FOOD AND MOOD IMPACT
Over the past decade, groundbreaking
research in the field of epigenetics — the
study of the on/off switches in our DNA —
has revealed that our diet, emotions and
lifestyle choices play a significant role in
the expression of our genes, influencing
almost every aspect of our health. Toxins
can switch on “bad genes” that code for
inflammation and diseases, causing those
genes to become expressed. Conversely,
healthful compounds such as plant phytonutrients can turn those genes off.
As described by Deepak Chopra,
M.D., and Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D., in their
latest book, Super Genes: Unlock the
Astonishing Power of Your DNA for
Optimum Health and Well-Being, up to 95
percent of threatening gene mutations
are influenced by our lifestyle choices.
Healthy habits can literally change the
course of our health.
For example, the emotional stresses
of road rage, a frustrating job or loneliness can negatively impact our
gene expression much like that of processed foods high in chemicals,
pesticides and sugar. On the other hand, healthy relationships, exercise,
gratitude and a calm, positive outlook can mimic the protective genetic
influence of green leafy vegetables. We are not stuck in a particular
genetic destiny as was once thought to be the case. And because genetic
expression is hereditary, our choices affect generations to come.
THE SKINNY ON A HEALTHFUL DIET
Fortunately, nature provides us with many foods filled with natural
agents that calm the genes coding for inflammation, such as leafy
greens, berries, herbs, spices, garlic and green tea, to name a few.
“Food solutions can dramatically reduce your risk of disease as well
as help heal existing conditions and discomforts,” says Rebecca Katz,
nutritionist and author of four cookbooks, including her award-winning
The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen and her most recent, Clean Soups: Simple
Nourishing Recipes for Health and Vitality. Plants can be the ultimate
superfood. “So many common foods — everything from broccoli to
blueberries — have multiple disease-fighting properties [that range]
from controlling inflammation to preventing cancer,” adds Katz, whose
recipes are abundant in health-supportive vegetables, herbs and spices
with benefits backed by thousands of published studies.
Alkalizing to restore pH balance and rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, plant foods also help fill you up, stabilize blood sugar
and curb unhealthy cravings. Aim for 2.5 to 5 cups or more of colorful
veggies and some fruit daily. Eating organic is preferable, as it eliminates
harmful pesticides and herbicides while maximizing nutrients from
healthier soils. See how your food stacks up by visiting the Food Scores
page at Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides.
To further minimize the junk, “eat as close to nature as possible and
read labels to avoid the artificial ingredients and chemicals in processed
and fast foods,” says Elson Haas, M.D.,
founder and director of the Preventive
Medical Center of Marin, a 32-year old
integrative medical center in San Rafael.
An integrative family physician, Haas
is author of 11 books on health, nutri-
tion and detoxification, including his
most recent, Staying Healthy with NEW
Medicine: Integrating Natural, Eastern,
and Western Approaches for Optimal
Health. Haas advises patients to get their
nutrition from foods first, followed by
supplements and detoxes, if needed, to
correct underlying inflammatory issues
due to deficiencies and toxins. Almost
as important is how we eat. To enhance
digestion and nutrient absorption, Haas
emphasizes chewing thoroughly and eat-
ing in a relaxed setting, without the stress
or distraction of electronic devices.
By now most of us know we should avoid
sugar. Devoid of nutrients and a big cause
of inflammation, sugar raises insulin levels and can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Every time you raise your
blood glucose, you tell your body to store fat. And blood sugar highs and
lows can increase anxiety and hormone imbalances that cause unhealthy
food cravings, fatigue and acne. Accordingly, the American Heart
Association now recommends limiting added sugar to six teaspoons ( 24
grams) daily for women and nine teaspoons ( 36 grams) for men.
But we’re not just talking about table sugar. Simple carbs that are
quickly digested into sugar also put us at risk, including soda, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, alcohol, and refined flours in bread,
bagels, pizza, pasta, pretzels and baked desserts. Instead, choose complex carbs such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts high in
vitamins, minerals, fiber and protective phytonutrients. To satisfy a
sweet tooth, try fruit, sweet potatoes, caramelized onions and a square
of dark chocolate ( 70 percent or higher).
GOOD FAT IS GOOD, BAD FAT IS BAD
Recent studies reveal that healthful fats actually douse inflammation
and are essential for healthy brain and nerve function, cholesterol and
hormone production and blood sugar stability. And when we consume
good fats and limit simple carbs, the body naturally burns fat rather
than craving sugar for energy. Beneficial fats are in food sources such as
avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, and fish high in omega- 3
fatty acid, including wild salmon, sardines and anchovies. Limit your
intake of saturated animal fat. And by all means, avoid artery-clogging
hydrogenated “trans” fats used in processed foods and yellow vegetable
oils (e.g., corn and soy) and spreads.
THE ROLE OF PROTEIN
Critical to every cell in the body, protein helps build muscles, supports
brain function and digestion and balances hormones and mood; it
The average American now
eats 50 pounds of chemicals and 150
pounds of sugar annually.