My Top 5 Mood-Boosting Foods

I take eating for my mental health seriously. I don’t prescribe to a specific diet or style of eating, but there are numerous studies out there showing that food IS mood. For those of us who fight a mood disorder of any kind, the way we eat can impact brain health.

Because our gut microbiome produces necessary neurotransmitters like dopamine and GABA, plus 90% of our mood neurotransmitter serotonin, what we digest in our gut matters. What we feed our gut impacts what our brain receives.

Not all things will be digested equally by all people. Every BODY is unique, just like every brain is unique. But generally speaking, the foods I list here can be a wonderful addition to any body and brain!

Here are 5 of my favorite mood-boosters that I always try to add to my day:

Continue reading “My Top 5 Mood-Boosting Foods”

Top Reasons to Try Dry January

I know you probably woke up wondering: how does our casual alcohol habit impact blood sugar, hormones, and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder?

Okay, maybe you didn’t wake up wondering that. That was just me. Either way, let’s go there today.

First off, what we consider an occasional drink here and there may actually be more than we realize. Female alcohol use disorder increased by 83.7% from 2002 to 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. High-risk drinking (which is only 3 drinks in a 2 hour time period or over 8 drinks per week) increased by 58%, and alcohol related deaths increased by 85%! Continue reading “Top Reasons to Try Dry January”

Food Sensitivity Test Results (and a coupon code)!

In case you didn’t know by now, I’m kind of a gut nerd.  Learning about the different ways my body responds to various foods has made such an impact on my overall health and well-being. That’s why I was so excited to finally take a food sensitivity test with EveryWell. They test for reactions to 96 different food items.

The kit comes with all the instructions you need for a finger prick test. (Embarrassing side note – I had to get the husband to prick my finger because I was too nervous to do it on my own.) Then I squeezed blood onto a little card with circles to drop the blood samples, and mailed it into the bag they provided. 

Continue reading “Food Sensitivity Test Results (and a coupon code)!”

Immune Boosting Tips for 2019

It’s that time of year – some like to call it Cold and Flu Season, but some of us in the nutrition world call it Sugar and Lack of Sun Season. Recently I wrote all about sugar cravings, but what I failed to mention is that sugar suppresses the immune system.  As days get shorter and colder, we get less sunlight… meaning less vitamin D which our immune systems need as well.

So what to do to strengthen our bodies this time of year?

Here are 5 ways to boost your immune system for fall and winter (to see more tips in more detail, check out last year’s immune boosting tips here). Continue reading “Immune Boosting Tips for 2019”

What’s the Deal with Sugar Cravings?

I feel like I have ultimate credibility when it comes to sugar cravings. I battled them for most of my life. There are many factors at play there: gut dysbiosis, adrenal fatigue, low dopamine, and nutrient deficiencies, but one of the biggest hurdles is that I had a HORRIBLE relationship with food.

I was a chronic dieter. There were good foods, there were bad foods, and somewhere in that system of thinking I associated good food and bad food with Good Erin and Bad Erin. My food issues became intertwined with my value as a human.

While one of the best things I have ever done is address my gut health and nutrient deficiencies, I also have received so much healing from normalizing sugar.

If I want something sweet, I have it. When I allow myself the freedom to have whatever I want, nothing off limits, the appeal of the forbidden goes down. In fact, I’m better able to take a few bites of something and tell if it’s worth eating. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

img_8341 Continue reading “What’s the Deal with Sugar Cravings?”

Simple Salad Dressing Tips

If you and I toured the grocery store together for a little education on label reading and what to avoid and what to include, one of our first stops would be the salad dressing aisles.

Why? Well, most salad dressings are LOADED with ingredients that will do much more damage to your health and well-being than good. ESPECIALLY those lovely labels that trick you with words like “light” and “reduced fat.”

Now, knowing that most veggies contain fat soluble vitamins, which means we NEED fat to absorb them, why in the world would we throw on a dressing that is reduced fat?

>>Pause here. If you are following ANY kind of eating plan that promotes light or reduced fat dressing, it’s time for a new plan!<<

Don’t get me started. One of reasons I hated salads for years is because they never filled me up for more than an hour (there are other reasons I go into here, but I won’t go there now).

When I load my salad up with the RIGHT kind of fat, I feel fuller longer. It’s better for my mental health and way tastier. Most bottled dressings contain canola oil, soybean oil, and/or a bunch of random artificial chemicals and sugar. For example, even the Newman’s Own Olive Oil Blend, which seems to be a pretty safe option, contains soybean and/or canola oil added to it!

My favorite brands for dressings with yummy brain fats are Primal Kitchen and Tessamae’s. I’ve heard Bragg vinaigrette is awesome, but I haven’t tried it yet.

It is much cheaper and nourishing to my body and brain to make my own dressing. I put the ingredients in a small mason jar, shake them up, and store it in the fridge. I don’t like soggy lettuce and a lot of dressing, so I may use less than some.

Keep your oil and vinegar to a 3:1 ratio, and get creative with spices! Here is my favorite combination.

Favorite Salad Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons olive or avocado oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, etc)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2-1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Dash of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, lemon juice, lime juice, get creative!

Combine in a mason jar and shake. Serve immediately or store in fridge for up to a week.

 

 

The Truth About FAT

Fat is getting a lot of attention these days. Which is pretty awesome, because does anyone remember Susan Powter and the days of “fat makes you fat?”

Those days are over.

In fact, we now know that our brains MUST have fat. Personally, I think it’s pretty interesting that we have experienced a rise in mental illness and other chronic illnesses following the “fear of fat” campaigns. Could there be a connection? Maybe.

But not all fats are created equally.

Processed, trans fats – the hydrogentated oils we find in all our Doritos and Twinkies and good old standard American packaged food – is extremely damaging to our mental health. These fats increase inflammation and modern day research on mental illness tells us that an increase of inflammatory cytokines in our bloodstream could very well be at the root of mental illness.

To keep inflammation levels in check, we MUST have a healthy balance of fat in our bodies. We NEED fat for vitamin absorption, brain health (our brains are made of fat), heart health, metabolic support, and to keep our hormones functioning as they’re supposed to.

bowl being poured with yellow liquid
Olive oil contains oleocanthal, which has been proven to decrease inflammation similarly to ibuprofen!

Where to Find Healthy Fats

  • Avocados, olives, and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with animal sources like ghee, grass fed butter, wild salmon, grass fed beef and omega-3 rich organic eggs (always, always eat the yolks).
  • Whole nuts and seeds, and their butters like almond butter or tahini
  • Look for the highest-quality organic oils when shopping. Stay away from genetically modified vegetable oils like corn, canola, safflower, and soybean.
  • Words to look for: organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, and unrefined. Avoid expeller-pressed, refined, and solvent extracted.

How to Use Healthy Fats:

  • For cooking at high temperatures (stir frying and baking), try butter, ghee (clarified butter), or coconut oil
  • When sautéing foods, try organic extra virgin olive oil.
  • Oils like flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings.

I try to get a healthy fat in at every meal. It keeps me full and my brain clear. I start my day with fatty coffee – French pressed coffee, MCT oil, coconut milk or grass fed butter and sometimes I add in some collagen protein. I blend it altogether and it’s like my own homemade latte. I try not to use bottled salad dressings, and instead make my own. And my pantry is ALWAYS stocked with various raw nuts to snack on or to add to meals.

For the Love of Aldi

Dear Aldi, how I love thee! Let me count the ways.

  • Affordable
  • Simple set up, easy to maneuver
  • Great selection of organic and gluten free items

We started shopping at Aldi during the seminary days, the years when we had waffles or hot dogs for dinner and Doritos casserole was a staple (insert a thousand cringe faces here… yes, it’s a casserole made with Doritos, chicken and sour cream). While it was hard to get used to the idea of inserting a quarter into the shopping cart and bringing our own bags, it eased the burden of a tight budget that was based on a single income teacher salary.

Fast forward to today. Aldi has evolved at about the same rate my own nutritional philosophy has. It’s kind of cute actually. As I grew to understand the importance of organic produce and products, so did Aldi. As I learned about my need (and my children’s need) to limit inflammatory gluten, Aldi offered assistance. As I began eliminating extra ingredients like processed vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup and GMO corn and soy for my mental well-being, Aldi had me covered. It’s like we’re grocery soul mates, really.

So I figured I’d share some of our favorite staples, the things we get every week. And full disclosure – Richard is the one who does the grocery shopping most of the time. But because he has learned that he feels better eating things with cleaner ingredients, he has become a master shopper!

Continue reading “For the Love of Aldi”

Gut Health 101: Part 2 – What Do I Do?

Now that I shared what leaky gut is and how it starts, I’m excited to share my top tips for nourishing your gut! If you’re already feeling nervous or annoyed that I’m going to share a long to-do list that will overwhelm you, scroll down to Tip #4, then come back up to the top and be encouraged! Learning to take care of your gut is such a rewarding process.

First things first – because I love all things food, my inclination is to start there. But that may be backwards.

See, if you don’t take care of external triggers, it doesn’t matter what food you eat.

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Tip #1: Manage Stress

We can’t avoid traffic, work deadlines, soccer practices, family conflicts, etc. But we CAN handle how we manage the stress they create.

The best thing I’ve done for my stress levels is learning to breathe. Guided breathwork has been so beneficial. There are various studies into why and how they assist the parasympathetic nervous system, but let’s focus on this – deep nostril breathing will decrease the stress center in your brain. It will instantly calm and soothe you. Just a few minutes of calm, steady breathing can be a game-changer for your stress levels.

One other thing that helps lighten my stress load when my mind is racing is taking a bath with Epsom salts. I am NOT a bath person, and I’ve never been a fan of just laying there, but an extra hot bath that leaves me alone with my mind and deep breathing practices is something I’ve come to depend on during stressful times.

I’m also a big fan of a gratitude journal, either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Reflect on what went well the previous day. Try to list 3-5 things. It’s hard to be stressed or fearful when you’re acknowledging the positive in your life. Being grateful changes your brain, the expression of your genes, and improves your gut health!

Tip #2: Eat Real Food!

…And eat it slowly. It’s no secret that processed food is damaging for us. But we all know that, and we just keep on keeping on with our gut issues. So while ideally, one would focus on cutting out the triggers, for some it is a much more realistic approach to crowd in the most fueling foods. Eating slowly and mindfully gives your digestive system time to digest and process the food. Taking breathers between bites and chewing slowly gives your enzymes a chance to do what they need to do and break down your food.

Vegetables contain prebiotic fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our gut. They detoxify our bodies and provide much needed vitamins for our brain health. They also help produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate, which is so important for mental health and has even been studied to be helpful in reducing symptoms of mania. Side note – butyrate is found in grass fed butter and ghee, so by cooking vegetables in either of those you’re increasing your fat-soluble vitamin content AND getting a double dose of brain goodness!

Continue reading “Gut Health 101: Part 2 – What Do I Do?”

Gut Health 101: Part 1 – What is Leaky Gut?

Aside from epigenetics, one discovery that has completely changed the way I view my body’s healing ability is gut health. Learning how to take care of my gut transformed my mental health.

5 years ago, the term was a mystery to me. I thought probiotics were only necessary when taking an antibiotic. And it’s true – considering the fact that most of the food we eat contains antibiotics, probiotics are a necessity.

The reality is, the state of our gut bacteria determines much of our health and well-being, from our immune system to mental health to most chronic diseases plaguing people in the 21st century.

From a young age, I was on antibiotics, steroids, and various medications that disrupt gut bacteria. I suffered from intense sugar cravings and yeast infections, major signs that my gut needed balancing. The state of my gut health, those genetic predispositions I mentioned earlier, and witnessing a traumatic event at the age of 9 are what I believe led to my mental illness crisis in my teens and 20s. It’s alllll connected. Continue reading “Gut Health 101: Part 1 – What is Leaky Gut?”