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Mental Health: Can plants help balance our brain?

May 2023 / by Cookhouse Hero

Since going 95-5 WPF plant-based and shifting gears in my lifestyle, career, and exercise habits, I've noticed that my brain is more focused. One reason is after eating an abundance of brain food such as dark cacao (72%+), blueberries, raw walnuts, green leafies, and fiber-rich foods, my mood and memory improved.

  • Real Food Recipes: The Simple Veganista dives deeply into blueberries, a beloved brain food. LINK

  • In the News: Forks Over Knives writes on improving mental health on a plant-based diet. LINK

  • Feeding Families: With exercise, sunlight, and a positive attitude, these plants fight the blues. LINK

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Mental Health

(food + fitness + sleep + unplugging + support)

CH BLOG - May 2023 / © by Cookhouse Hero / Reading time: 3 minutes

The stigma of mental conditions is finally fading away.

     Sociologists report that at least 75% of families are dysfunctional. Yes, I so get it. There's manic depression, OCD, suicide, addiction, abuse, asocial/antisocial behaviors, and other conditions in my immediate and extended family. For me, writing, cooking, therapy, music, comedy, global travel, meditation, the beach, and plants have supported my own mental stability and life's challenges. Without the combo of these separate remedies, I'd probably not be here. Sounds dramatic I know, and... sadly, it's the truth. Then, when I transitioned to a 95% WPF diet and lifestyle in 2018, my mood and ability to focus improved even more. Now, I'm hooked on blueberries and addicted to completely unplugging everyday. The fact that I can write this blog post on mental health speaks volumes on how far we've come in our society. 

And... I see foggy thinking and downcast lives partially caused by the junk that humans eat and drink. I see too many people who wonder why they feel like crap, but fail to recognize that they're feeding their mental condition with CRAP at the same time - Completely Refined And Processed foods and beverages.

Food heroes that can support brain clarity and mental health.

Tryptophan + Serotonin

According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine: "The brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter largely responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being." 


Foods rich in tryptophan include: leafy greens (kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, etc), sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans (edamame, tofu, etc), pepitas (pumpkin seeds), mushrooms, broccoli, and peas.


Fiber + Inflammation

According to GRW Health: "Fiber plays an important role when making sure your depression isn’t caused by a dietary cause. This is because a high-fiber diet has been shown to lower inflammation. The increase of inflammation might be key in altering neurotransmitter concentrations that contribute to depression." 



Fiber-rich foods include: intact whole grains (brown rice, steel-cut oats, etc), legumes family (black beans, lentils, etc), and fruits and vegetables like artichokes, raspberries, and avocados. 



Anti-inflammation foods include: turmeric, berries, flax meal, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, dark cacao, raw nuts, ginger, and garlic.


According to the PCRM: "The phytochemical quercetin, found only in plant foods, acts as an MAO inhibitor*. Working much like a natural antidepressant, quercetin can increase the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain." 



Foods (and beverage) with higher levels of quercetin include: apples, kale, berries, grapes, onions (red, leeks, spring, Spanish, etc), citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, etc), parsley, and green tea.


Creating mental health includes: what we eat, how often we move our bodies, how long and how well we sleep, how often we unplug, and what kind of support we find and offer. Along with talk therapy and in come cases medication(s), we can add these life-promoting ingredients to our Life-Skills Toolbox.


What to do?

     First, allow any residue of stigma or embarrassment to wash away from you like a steady rain after a long drought. There's no shame in admitting that we feel overwhelmed by life's challenges and don't see a way out. For today. Try to let go of feeling "demeaned" about having a mental condition, something that affects countless people globally. You aren't alone. Second, if you eat animals, animal products, processed and fried foods, and/or drink more than one drink per week or use recreational drugs often... it might be time to re-examine these habits. No judgement here; I just want to point out the white elephants in the room. And third, perhaps it's time to finally dive into the wonderful world of whole plants. At the very least, your sleep pattern, energy level, and world-view can improve. You might even find that decreasing your meds or eliminating them completely can be your future. For me, a walk along Lake Michigan, daily deep breathing, and cooking a whole plant foods supper are like a warm blanket during the stormy winters of life. So, what's YOUR strategy?

* From Wikipedia: Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) are in a separate class from other antidepressants, treating different forms of depression and other nervous system disorders such as panic disorder, social phobia, and depression with atypical features.

Click on the links below to get even more valuable, practical, and supportive advice from WPF advocates!

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