We’ve talked about a lot in terms of supporting your mental health with nutrition. By now, you know that sugar needs to go, that protein and eating consistently are central to fighting functional hypoglycemia, and fiber and fermented foods should take a more prominent place in your diet profile. These foundations of healthy nutrition are so important to understand; I know we will revisit them as time goes on. But for now, let’s be really practical. What do you buy at the market? How do you make healthy meals using what you’ve learned?
At every meal, you want to have three basic things – protein, fat and fiber. Everything you need can be divided in to those three categories.
There will be some overlap between categories, but these are good guidelines to have in mind. Use the following lists as building blocks for healthy meals!
*If you are a Trim Healthy Mama, you’ll want to limit your carbs from starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes), fruit, and grains to 10g in your S meals, and limit your fat in E meals to 5g (1tsp). However, that fat is important to help your body absorb essential vitamins (E, K, A and D), so don’t eliminate it altogether!
Recommended daily allowance for protein varies by person. If you are sedentary and not from a heritage of people who historically thrived on a high-protein diet, you may not need much more than the .36g/pound of body weight that is recommended. However, if you are an athlete or have a different biochemistry, you may need much more to feel satisfied when you eat and provide the necessary nutrition to your body.
- Eggs – Whole eggs are a good source of both protein and fat, while egg whites are almost pure protein. Whole eggs contain a little bit of almost every nutrient your body requires.
- Poultry – Chicken and Turkey. (Thighs are a good source of fat). Select hormone-free chicken or turkey.
- Beef – This is one of the best choices as it is a perfect source of vitamin B12, bioavailable iron and essential amino acids. Again, select grass-fed, hormone-free meat.
- Fish (all types) – Look for wild-caught options
- Shrimp – surprisingly high in vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Cottage Cheese – and cheese in general. Also a good source of fat.
- Greek Yogurt – This is high in probiotics (good for gut health) and lower in lactose than traditional yogurt. Oikos 000 Yogurt is stevia sweetened. Or buy plain Greek yogurt and sweeten it yourself with frozen berries.
- Nuts – Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, etc. Good source of protein, fat and fiber. Also an excellent source of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc as well as folate and vitamin E.
- Whey protein powder – look for ones with no sugar, artificial sweeteners and chemical fillers. I like Intek Nutrition’s Protein Evolution (lots of flavors) or Trim Healthy Mama Pristine Whey Protein Powder.
- Collagen Peptides – easily added to everything from coffee to shakes to baked goods. Can improve skin, hair, joint health and more. It may also contribute to healing the lining of a leaky gut!
Don’t eat a non-fat diet, eat a non-sugar diet! Healthy, natural fats are so important for your body and brain. Your brain is 60% fat – don’t starve it! *Always choose organic and/or cold pressed oils so that you can be sure you’re getting good fats.
- Avocado – actually a fruit. High in oleic acid (like olive oil), postassium and fiber. They can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
- Dark chocolate – at least 85%. Contains over 50% of the recommended daily intake of iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. It is antioxidant and can improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Look for (or make your own!) stevia-sweetened dark chocolate. Lily’s is a good brand.
- Fatty fish – salmon, trout, mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit heart and brain health. If you don’t like fish, start taking a fish oil supplement (like Cod liver oil). Omega-3s help support the brain and ease pain.
- Chia seeds and flax seeds – also a good source of fiber. Grind or soak seeds (in baking or smoothies) to make the most nutrients available to you.
- Oils – Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil. High in antioxidants and many, many vitamins and minerals.
- Butter – real, grass-fed butter (I like Kerrygold butter) and ghee (clarified butter to remove milk proteins) are high in vitamins and can reduce inflammation in the body. Forget the margarine!
- MCT oil – medium chain triglyceride oil from coconuts can suppress appetite, rev your metabolism and clear out your intestines (a little goes a long way!). Great addition to coffee or smoothies.
This category will contain your vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Fiber feeds the healthy probiotics in your gut, helps maintain even blood sugar and cleans out your intestines. Recommended daily intake is at least 25g for women and 38g for men.
- Oats- steel cut or soaked oats will be the easiest on your digestive system and provide the most nutritional benefit for you. Oats also have anti-anxiety properties!
- Quinoa – Also 15% protein.
- Brown rice – A higher fiber and nutrient option as opposed to white rice.
- Beans – all varieties. Also a good source of supplemental protein. If you typically experience digestive problems after eating beans, opt for smaller portions and different cooking methods – roasting or slow-cooking are good options.
- Lentils – also good supplemental protein. Nicer to your digestion than beans.
- Broccoli – raw, steamed or roasted. Eat with a fat for full nutrient absorption. Also a source of supplemental protein.
- Beets – great addition to a smoothie!
- Sweet potatoes – roasted to release natural sugars. Full of goodness!
- Carrot – raw, steamed or roasted. Eat with a fat for full nutrient absorption.
- Greens – kale, spinach, leafy lettuce. The darker the better!
- Fruit – don’t cut this food group out of your diet! Raspberries, blackberries, pears, apples and bananas are very high fiber. Your dark red/blue berries are high in antioxidant properties, and citrus fruits have great vitamin benefits. You need fruit!
- Bread – look for sprouted bread (like Ezekiel bread) or true sourdough (made without yeast). These are nutrient-rich, whole grain options that do not include over-processed flours stripped of their nutritional value that will send your blood sugar skyrocketing, only to drop an hour later.
- Alternate flours – almond flour (not meal), coconut flour and flaxseed meal are favorites. You can also buy just whole flax seeds and grind them as needed for your recipes. Don’t bother with oat flour – you can just grind up some Quaker oatmeal as needed. Oat fiber can be useful to blend with other flours to give whatever you’re baking some “lift.” If you want a wheat flour for bread, look for sprouted grain bread (whole wheat, spelt). These will be kinder to your blood sugar and provide a more nutrient-dense bread.
- Breads/pastas with whole wheat flour or lots of pastas. These are unkind to your blood sugar and cause inflammation.
- Baking flours like unbleached white, whole wheat, tapioca, corn, buckwheat, teff, sorghum, potato and white rice. While many of those may be gluten free, they are higher on the glycemic index and will still cause the blood sugar problems we are trying to avoid.
- White potatoes, corn, white rice, white bread, white tortillas, etc. These will cause a spike and drop in blood sugar which contributes to weight gain, mood swings and overeating.
- SUGAR. It’s added to things that may surprise you. Check labels for things like cane syrup, barley malt, sucralose (or other -ose additives), dextrin, maltodextrin or high fructose corn syrup, to name a few. It is inflammatory in the body, contributing to all kinds of problems.
- Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Splenda, etc. These are chemicals the body does not recognize as food, causing the immune system to attack them, which leads to inflammation. They are called neurotoxins and excitotoxins and they overstimulate the brain, contributing to “imbalances.”
- Soy, unless it is fermented. Unfermented soy causes problems in digestion, mood and even thyroid function. Soy additives are in many things, so check the labels.
Drink your water! You should be drinking half your body weight in ounces each day. (i.e., a 150lb person should drink 75 ounces of water). A dehydrated body is a sick body.
Follow the blog to be notified about future posts on nutrition and mental health, and use this a guide at the grocery store to help you feel confident that you are eating things that will heal your body!
Korn, L. E. (2017). Eat right, feel right: Over 80 recipes and tips to improve mood, sleep attention & focus. Eau Claire, WI: Pesi Pub & Media.