Is Your Brain Sick?

Namaste Focused on Nutrients

Hey there, it’s your friendly, neighborhood dietitian here. I have had some interesting experiences this week, relevant to nutrition’s role in holistic health. I’d like to share one of them with you.

This week marked the fourth or fifth time I had seen this one particular patient for outpatient nutrition counseling. The first time she came in, arms crossed in reluctance for being there at all, she was down-trodden (to say the least). She tearfully told me this was the most she had ever weighed in her life, and she was disgusted with herself.

This woman is a young mother of FIVE kids (zoinks!) and has a super-supportive husband at home. She simply had fallen off-track with healthy habits after separating from the military. Or, perhaps her habits had never been very healthy, and they simply caught up with her. At any rate, she was there to see me for help.

At visit #1, she admitted she had stopped any form of exercise since it “hadn’t help me lose any weight.” She was eating 0-1 meal(s) a day. She cried throughout the majority of the visit while telling me how depressed she was; I believed her, and it broke my heart.

Keep in mind, weight is merely an indicator of what is going on inside our bodies. We can be overweight and malnourished. Yes, it’s a thing. When our internal machine is not getting the fuel it needs to function, everything gets out of whack.

During the next few visits, the story remained about the same. This young woman was so depressed, she was resorting to near starvation. She was too depressed to do any sort of exercise, and she saw exercise simply as a punishment designed to help you lose weight.

What we continued to focus on from day one is the role of nutrients in human functioning. Our society is taught to count everything and eat as “low calorie” as possible in order to achieve a desirable physique. If that includes near-starvation? Sure! Eating only once a day and calling it “intermittent fasting”? Sure! Will we exhaust all nutrient stores in our body’s tissues and organs? Sure! Although she had come seeking a “diet” from me, I refused; but I offered her another way.

The reality is, this woman was depressed. I don’t know the details behind her military experiences. I don’t know what the first few decades of her nutrition and exercise habits were. What I did know is what her most recent health history looked like, and what her current lifestyle was.

Without eating well (or at all), the brain cannot function optimally. At the very least, our brains need a regular influx of nutrients, such as:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, herring, chia seeds, etc.
  • Antioxidants (including, but not limited to):
    • Vitamin C – bell peppers, cabbage, kiwis, oranges, Brussels sprouts, etc.
    • Vitamin E – nuts, seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.
  • B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, B12) – 100% whole grains, whole fruit, whole vegetables, milk, meat, etc.
  • Iron – meat, fish, dark greens, etc.
  • Calcium – broccoli, oranges, milk, yogurt, cheese, figs, etc.
  • And many, many others.

Luckily, this woman had begun to see a mental health professional to unpack some of the behavioral aspects of her depression and other factors impacting her mental health. However, no amount of mental health counseling can make up for the absence of proper physiology inside the body. Sure, medications can help, too; but that still isn’t the only solution, nor will medications “fix” anything without proper nutrition and exercise.

Holistic health includes nurturing body, mind, and spirit. Mental health counseling addresses mind and spirit; it cannot independently help depression if the bricks and mortar of the chemical processes that make the brain function are not there. Optimizing nutrition and exercise are critical components of a healthy brain.

Upon arrival to the most recent session we had this week, she arrived practically beaming with joy. She truly seemed like an entirely different human walking into my office. Her life hadn’t changed much; her family is (and always has been) very supportive. Her mental health counseling has continued regularly, as it had for months/years.

What was different?

She had reluctantly taken my advice to focus on developing a more consistent, more robust eating pattern. She was eating at least 3 times a day – morning, midday, and evening. If there were long breaks between meals, she was having a snack. Not only was she actually eating (which was new for her starved body), but she was also intentionally choosing nutrient-rich foods. She had begun exercising as a means of spending quality time with her family, and she was enjoying herself. She wasn’t dieting. She wasn’t counting anything.

Her brain (and body) are healing. Not only is her depression markedly improved, but she has begun to lose weight healthfully. She is enjoying her newfound increasing energy; she is smiling instead of crying. She is gaining some muscle and her clothes are fitting better. She is beginning to live, not just exist.

Remember, our body weight is merely a piece of the puzzle, it is not the whole picture. An undesirable weight (underweight, overweight, whatever) is a signal that our body is not functioning properly. Often, suboptimal nutrition is to blame. “Normal” weight does not guarantee health without proper nutrition.

Bottom line? Nourish your body with real food. Move your body, even if it is just a little bit at at time when you get started. If you take care of your body, you are more likely to have a healthy one. If you are struggling, seek guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

xoxo – Casey

Does Your Salad Suck? Lettuce Fix That.

Hey! Hope you are doing well. I’m fine, thanks for asking.

Does your salad suck?

Lettucetalk about salads. (Cute, huh.) But seriously. I grew up in the heartland of America as they say. The definition of a “salad” when I was a kid was one of three things: a mayo-laden-noodle concoction; a very strange combination of things that shouldn’t be combined (like Jell-O and cottage cheese); or iceberg lettuce with shards of cabbage and specks of carrots. If it were the iceberg lettuce option, it was either topped with either Thousand Island, Dorothy Lynch, or Hidden Valley. Some of you reading this are totally appalled; others of you are totally taking a walk down memory lane to the Hidden Valley…

Nonetheless, I think it is time we redefine the term salad, and start to celebrate that little nest of nutrients. For the purposes of today, a salad consists of a base of dark, leafy greens, and is topped with WHATEVER! That’s the thing – you can be so creative with this project. Once you swim away from Thousand Island toward more healthy shores, you will be amazed at the flavor explosions that happen.

Let me give you some examples. Today’s real-food combo of deliciousness in my belly consisted of:

About 2 big handfuls of baby kale

A small handful of blueberries

About 2 or 3 green onions

Half an avocado

A spoonful of full-fat cottage cheese

Some leftover cooked chicken from Sunday’s dinner.

Notice the lack of true measurements with this. Measuring isn’t health! Counting isn’t health! The essence is that most of the meal should be mostly non-starchy vegetables (kale, green onions), a small bit of fiber-rich carbs (blueberries), and a good portion of protein and fat (chicken, cottage cheese, avocado). Notice I didn’t use any dressing – the cottage cheese and avocado provided the perfect amount of creaminess and fat for my liking. Sometimes I will add a splash of balsamic vinegar to add a little zing. Today I didn’t. That’s the greatest part, versatility! I also like the combination of the tangy/savory flavor of the onions and stuff along with the sweet of the blueberries. Play around. Get crazy.

Some tips:

  • I like to use “baby” greens for two reasons. Their dark, vibrant green color indicates their significant nutrient content, and they are already small enough that no chopping is necessary. I might be a little overly trustful when they claim they are “triple washed,” but I like not having to get out the salad spinner to make a quick meal.
  • If you like green onions as I do, I’d like you to know that the most simple, efficient way to chop them up is to use kitchen scissors to cut them! You. Are. Welcome. Just make sure you have a designated set of scissors that are truly only for food in order to avoid contaminating your food with unwanted visitors or non-food goo.
  • I may be breaking the family circle of trust with this one…but my dear brother researched the PERFECT salad container for packing your lunch for work. It can be found here. It makes a great gift. I can attest to that, as it was a Christmas gift from said brother. Don’t thank me, thank him.
  • You can buy nuts that are already chopped up for you. Did you know that? Right there in the produce section (could be somewhere else in your store), you can find already-chopped-up pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds, etc. Cool huh?! Keep them in the fridge for longer-lasting freshness.
  • Put all your fixings in a giant container with a tight-fitting lid or a gallon ziplock in order to shake the whole thing up and cover every inch with flavor from all the ingredients. Worth the little extra effort of literally shaking things up.

 

Alright, now let’s gather some ideas. Remember, any healthy meal follows the basic outline of PROTEIN + FAT + FIBER; a salad is no exception. Below are some of my favorite options:

Base (largest aspect of your salad, ideally):

  • Baby arugula
  • Baby kale
  • Baby spring mix
  • Baby spinach
  • Baby power blends
  • Baby romaine
  • Any mix of the above ^
  • Any chopped up version of the non-baby greens
  • Chopped cabbage
  • Chopped or shaved Brussels sprouts

Protein & fat (a quantity that is about half the volume of your greens):

  • Leftover cooked chicken (keep some skin, yum!) or rotisserie chicken
  • Leftover roast beef from your crockpot adventures
  • Leftover steak
  • Boiled eggs
  • Nuts and seeds:
    • Chopped pecans
    • Chopped walnuts
    • Shelled sunflower seeds
    • Sliced or slivered almonds
    • Shelled pumpkin seeds
  • Cooked bacon
  • Shredded cheese (shred your own from real cheese)
  • Feta cheese
  • Gorgonzola cheese
  • Avocado
  • Dressing (ideally an olive oil or avocado oil-based vinaigrette with very few ingredients, or your own little mix)

Add-ins (just there for show, like a sprinkling of joy):

  • Berries
  • Tomatoes (any kind!)
  • Craisins
  • Chopped pears (especially good with walnuts and balsamic…OMG)
  • Everything But the Bagel seasoning
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers

By no means is this list of ideas all-inclusive. Get wild and crazy with it. If you are using dressing, try to find those with minimal ingredients, or make your own. I’ve been known to mix extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar in a tiny little container just before I dump them on the salad.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! One day you are going to find that you make a salad that utterly changes the way you think of salads. I have found myself actually daydreaming about the salad I was going to make for my next meal. I hope that you can find the right combo of ingredients for your salads one day so that you can be excited about nutrient-rich eating. Let me know how it goes!

Xoxo – Casey

Roberto Made Me a Meal I Couldn’t Refuse

Hey you! I decided to do things a bit differently today, and give a restaurant review. Last night I ate the most deliciously simple meal at a Colorado Springs establishment. For those of you who don’t live in Colorado, you’re going to be so jealous! However, stick around. I hope you find some key aspects to look for in terms of the nutritional quality of a restaurant by using this place as an example.

The place to which I am referring is called Basil and Barley. I half-expected to walk into another run-of-the-mill pizza joint; but that is not what I found. This authentic Neapolitan atmosphere is upscale yet relaxed and affordable. I felt so cozy and welcome from the second I walked in.

I ordered what could be construed as a fairly basic salad, but it was absolutely perfect. The salad was rife with dark, fresh spring mix (leafy greens) and it contained fresh figs, freshly shaved parmesan cheese, and several other superbly nutrient-rich ingredients. I know most people post pics of their beautiful meals…but this one was so good I didn’t even think to take a picture until I was DONE. Here’s my empty bowl to prove it:

M5nZKZ+yQxStkf6fc6ZeTg

I didn’t order pizza, but I sat at the bar and got to watch countless pizzas being created right in front of me (the kitchen is an open-view style). The oven was imported from Naples! When I talk about eating “healthy,” the main aspects tend to always fall back to quality and quantity. Am I eating foods that have been minimally processed? Am I eating mostly vegetables each meal? A place like Basil and Barley capitalizes on scratch-made, high-quality ingredients for their food. I know that because a) I spoke with the owner (see photo below, isn’t he adorable?) b) I watched at least 20 pizzas be hand-crafted with incredibly fresh ingredients and c) my meal was DELICIOUS.

3B+F+h3XT82An1OuJAb4UA

So, for those of you who don’t have this lovely establishment nearby (it isn’t a chain, sorry), you can find places that are near you that exemplify the same key points. Fresh ingredients, menu items that are rich with vegetables, whole grains, minimally-processed meats and other protein-rich foods, and no pre-shipped, ready-to-heat-and-eat meal items are what we are looking for.

And, if you’re on your way through Colorado Springs, be sure to make this a point of interest. It’s barely a jaunt from Interstate-25 on your way through!

uumxzkmqncqm6qx2romw.jpg

Oh – and if you’re wondering if this is a sponsored post, it’s not. I just was truly inspired (and beyond satisfied with my experience) and wanted to share it with you. Perhaps it can be a barometer through which you measure your nearby eateries. I do not receive anything, monetarily or otherwise for this post. But…who knows…if you DO eat at Basil and Barley, please tell them lettucetalk.blog referred you. Maybe I’ll get a free cannoli! (Which by the way, I did try a scratch-made cannoli here, and it was amazing.)

xoxox

Casey

PS – Comment below if you try this awesome restaurant!