Foods For Mental Health

At some point in our lives, most of us experience anxiety and / or depression. Here are some foods that can help soothe those responses and bring balance to the body, mind, and spirit.

Herbs and Spices

Chamomile Tea

Sip on this natural anti-anxiety medicine for its natural calming effect. This soothing, mild tea helps decrease anxiety symptoms in just a few weeks. Drink a cup after dinner. Sweeten with a bit of raw honey if you like.

Dark Chocolate

It’s true! The Journal of Psychopharmacology has published a study revealing that people who eat about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (75% or more) per day, feel more calm than those who do not. Just be aware that chocolate does contain caffeine. Be sure to eat it before 3 p.m. to avoid it affecting your sleep.

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Turmeric

Curcuminoids, the antioxidants in turmeric, have a neuro-protective quality and help enhance your mood. These antioxidants are an effective option for major depressive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders. Cook with turmeric powder when you can and take a supplement to support your dietary intake.



Whole Grains

Oats

Oats are high in fiber to lower cholesterol levels and reduce risk of heart disease. They ease digestive stress and support healthy transit time; enhance immune response to infection and stabilize blood sugar; calm and soothe the nervous system to alleviate mild depression.

Brown Rice

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends choosing whole grains such as brown rice rather than refined grain like white rice or flour to maintain a healthy body weight; high in fiber and selenium to ensure healthy digestion and mental clarity; contains phenolics, antioxidants that work to prevent disease and soothe the nervous system.



High Quality Meat and Fermented Dairy

Full-Fat Kefir & Yogurt

The gut is considered the "second brain" because it's home to 95% of your "feel good" hormone seratonin. With more than 100 million neurons, a healthy gut helps manage stress and reduce depression and anxiety. Bacterial imbalances in your gut can alter brain chemistry. Kefir, an fermented dairy drink much like liquid yogurt, is a powerful pro-biotic, which contains fat soluble vitamins A, D and K for brain health. If you prefer yogurt, choose the full-fat, unsweetened kind (I like Butter Works Farm or Brown Cow Brand). Add maple syrup and home-made granola for a delicious breakfast.

Turkey

This delicious meat is rich in tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you to feel calm. Tryptophan in the form of meat has been proven to reduce anxiety. Choose antibiotic-free turkey whenever possible.

Grass-Fed Organ Meats

If you eat meat, grass-fed, organic organ meats are some of the best sources of nutrients (like zinc and Vitamin D) needed to reduce anxiety. Liver is also abundant in B vitamins, which are needed for methylation, a metabolic process in the body that is responsible for balancing the hormones that regulate mood. Cook chicken or beef liver with onions and purée it in the blender to make a delicious spread.



Vegetables

Asparagus

This sulfur-rich vegetable also contains the specifically beneficial B vitamin, folic acid. Low levels of folic acid can lead to neurotransmitter impairment and cause anxiety. A 5.3-ounce serving provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance for folic acid! It also contains moderate amounts of potassium, which can lower blood pressure.

Avocados

These fruits are wonderful for maintaining balanced brain health, thus reducing the stress that leads to anxiety and depression. They contain potassium, which helps naturally lower blood pressure. Avocados are also rich in beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are essential for the health of the nervous system. 

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Leafy Greens

Those who feel stress and anxiety can increase intake of dark leafy greens like spinach, chard, kale, and collard greens. These plant foods are rich in magnesium, which helps us relax. It also regulates the connection between the brain and endocrine system so that we go out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and into relaxation mode.


Fats

Inflammation is one factor when it comes to brain health and anxiety. Omega-3 fats decrease anxiety. Omega-rich foods like Alaskan salmon, grass-fed beef, chia and flax seeds, and winter squash can also help decrease inflammation and help cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.

Olive oil

Monounsaturated and liquid at room temp., first cold press olive oil is high in anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which reduce risk of heart disease, maintain a balanced cholesterol profile, and reduce the overgrowth of ulcer-inducing helicobacter pylori bacteria in the intestines. It improves calcium levels in the blood and enhances memory function by oxygenating blood.

Sunflower oil

This polyunsaturated oil is rich in vitamin E, which stimulates the liver rejuvenation and aids in nutrient absorption; its high magnesium content soothes nerves and muscles, acts as a diuretic to counter-act water retention, and lubricates the digestive system to aid elimination.

Coconut oil

Saturated fat, solid at room temperature, is a plant-based alternative to saturated animal fats. It stimulates brain function and promotes intestinal motility; its anti-bacterial benefits make it an important fat to choose during times of illness or infection and is specifically indicated for combating intestinal parasites.


Coconut Avocado Smoothie

Place these ingredients in a blender:

  • ½ teaspoon each: cinnamon and cardamom

  • a pinch salt

  • ½ can unsweetened, full-fat organic coconut milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 avocado

Blend well and enjoy!


Vegetable Walnut Cobbler

For the cobbler:

  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 red onion, chopped

  • 3 medium zucchini, chopped

  • 1 packed cups of fresh spinach

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1 teaspoon each: salt and pepper

  • For the topping:

  • 2 cups quick oats

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon each: coriander, cumin, and paprika

  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

  • 5 tablespoons butter OR coconut oil

  • 1 cup milk of your choosing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly oil a baking dish and set aside.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and add chopped onion and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add zucchini, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 more minutes Add spinach, turn off heat, stir well, and spread into baking dish.

Bake the vegetables for 10 minutes while you prepare the topping.

For the topping, mix all ingredients together except butter / oil.

Cut butter / oil into chunks in the mixture and gently fold together.

Add milk, mix briefly to incorporate, and set aside.

Remove vegetables from oven, top with clumps of topping mixture, and bake for 20 minutes more.

Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, and enjoy!

GET CREATIVE: Use collards and sweet potatoes instead of spinach and zucchini.

Hazelnut Escarole Salad

For many indigenous cultures of this hemisphere, today's full moon is known as the wolf moon. The wolf honors its pack, its community, its loved ones. It also takes time alone to howl at the moon, hear its own voice, and reflect the importance of taking space to care for the self.

The wolf moon reminds me to find inner balance so that I can relate to others in a harmonious way.

Try these recipes to balance body, mind, and spirit. Prepare them mindfully. Spend time with the ingredients. Taste as you go. Mix and match them to create different meals.

Most of all, be well and take time to reflect on the splendor of your own inner harmony.

Hazelnut Escarole Salad

For the dressing, blend these ingredients in a food processor:

¼ cup roasted hazelnuts

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon raw honey

1 garlic clove, crushed

salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon each)

Then, mix all these ingredients together in a large bowl to assemble the salad:

1 head escarole, washed and steamed

1 green tart apple, thinly sliced

½ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped

¼ cup sourdough bread croutons (optional)

Pour dressing over salad, toss well to coat, and serve with your favorite soup.

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Healing Bowl of Delight

To celebrate the arrival of darker evenings, I am cooking with more root vegetables, warming spices, and foods to balance mental health.

Try this recipe to delight your senses and soothe your soul. It's a great way to cleanse after a day of rich, Thanksgiving-style eating.

BOUNTIFUL BOWL OF DELIGHT

This healing meal is comprised of three parts: pickled cabbage slaw, ginger tahini sauce, and vegetable legume pilaf.

PICKLED CABBAGE SLAW

You will need:

  • Half a head of red or green cabbage, thinly sliced

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 tablespoon raw honey

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, fenugreek and cinnamon

GARLIC, GINGER + TAHINI SAUCE

You will need:

  • ¼ cup tahini

  • ¼ cup water

  • ¼ cup lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

  • 1 teaspoon salt or tamari

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

  • ½ teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root

  • ½ teaspoon freshly chopped garlic

VEGETABLE + LEGUME PILAF

You will need:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

  • 1 bunch (2 packed cups) of kale, chard, collards or spinach, roughly chopped

  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, millet, kasha, or quinoa – cooked with wakame seaweed

  • 2 cups cooked beans (I like adzuki or kidney beans)*

  • 1 teaspoon dry rosemary leaf powder

  • 1/2 avocado, sliced

Make the pickled cabbage a day in advance. Place the red or green cabbage in a large jar or airtight container. In a large measuring cup, combine the apple cider vinegar, water, honey and salt. Pour the liquid over the red cabbage and press the cabbage down so that it is fully covered. Cover the jar/container and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To prepare the tahini sauce, combine all ingredients in a cup or small bowl and whisk well. Chill until ready to use.

Cook grains in twice as much water. Add seaweed halfway through cooking. Salt grains with about 1 teaspoon of salt per 2 cups of dry grains.

*If you are using dry beans, soak overnight and cook in three times as much water with more seaweed. Skim off any foam that rises to the top and discard it. Once beans are soft, rinse them well. Season them with rosemary, salt, and olive oil. Set them aside.

To cook the sweet potato, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Spread the sweet potatoes out on the sheet. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with a spatula until fully coated. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after 15 minutes.

For the greens, fill a large shallow sauce pan or medium pot with about 1 to 2 inches of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and fill the basket with the chopped greens. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. Once the water begins to boil, or after about 4 to 5 minutes, remove the kale from the basket and set aside.

In 2 bowls, divide the cooked grains, legumes, and sweet potato. Add a generous serving of greens. Top with slices of avocado and pickled cabbage. Drizzle the sauce over the top and enjoy!

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Gut Healing Salad

As September makes itself known and we prepare for the wonderful and melancholy decay of autumn, we can make double batches of bright, fresh, colorful dishes and set some aside for the colder months.

Do this with any dish by freezing half of it.

I just did so with quinoa cakes.

Alternately, you can also prepare a vegetable-rich shredded salad and lacto-ferment half of it by placing it in a mason jar and covering it with saltwater brine.

LACTO-FERMENTED SALAD

You will need:

  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped

  • 2 cups Napa or Savoy cabbage, shredded

  • 2 carrots, shredded

  • 1 inch daikon radish, shredded

  • 3 large stalks celery, thinly sliced

Double these quantities and set half aside for fermenting.

I like to use the shredding blades on my food processor to make quick shredded vegetables.

Then, toss with the dressing below and serve over cooked quinoa as a hearty lunch.

For the dressing:

  • 3 teaspoons sunflower or olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons tahini

  • one generous handful cilantro, chopped

  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like walnuts or almonds)

To ferment the vegetables above, just stuff them into a quart-sized mason jar.

Fill another mason jar with 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons salt.

Pour over vegetables and mash down with a wooden spoon continuously until the veggies generate enough juice to cover themselves.

You can step away from pounding and tend to other tasks in the kitchen, too.

Cover with a cloth and press down once a day for a week.

Then, refrigerate and save for up to 2 months.

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DIY Kombucha

Summer can cause water retention and bloating. It's hot and our bodies need extra water to thrive. Since the digestive system is where we usually feel the impacts of bloating first, it's the best place to start addressing these issues. Digestive health is central to our overall wellness, governing nutrition, cleansing, immunity, neurological health, and much more.

To reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, emphasize a diet rich in vegetables and small amounts of fruits. Recommendations include: celery, dandelion greens, parsley, cilantro, basil, arugula, cucumber, melon, zucchini, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, avocado, broccoli sprouts, peas, sweet potato, and squash.

Probiotic bacteria can provide additional support against bloating and inflammation in the digestive tract. These friendly microbes work to reduce expression of inflammatory genes and cell signals and reduce gas, bloating, and discomfort as they improve nutrient absorption—among other critical actions. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi provide excellent sources of probiotics. Lacto-fermented drinks such as kefir, kombucha and rice milk made with koji cultures can help, too.

Thanks to Rodale for this inspiration!

Try this kombucha recipe to strengthen summer digestion.

Kombucha

Kombucha consists of yeasts and acetic bacteria living symbiotically. It is a living culture that looks like a jelly fish or placenta pancake in a jar. It is a lightly fermented tea dating back to ancient China, which provides an excellent tonic for immunity and strengthening digestion.

Click this link for a recipe to make your own!

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Sourdough Best Practices

It is easy and rewarding to make your own sourdough and bake bread from it. As my friend Nick says, "it's the pet that feeds YOU!". Just like any pet, you must care for it.

To make your own sourdough starter, click this link.

If you have a starter and wish to ensure that your loaves give you a fluffy, delicious result, follow these guidelines. They are most helpful if you keep your starter in the refrigerator. 

Mix well to re-incorporate any liquid that has formed on top of your sourdough starter. Whole grain flours especially will yield a darker liquid.

Remove 1/4 cup of sourdough starter from the fridge and place it in a large jar or bowl. Feed the starter with 1 part starter with 1 part water and 2 parts flour. For example, feed 1/4 cup of starter with 1/4 cup of water and a scant 1/2 cup of flour.

Mix the starter, flour and water together and stir vigorously, incorporating plenty of air. Cover the starter with a towel or cheesecloth secured by a rubber band. Leave in a warm spot for 4 to 12 hours until the starter becomes bubbly.

Repeat this process two more times prior to baking using the same ratios listed above.


By the third feeding the starter should be very bubbly and rising to double its size within 8 hours of being fed.

Remember to add some freshly made sourdough starter back to your master sourdough culture.

Kombucha


Kombucha is a healthful beverage offering anti-microbial activity against a range of pathogenic bacteria, thereby promoting immunity and well-being. It consists of yeasts and acetic bacteria living symbiotically. It is a living culture that looks like a jelly fish or placenta pancake in a jar. It is a lightly fermented tea dating back to ancient China, which provides an excellent tonic for immunity and strengthening digestion.

Ingredients for one gallon of brew:
Kombucha Mushroom (ask your friends for one!)
6 tea bags or 6 grams loose-leaf tea
1 cup sugar
3 quarts water

Supplies:
One gallon mason jar (available at most hardware stores)
Clean cotton cloth
Rubber band or string to secure cloth
A warm quiet spot (it does not need to be in the dark!)
Vinegar or alcohol to clean utensils (Do not use bleach, soap or tap water)

Directions:
Boil water
Add tea and steep for recommended time dependent upon tea. Remove tea bags. Some people only seep their tea for a few minutes others allow it to steep overnight.
Choose Organic Green, Black or White Tea. Flavored teas will add that flavor to the finished brew.  
Add sugar and stir to incorporate.

Cool to room temperature and pour into a mason jar.     

Add the kombucha ‘mushroom’ into the tea. Make sure that the tea is not hot! The kombucha will grow to fit any size container. The ‘mushroom’ may float, sink or go on its side. This is not a problem.

Cover with cloth that is tight knit to prevent pathogens from contaminating the brew. Leave undisturbed for 6-8 days. Taste and enjoy in small sips! Dilute with water if you like.

References: thanks to MandalaBotanicals and Kombucha by Gunther W. Frank. For a more detailed guide, visit the Happy Herbalist's site.