March Into Good Health
March is National Nutrition Month – a great opportunity to brush up how food affects us mentally and physically!
The Mind-Body Connection
It’s no secret that food has a significant impact on the mind and body. Eating healthy, nutritious foods generally leads to increased energy, mental clarity and self-esteem. We also know what foods have the opposite effect—typically those that include high amount of sugar, grease and fat. While this basic approach to nutrition works for many people, for others, the correlation between food and wellbeing is much more complex.
I would never encourage labeling food as either “good” or “bad,” because they are not a reflection of morality (let me repeat that: food literally does not have the capacity to make you a “good” or “bad” person.) But as previously mentioned, certain foods can cause people to feel unwell, even if they seem healthy!
Listen to What Your Body is Telling You
Many people have food sensitivities and intolerances that they do not even know about. This is because the symptoms are subtle or appear days after consumption, unlike food allergies which are severe and usually occur shortly after consumption. Food sensitivity tests are now being widely advertised, but they are not always reliable. Many physicians say that the results of these tests often just highlight the foods individuals most recently consumed, rather than the ones that are actually causing inflammation. The most trusted method of identifying food intolerances is to follow an elimination diet. An elimination diet requires you to completely avoid eating common allergen-causing foods, or foods that you suspect might be causing adverse reactions. After a period of time, the foods are re-introduced back into your diet one at a time. This allows you to pinpoint which specific foods are triggering your symptoms.
But how do you know what foods to eliminate? Below are some common and uncommon groups of ingredients that might be causing inflammation and pain:
Common allergen-causing foods:
- these include nuts, dairy, gluten, soy and shellfish. Because sensitivities or allergies to these foods are so prevalent, most people start by cutting these out of their diet first.
- canola, palm, sunflower, safflower and soybean oil can cause inflammation that triggers eczema, rashes or trouble breathing. These oils can be hard to avoid because they are in literally everything. The good news is that you can easily reduce your intake by substituting coconut oil or olive oil when cooking at home.
- fermented (i.e. highly processed) foods contain high levels of histamine, which can trigger symptoms similar to seasonal allergies (itchy eyes, hives, nasal congestion. Foods to avoid during an elimination diet include avocados, blueberries, alcohol, pickles, pickled veggies, soy sauce and miso.
Oral-allergy syndrome (OAS):
- certain raw fruits and vegetables contain a protein that is similar to pollen. If someone with a pollen allergy eats these foods, their immune system can become confused and triggers an allergic response. Symptoms of OAS include itchy mouth, scratchy throat, or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat. You might have OAS if you experience these symptoms after eating apples, kiwi, celery, banana, cucumber, melons or zucchini.
If eliminating things from your diet is not feasible for you (or if you have already done so), try incorporating the follow anti-inflammatory foods to boost your immune system and promote healing:
- Fresh tuna or salmon
- Dark, leafy vegetables
- Moderate amounts of unsweetened coffee
- Green tea
The Bottom Line
If you believe certain foods are causing severe reactions, such as trouble breathing, consult your doctor right away to rule out any serious food allergies. Otherwise, take a mindful approach to eating by reflecting upon how your body feels after eating meals—a food diary can be a helpful tool in helping you keep track of what foods might be causing unpleasant symptoms. Avoid eating any triggering foods for a few weeks before reintroducing them back into your diet. If the symptoms reappear, you might consider eliminating the food permanently.
Focusing on nutrition is worthwhile because it has a significant impact on mental and emotional health. But instead of fixating on calories or celebrity diets, try to be mindful about how your diet is making you feel—this includes energy, sleep, concentration, joint pain and mood swings.
It’s worth pointing out that there is no single “anti-inflammatory diet” and what works for one person may not work for others. Rather than get in the cycle of obsessing over “good” and “bad” foods, we can shift our focus to the food in front of us and remain mindful of how it makes us feel. Start nourishing your mind, body and spirit today—you deserve it!
Therapy allows individuals to discover strengths and new skills that will help them to cope effectively with the challenges that arise in life. If you feel that you need extra support, seeking mental health treatment can be immensely helpful in providing lasting relief.