I wholeheartedly believe that food can heal not only your body but also your mood. An emerging field of research known as nutritional psychiatry is publishing studies revealing dramatic improvements in depression, anxiety, and other conditions affecting patients moods with strategic dietary changes.
A study in 2010 by researcher Felice Jacka, found that women whose diets were higher in vegetables, fruit, fish, and whole grains (with moderate red meat), were less likely to have depression or anxiety than women who consumed a diet high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and other processed foods. For a long time, there was this idea of the mind and body being separate, and there was a lot of skepticism when Jacka first proposed her Ph.D. study. But that has all changed. Now, Jacka is the director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. In fact, in the past few years, clear evidence has emerged suggesting that we can no longer look at mental health and brain health in isolation.
In April, 2019, a meta-analysis examined 16 randomized controlled trials looking into the impact of dietary interventions on mental health and concluded that improving diet (namely by increasing vegetables and fiber and scaling back on fast food and sugars) does have a measurable benefit to depression and anxiety.
This examination of individual foods and nutrients on mental health has prompted mental health professionals to ask, “What have you been eating?”. More importantly, colleges like Columbia University are starting to teach psychiatry students about the food-mood connection.
Most research has been done on the Mediterranean Diet with lots of fiber-rich vegetables and fruit, fish, nuts, beans, legumes, fermented foods, olive oil and some meat. Any diet with the right balance of brain-boosting nutrients like omega-3s, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, magnesium, and vitamin D. Nutritional psychiatrists agree that the most important rule is to eat whole foods and avoid processed foods. The psychiatrists sometimes ask that clients experiment with eliminating grains, legumes or dairy as a way to start to understand your body’s needs. Grains and legumes contain phytic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of important brain-healthy minerals like magnesium and zinc; and lectins, which can damage the gut lining and aggravate the immune system.
Next week I will tell you how to soak beans, nuts and seeds to get rid of the phytic acid.
There are three main mechanisms that a good diet will help: provides your brain with the nutrients it needs to grow and generate new connections, tamps down inflammation, and promotes gut health.
“Our brains continue to make new connections that give birth to new brain cells into our adult life, which is known as neuroplasticity, and the major regulator of this process is a neurohormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF),” says Drew Ramsay, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. Low levels of BDNF have been associated with both depression and Alzheimer’s, but certain nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA promote the expression of BDNF.
By forgoing processed foods and eating more fiber-rich foods (veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains), prebiotic foods (onions, scallions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, cabbage) and probiotic foods (fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir), the good bacteria in our gut are able to thrive, leading to an overall healthy microbiome. A healthy gut positively impacts our reaction to stress and anxiety. This is in part due to the gut’s affect on GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter that’s been implicated in a multitude of health challenges including anxiety disorders, insomnia, and depression. When our microbiome is healthy and populated with good bacteria, we can better regulate GABA production and benefit from its calming, soothing properties. Too much bad bacteria, on the other hand, can hijack the GABA system and impair your ability to cope with stress.
Magnesium helps GABA do its job. Food rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, and beans, as well as bananas, spinach, broccoli, edamame, and quinoa.
Diets rich in whole foods are generally great for maintaining balanced blood sugar, which is key for staying calm, happy, and level-headed on a day-to-day basis.
Though the goal of nutritional psychiatrists is help patients get off of medication, talk therapy and a close examination of the amount of exercise and the quality of sleep their patients get, plays into the overall treatment plan.
It is fresh pea season!
Peas are nutritious and contain fiber and antioxidants. Additionally, research shows they may help protect against some chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer. 1/2 a cup has only 62 calories along with a significant amount of vitamins and minerals:
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Protein: 4 grams –
- Vitamin A: 34% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 24% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 13% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 15% of the RDI
- Folate: 12% of the RDI
- Manganese: 11% of the RDI
- Iron: 7% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 6% of the RDI
Green peas are one of the best plant-based sources of protein. Eating protein increases the levels of hormones in your body that reduce appetite. Protein works together with fiber to slow digestion and promote feelings of fullness. The unique protein content of green peas makes them an excellent food choice for those who do not eat animal products. However, it is important to note that they are not a complete source of protein, since they lack the amino acid methionine. High methionine foods include nuts, cheese, soy, eggs, dairy, and beans.
Green peas have a low glycemic index and are rich in fiber and protein, all of which are important factors for blood sugar control.
Eating green peas regularly may reduce the risk of cancer, mostly due to peas’ antioxidant content and their ability to reduce inflammation in the body.
Green peas also contain saponins, plant compounds known for having anti-cancer effects. Several studies have shown saponins may help prevent several types of cancer and have the potential to inhibit tumor growth.
Furthermore, they are rich in several nutrients known for their ability to lower the risk of cancer, including vitamin K, which may be especially helpful for reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
Strictly speaking, green peas are not vegetables. They are part of the legume family, which consists of plants that produce pods with seeds inside. Lentils, chickpeas, beans and peanuts are also legumes.
Since green peas are high in complex carbs called starches, they are considered a starchy vegetable along with potatoes, corn and squash.
- There are several different varieties of peas available, including yellow peas, black-eyed peas and purple peas. However, green peas are the most frequently consumed.
Snap peas and snow peas are other popular varieties that are often confused with green peas due to their similar appearance. However, their flavor and nutrient content differ slightly.
Despite the abundant nutrients in green peas, there is a downside to their nutritional quality — they contain antinutrients.
These are substances found in many foods, such as legumes and grains, that may interfere with digestion and mineral absorption. These generally aren’t a concern for most healthy people, but their health effects are still important to keep in mind. They are more likely to impact those who rely on legumes as a staple food, in addition to individuals at risk of malnutrition.
Here are the two most important antinutrients found in green peas:
- Phytic acid: May interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium
- Lectins: Associated with symptoms such as gas and bloating and may interfere with nutrient absorption
Levels of these antinutrients tend to be lower in peas than in other legumes, so they are unlikely to cause problems unless you eat them frequently.
Here are a few methods you can use to help prevent adverse effects from antinutrients:
- Keep portion sizes reasonable: About 1/3 cup (117 grams) to 1/2 cup (170 grams) of green peas at a time is enough for most people. They are more likely to cause problems when consumed in high amounts.
- Experiment with preparation methods: Fermenting, sprouting and soaking may be helpful for reducing the amounts of antinutrients in green peas
- Eat them fully cooked: Antinutrient levels are higher in raw peas, which makes them more likely to cause digestive discomfort.
Green peas contain FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols), which may cause bloating, especially when they are consumed in large amounts. FODMAPs are a group of carbs that escape digestion and are then fermented by the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas as a byproduct. Pea protein, on the other hand, is acceptable for a low FODMAP diet. Two tablespoons should be tolerated by most individuals.
Experiment with certain preparation methods, such as soaking, fermenting or sprouting, which may help reduce the lectin content of green peas, making them easier to digest.
How to Buy
Shelling peas or English peas have a small window of availability. They require shucking but are worth the effort. About 1 1/2 pounds of peas in the pod yield a cup of shelled peas. Some markets sell containers of shucked peas.
Throughout the year frozen and canned peas are available.
How to Store
How to Cook
No shucking is required for snow peas and sugar snaps. Snow peas, or Chinese peas, are flat, pale preen and picked and eaten before the peas inside plump up. Sugar snaps are also consumed with the pod. You might need to string these peas, except for the smallest pods. Hold the pea at the end that was connected to the vine and pull down to remove the string.
Add raw or cooked peas to salads. Add to stir-fries and omelets. Cook peas and add olive oil or butter and carmelized onions. Stir in fresh dill, chives, or basil.
Pea and Poblano Soup with Questo Fresco
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium poblano chile, cored, seeded, diced
1 medium (6 ounces) red potato, peeled, diced
½ small yellow onion, finely chopped, about ½ cup
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups (about 10 ounces) freshly shucked small green peas (English peas)
2 to 4 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk or heavy (whipping) cream
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup crumbled queso fresco, farmers cheese or feta, optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Enjoy this soup warm topped with crumbled fresh cheese. Or, serve it cold in small bowls drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and hot pepper sauce.
- Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add poblano, potato and onion. Saute until onion is fork-tender, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in broth; simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Stir in peas; simmer, uncovered, stirring often, 3 minutes. Puree soup as smooth as you like with an immersion blender (or in small batches in a loosely covered blender and then return soup to saucepan).
- Heat soup to a simmer. Stir in coconut milk or cream to taste. Season with salt. Serve in small bowls topped with crumbled cheese and cilantro. Or cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold, with the garnishes.