How to EAT yourself well

How to EAT yourself well

by Bianca Castro |

If it’s true that we are what we eat, then what should we be putting on our plates?

When we’re in a battle of wills with our children over their unfinished peas, we tell them that eating their greens will make them big and strong.

It’s what we were taught — vegetables are ‘good’, biscuits are ‘bad’. But does what we eat really matter?

The simple answer is — yes.

The leading cause of death in England and Wales this year was coronary heart disease, caused by a build-up of fatty material within the arteries.

Yet, this killer disease is preventable — if we eat the right things.

Rachel Kelly, mental health advocate and author of The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food says: ‘Our health begins in our gut. Immunity, mood, hormonal balance, physical and emotional strength, metabolism and day-to-day functioning, every single cellular reaction, it’s all influenced by nutrition. You really can eat yourself ill and eat yourself well.’

Trillions of ‘good bacteria’ living in our gut can boost our immunity, improve digestion, absorb vitamins and inhibit the growth of pathogens — but only if we nourish them with a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.

When we feed the ‘bad bacteria’ a buffet of processed foods, artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, red meat and alcohol, we provide our microbiome with what it needs to produce carcinogens, toxins and infections.

What we eat can have a direct impact on our minds too, known as the gut-brain axis.

Rachel explains: ‘Our digestive health is intimately connected to our mind. Remember, around 90 per cent of serotonin, the happy hormone, is manufactured in the gut.’

Studies have shown that the more fruit and vegetables you eat — aim for seven servings a day — the happier, calmer and more energetic you’ll feel. But a diet of refined carbs — found in cakes, biscuits and white bread — may trigger increased symptoms of depression and fatigue.

There’s good news for chocolate lovers, as dark chocolate may contribute to a long and happy life.

Rachel says: ‘My top three happy foods are dark green leafy vegetables for gut health, oily fish for omega-3s to reduce inflammation, and dark chocolate, a brilliant source of magnesium and antioxidants, reducing inflammation, improving brain function and lowering the risk of heart disease.’

It’s easy to remember which foods are nutritionally unhelpful if you remember to avoid ‘CRAP’ foods. That’s…

  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Refined sugars.
  • Additives and aspartame.
  • Processed meats and processed foods.

While a little of these foods in moderation won’t cause permanent damage, a lifetime on a ‘CRAP’ diet really does cause harm. Fried foods are high in trans-fats, which raise cholesterol, a risk factor of heart disease and stroke.

The statistics are clear. By not smoking, not being obese, exercising for half an hour a day and eating more fruits, veg and wholegrains and less meat, we can reduce our risk of chronic disease by 78 per cent, type 2 diabetes by 90 per cent, heart attacks by 80 per cent, strokes by 50 per cent and overall cancer risk by 33 per cent.

‘Think of food as your friend,’ Rachel says. ‘Start with one small change such as adding more leafy veg to your evening meal or cutting back on fizzy drinks. Keep a note of your mood and feelings of wellbeing.

‘Once you make a small change, your confidence in change will grow. You will realise you’re making a difference and the next steps will come more easily.’

What to eat...

To beat the blues

Eat food rich in zinc, such as spinach, nuts, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas, because zinc deficiency can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

To feel calm

Eat food rich in magnesium, such as leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate, because magnesium binds to calming receptors in the brain.

To sleep well

Eat food rich in tryptophan, such as almonds, potatoes and wholegrain oats, because the body uses tryptophan to make melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Edited by Kim Willis

The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, by Rachel Kelly, is available now. RRP £14.99, published by Short Books Ltd.

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