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Katharine’s Greek God Salad

To go along with my recent post about the mental health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, I’m sharing this recipe for “Katharine’s Greek God Salad” from the “Cooking to Cure, A Nutritional Approach to Anxiety and Depression” book. It is a delicious, colorful salad that is highly anti-inflammatory and high in calcium, potassium, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, as well as many other important mental health nutrients and has 80% of your daily requirement for vitamin B12! And all for just over 400 calories.

The Mediterranean diet – why it’s important for mental health...

In addition to the many proven physical health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, research has shown that a diet of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and good quality sources of protein is essential for decreasing the risk of anxiety and depression. This type of diet is rich in the nutrients that are critical for the regulation of mood by providing the necessary fiber and probiotics involved in proper digestion (if we don’t digest our food properly our bodies don’t utilize the nutrients we ingest) to the production of neurotransmitters that make us feel calm and happy. Processed food has been stripped of the enzymes and many of the nutrients necessary for good mental health.

Fermented vs. Pickled

A lot of press recently has been about the benefits of fermented foods. Fermented foods are full of probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion. Proper digestion means fully breaking down all of the food we eat so the body can disperse those nutrients for maximum functioning of both body and brain. This is referred to as “gut health” and there is some speculation that good gut health is more important for good mental health than previously realized. This microbiata, or gut microbiome, communication between the gut and the brain is being referred to as “psychobiotics” and has been linked to disorders such as depression, anxiety and even autism. It appears that people with a richer microbiome – having more and greater variety of gut bacteria – are healthier, both physically and mentally. Eating fermented foods is one of the best ways to increase the amount and variety of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Some examples of fermented foods and drinks are: Sauerkraut Miso Kefir Yogurt Sour cream Wine Beer Brewed ginger ale Cottage cheese Whey Buttermilk Tempeh Soy sauce Kimchi Kombucha Yeasted breads (sourdough breads have unique yeasts that are different from commercial yeast) Poi Tabasco sauce Worcestershire sauce “Aged” cheeses like parmesan, bleu cheese, and feta cheese Vinegar The last item, vinegar, is what makes pickled things technically qualify as fermented foods. There is a bit of a distinction however. Fermented vegetables like “pickles” and sauerkraut were traditionally fermented in brine by covering with water, adding salt, and leaving at room temperature for several days, or longer, until they were bubbling with proliferating bacteria that fed on the naturally occurring sugar in the vegetables. This creates a plethora of bacteria, varying with differing foods. You can still find things that have been fermented this way at health food stores and specialty stores in the refrigerated section. Typically, commercially pickled items like sauerkraut and cucumber pickles are pickled with vinegar. While the vinegar is fermented, the vegetables have not been fermented. So, the probiotics contained in the jar will primarily be from the vinegar. If the vegetables were fermented the traditional way using water and salt, they would create a wider variety of bacteria than what is contained in the vinegar. Vinegar will also kill a lot of other bacteria, both good and bad bacteria. This makes it good for preserving food because it prevents bad bacteria from growing which would spoil the food. However, when you add vinegar to fermented foods, it destroys much of the good bacteria also. While pickled foods offer some probiotic benefit,...

The Power of Potassium

  Potassium is a major mineral and critical electrolyte that is abundantly present in seawater (and sea salt) and soil. Potassium contains a positive electrical charge and works closely with chloride in regulating blood pressure and PH balance. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work normally. Potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat. Potassium and Depression Low potassium levels have been associated with greater risk for mood disturbances and depression. A 2008 study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” examined the relationship between potassium and mood, and found that a high-potassium diet helped to relieve symptoms of depression and tension among study subjects. These findings suggest both that potassium may be useful in the treatment of mood disturbances and that low potassium levels may be linked to symptoms of depression. Potassium and Pain Potassium deficiency can cause irritability, fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, Restless Leg Syndrome, and chronic pain. Depression often accompanies these symptoms. Depression and pain are intimately intertwined. According to the September 2004 Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Pain is depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain. People with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms — usually mood or anxiety disorders — and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain”. Potassium Helps Regulate Serotonin A study in the journal “Nature Neuroscience” investigated the role of potassium in the regulation of serotonin, the neurotransmitter primarily targeted by antidepressants. The researchers speculated that potassium channels in the brain may play an important role in serotonin regulation. Potassium appears to act as a facilitator in ensuring the brain’s ability to properly utilize serotonin. Depression is often characterized by negative thoughts such as guilt, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, low self-worth, and suicide. Potassium is required to activate neurons involved in positive thoughts and feelings. Without the electrical charge sparked by potassium, neurotransmitters like serotonin cannot be utilized to make us feel better. This may explain why even a slight decrease in potassium levels can result in significant feelings of anxiety. What Causes Potassium Deficiency? Potassium deficiency can be caused by bulimia, chronic diarrhea, diuretics, and Crohn’s disease. One of the biggest causes of potassium deficiency is excessive consumption of cola drinks. This is one of many good reasons to limit cola drinks or, better yet, to not drink them at all. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that low levels of potassium, caused by hormonal...

Boost your Brain with B-6

  Vitamin B-6 is required for the brain to produce serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA and for myelin formation. It is also necessary for the proper maintenance of red blood cell metabolism, the nervous system, and the immune system. Deficiencies can cause dermatitis (skin inflammation), depression, confusion, cognitive dysfunction, convulsions, and increased risk of heart attack. A deficiency in vitamin B-6 can be induced by certain drugs, including antidepressants. A vitamin B-6 deficiency is characterized by mental changes such as fatigue, nervousness, irritability, depression, insomnia, dizziness, confusion, and nerve changes. These mental changes are related to the body’s decreased ability to manufacture neurotransmitters. Cooking and freezing destroy vitamin B-6 so eating fruits and vegetables raw and other sources with the shortest cooking times required will help ensure maintenance of B-6. Mild deficiency of vitamin B-6 is common in the U.S. Sources of vitamin B-6: Chicken Turkey Liver Cheese Eggs Seafood Bananas Carrots Peas Dark leafy greens Potatoes Avocado Watermelon...

VITAMIN E is a STRESS-BUSTER among other things!

Vitamin E is an especially powerful antioxidant involved in the protection and regeneration of skin cells. Used topically and orally, it is very effective at preventing and reducing scarring and discolorations of the skin. Research has also shown that vitamin E possesses anti-inflammatory effects that can combat arthritis, asthma, and other inflammatory disorders linked to chronic inflammation including depression. Foods high in Vitamin E lower risk of Alzheimer’s Recent research suggests that eating foods high in vitamin E may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other cognitive decline. Interestingly, while these results have been found when subjects obtained vitamin E from food, they have not been replicated when using vitamin E supplements in clinical trials. This may be another of those cases where there are multiple nutrients, or forms of nutrients, working together when consumed in food that is impossible to simulate with a nutrient in isolation. Vitamin E deficiency induces anxiety A study by the Department of Agricultural Chemistry at the Meiji University, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Japan found that a deficiency in vitamin E increased anxiety in both juvenile and adult rats. In a 2009 study at the same university, researchers discovered that they could induce anxiety behaviors in rats by making them deficient in vitamin E. Vitamin E deficiency linked to depression When compared to healthy Australians, researchers at the University of Wollongong found 49 patients suffering from major depression to have significantly lower levels of vitamin E. A similar study at the Clinical Research Center for Mental Health in Antwerp, Belgium compared blood samples of 49 depressed patients to 26 healthy volunteers and found significantly lower vitamin E in the depressed patients. Researchers looking at a low-income elderly population in central Israel found that a deficiency in vitamin E was associated with depression. They found that an increase in as little as 1 mg per day of vitamin E decreased the risk of depression. Prenatal vitamin E has long lasting effects on stress In another study in Italy, researchers tested groups of adult rats whose mothers had been given elevated doses of vitamin E during pregnancy against those whose mothers had not been given additional vitamin E. The rats whose mothers had been given vitamin E performed much better in stressful situations, demonstrating less anxiety and fear than the other group. Prenatal exposure to vitamin E while in the womb had lasting effects in decreasing anxious responses to stress into adulthood. In other words, the offspring of mothers who took vitamin E during pregnancy were not only born with higher tolerance to stress but that tolerance...