karen Wang Diggs, CNC, is a certified nutritionist, chef, and the author of Happy Foods: Over 100 Mood-Boosting Recipes. She graduated from California Culinary Academy, and in 2004, realized cooking should be combined with nutrition.