How Do You Choose the Right Protein Powder?

How Do You Choose the Right Protein Powder?

A variety of protein powder and shakes.

A lot of people are looking for the next best thing to help them lose weight, bulk up or to optimize their nutrition for their own health and well being.

Protein powders come up a lot in this regard and the question is do they work and are they good for us and which one is going to best for me?

Protein powders originated back in the 1950’s and 60’s and has grown in popularity over the years, especially as part of a post workout meal, bulking up or as a healthy breakfast option. Protein powders have a number of different benefits.

The reasons why we like using protein powders are for the following:

  1. Quick and easy to prepare for those with busy lives, athletes and teenagers that don’t have time to prepare meals or will just skip them altogether. They are great if you are on the go. You can take it with you in the car, subway, to work or to school.
  2. Provides a vehicle in which to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diet especially if someone is not consuming enough or doesn’t like to eat them. They can be hidden in a smoothie!
  3. Many protein powders include other nutrients in the formula such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber so you can get more bang for your buck.
  4. Easily digestible since the food and protein has been broken up so less taxing on your digestive system.
  5. Can incorporate other healthy foods and super foods into the shake such as flax seeds, chia seeds, nut and seed butters, ginger, turmeric, coconut oil, spirulina, matcha green tea powder etc.
  6. If people have a hard time taking or swallowing medication and supplements – if it is in capsule or powder form these can be opened and put in shakes so easier to take.
  7. Great way to increase protein intake if a person is not getting enough in their diet (animal and vegetarian sources), or protein demands are higher such as people who are ill, older adults and some vegetarians or vegans.
  8. Help with muscle growth and facilitate muscle repair for body composition, weight loss and adding lean muscle.
  9. Help with blood sugar balance since protein can help with satiety especially if you add other foods such as nuts and seeds/butters, good fats such as coconut oil, etc.

What do you need to look for when purchasing a protein powder?


You want to make sure your protein powder is sweetened with stevia, monk fruit or an alcohol sugar such as xylitol and stay away from artificial sweeteners such as dextrin and maltodextrin, aspartame and aceulfame potassium. Research, has linked these artificial sweeteners to increased appetite and cravings for sugar and sweet foods, resulting in overeating and excess calorie consumption.

While the amount of sweetener in protein powder can vary one scoop of protein powder typically contains 1-2 grams of sugar. This may not seem like a lot, but if you are having multiple shakes a day this can add up. Try to stick with unflavoured, unsweetened or naturally sweetened protein powders.

Types of Protein

  1. Whey Protein
    Whey protein is quickly digested, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that can help increase muscle mass and strength. It may also reduce appetite and promote fat loss. For muscle gain this is the most effective protein powder. It is best to choose whey isolate as opposed to whey concentrate as this has more protein (although is more expensive) (1)
  2. Casein Protein
    Casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly than whey. However, one study demonstrated that men who were overweight and restricting their calories, casein may be a better option than whey in improving body composition by reducing muscle protein breakdown and promote muscle mass growth and fat loss during resistance training. (2)
  3. Soy Protein
    Research has shown that soy protein can help reduce high cholesterol and can manage symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass. Copper and iron found in soybean are essential for the formation of red blood cells or hemoglobin. This may help to maximize metabolic activity and increase energy levels. This protein powder is best for women. (3)
  4. Egg protein
    Egg-white protein has not been studied as much as whey or casein. Egg-white protein is high in quality and easily digested — though it may not keep you feeling as full as other protein powders and should be avoided if have allergies to eggs.
  5. Pea Protein
    Pea protein powder is especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or eggs. Research has shown that pea protein may promote fullness and increase muscle growth as effectively as animal-based proteins. (4)

When is the Best Time to Take a Protein Powder?

  • To recover after exercise, you should consume protein within 60 minutes of a workout. That’s when your muscles are most responsive to the use of protein for the repair and growth process.
  • Breakfast, taking a high protein breakfast such as a protein shake is a great way to rev up the metabolism, balance blood sugars and help reduce energy slumps and cravings later in the day.
  • To support weight loss, it is best to consume protein at each meal and snack to help keep you satiated. So having a protein shake as a mid afternoon snack or as a lunch meal is a great option.
  • You do not want to be consuming protein shakes for all your meals as this will limit your access to other whole nutrient dense foods that your body also needs

What Can I Put in My Protein Shake?

As mentioned earlier protein shakes are a great way to consume foods that you might not be that keen on consuming it on it’s own. So here are a bunch of options to help boost your nutrient intake and get more bang for your buck.

  1. Good fats: frozen avocado, coconut oil, MCT oil, milled flax seeds, chia seeds
  2. Fruits: berries, banana, melons, apples, peaches, dragon-fruit
  3. Vegetables: dark leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, celery
  4. Herbs and spices: mint, ginger, turmeric, himalayan Sea salt
  5. Sweeteners: honey, stevia drops, natural maple syrup, Fruit
  6. Fluids: unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, water, green tea


Protein shakes are a great on and go option for people with various health goals and for those that need more protein in their diet. There are various protein powders out there so best to do the research to find out the best quality brands and which is going to best serve your health needs.

References —



What and When to Eat to Optimize Performance and Recover from your Sports Event or Workouts

What and When to Eat to Optimize Performance and Recover from your Sports Event or Workouts

Optimize Performance and Recover

Proper nutrition is crucial in optimizing results and performance, facilitating recovery, increasing muscle mass and reducing risk of injury.

It can be overwhelming on what to eat and when to eat and how much to eat. Whether it is optimizing your workouts at the gym, enhancing your performance in a sport such as soccer or hockey or in preparation for a long-distance running event – no matter what you do you need to eat properly.

What, when and how much will be dependent on what you are doing and how often you are training for example a weightlifter trying to bulk up and get strong will have very different nutrition needs than a long-distance marathon runner.

We have included below some simple tips and strategies to help guide you in best practices for pre and post nutrition workouts.

What should I eat before a sports competition, game or sporting event?

This is not just the last meal before your event or game that matters but proper nutrition comes from at least a couple of days of eating right leading up to the event! You need to make sure your energy stores are packed and ready for you to access when you compete or workout, so you need to build this up!

It takes anywhere from 24hrs to a few days for your glycogen stores (or energy stores) to fully replenish after a hard workout or training. Your body can store about 12-14 hours worth of it for your daily activity, but a hard workout lasting 2hrs+ can deplete all of it. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that what you eat the day before is what is fueling your energy before the competition.

What do I eat the day of the event or workout?

An athlete should aim to consume a combination of carbohydrate and protein in their pre-event/game meal. This means that they should consume 3-4 hours before a competition or 60-90 minutes before a training event.

You want to make sure that you give enough time for your meal to digest especially as closer you get to the competition the more likely your stress hormones have increased with the anticipation of the event, and this may interfere with your digestion and your food not get properly absorbed. Also, when you eat blood diverts away from your muscles to the digestive tract to support digestive processes so you need to make sure you give enough time to ensure that the blood has time to return back to your muscles so that they are pumped and ready for action! Choose foods that are easy to digest, especially if your workout starts in one hour or less.

The meal should not be spicy as this can cause gastrointestinal problems and it should not contain too much fat as this will slow the rate of digestion and your body may not have had enough time to process these foods before the competition (blood is still focused on digesting and not on the muscles).

You want to include a protein as part of your pre-workout meal as this will create a better anabolic response (muscle growth), improved muscle recovery, increased strength, support lean body mass and increase muscle performance (1)

Your pre-nutrition should include some carbohydrates, and this is for both short- and high-intensity exercise. This is because your glycogen stores are your muscles’ main source of energy (2). Carb loading, which involves consuming a high-carb diet for 1–7 days, is a well-known method to maximize glycogen stores. (3) But having carbs in the day of your event will help to have a fuel source ready to go before starting to tap into glycogen stores.

What should I eat after a sports event, game or competition?

During physical activity, energy stores (glycogen) deplete, muscle tissue damage occurs, and fluids and electrolytes get lost through sweat. Therefore, post workout refueling becomes imperative and is probably the most important meal of the day even more so than breakfast!

After a workout or a sporting event the muscle cells have increased capacity to take in and absorb nutrients so this another reason why refueling the body after physical activity is so important.

30 minutes following exercise an athlete remains in a catabolic state this is when the body is breaking down muscle and tissue. The body at this state has low levels of insulin and high levels of cortisol and glucagon. Too offset this catabolic state an athlete should consume a high carbohydrate food and protein within the first 30-60 minutes following their game/event or workout. This is when the body is primed to refuel and replenish itself.

Post workout nutrition is important as this helps to:

  • Decrease muscle protein breakdown
  • Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)
  • Restore glycogen stores
  • Enhance recovery

If you want to get technical you ideally want to be consuming carbohydrate and protein at 1 to 3 ratio this will help to increase glucagon (glucose stores) as well. Some foods that support such a ratio include chocolate milk (which contains 30 grams of carbs and 9 grams of protein) or a breakfast cereal (which can contain approximately 42 grams of carbs and 14 grams of protein).

One thing that often gets overlooked is that any kind of exercise or physical activity creates free radicals, so any post workout or post event meal/food intake needs to contain antioxidants which can easily be found in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The post-workout meal doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it require expensive shakes or supplements. Some great post workouts or post sports game meals include:

  • Scrambled eggs with vegetables and a sweet potato
  • Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and rice
  • Salmon with sweet potato
  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds
  • Cottage cheese and fruits
  • Pita and hummus
  • Whole grain toast and peanut butter
  • Cereal with milk
  • Greek yogurt, berries and granola
  • Protein shake and banana
  • Quinoa bowl with sweet potatoes, berries, and pecans

As mentioned earlier you also want to replace the fluids that you lost through sweat. Ideally an electrolyte drink is a great option. Check out this refreshing home-made electrolyte drink.


Proper nutrition is extremely important in optimizing results and performance, facilitating recovery, increasing muscle mass and reducing risk of injury. Whether it is optimizing your workouts at the gym, or your performance in sports– no matter what you do you need to eat and drink properly! This includes what you eat on a regular basis as well as leading up to the event and especially after the event. What, when and how much will be dependent on what you are doing and how often you are training. But you need make sure that you are fueling the body to help with recovery and repair of muscles and glycogen storages as risk of injury and ability to recovery quickly can easily be compromised if proper nutrition is overlooked.

References —



Cortisol: The Stress Response Hormone that Can Cause Havoc in the Body

Cortisol: The Stress Response Hormone that Can Cause Havoc in the Body

Mental Health Gut Article

Believe it or not, we all need some stress in our lives. Stress is healthy and necessary. It’s when stress becomes significant and chronic that it can wreak havoc on our health. Stress can manifest in many different ways whether it is oversleeping or under sleeping, loss of appetite or overeating – everyone’s stress response can be different.

What happens to our body when we are stressed?

When we are stressed, our adrenal glands produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help launch our “flight-fight response”, which increases our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugars so we are physiologically ready to deal with an imminent threat and can fight or flee. Adrenaline tends to be short lived in the body, but cortisol can stay around for a while. If a person has constant high stress levels then it can lead too excess cortisol, which can contribute to a whole host of health issues.

What is cortisol?

We need cortisol. Cortisol helps your body respond to stress. It has many health benefits when we have appropriate levels in the body. Cortisol helps regulate your blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and keeps your heart and blood vessels functioning normally. It also regulates the way your body converts proteins, carbohydrates and fats in your diet into useable energy.

What happens in the body if we have too much cortisol?

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing – and cortisol is no exception. Cortisol in large amounts can cause the following problems:

  • Excess belly fat
  • Weight gain around the face and upper back
  • Acne/thinning skin
  • Interfere with our ability to think clearly
  • Contribute to muscle breakdown
  • Contribute to blood sugar spikes
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Reduced libido
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Bruising easily
  • Poor wound healing

What causes us to have too much cortisol?

Excess cortisol can often be due to chronic high levels of stress but may also be caused by problems with their adrenal glands. High cortisol can be caused by certain medications such as corticosteroids which are frequently prescribed to treat arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or asthma. (1)

Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can cause cortisol levels to rise. Research of over 3,600 men and women found that alcohol consumption increased cortisol secretion in the body. The increased cortisol levels occur due to the impact alcohol has on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. (2)

Caffeine also increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or people undergoing mental stress. (3)

Poor sleep can also increase cortisol secretion. Research found that individuals that had poor sleep had high evening cortisol levels and the levels decreased slower than the control subjects. These elevations in cortisol levels increase the likelihood of developing diabetes and obesity. (4)

Interestingly enough, poor blood sugar control can increase cortisol as well. When our blood sugars drop, which can be caused by missing meals or eating foods high in sugar and refined grains, our body naturally produces the stress hormone cortisol to help raise our blood sugars back up. So, if you struggle with hypoglycemia or diabetes, balancing blood sugars can really help to reduce your cortisol levels.

What is Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when you have too much cortisol in the body over a long period of time. Signs of Cushing’s syndrome include a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on the skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.

Cushing’s syndrome can be treatable, and affected individual’s can return the body’s cortisol levels to normal and improve symptoms. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chances for recovery.

7 Ways To Reduce Cortisol Levels

  1. Balancing blood sugars – Eat 3 meals a day following the “My Plate” method of ½ a plate of vegetables, ¼ plate of protein and a ¼ plate of starchy carbohydrates such as a baked sweet potato, brown rice, or whole grain pasta. Not only will this help lower cortisol levels but help to support better sleep, mood and energy levels
  2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol – these both stimulate the increase in cortisol. Alcohol is inflammatory to the body and inflammation can fuel many of those stress-like symptoms.
  1. Phosphotidyl Serine has been suggested in some studies to support healthy levels of cortisol, with subjects taking 400 milligrams daily (5). Phosphatidlyl serine can be found in organ meats, soy beans, eggs and white beans.
  2. Modify your exercise routine – Intense exercise places stress on the body and raises cortisol. You may find switching to less stressful exercises such as walking and yoga can lower cortisol levels and lead to weight loss that wasn’t happening when engaged in intense workouts. Also, working out in the morning will raise cortisol levels much higher than evening workouts. That’s because our cortisol is also naturally higher in the morning to help get us going for the day.
  3. Get good sleep – Sleep is when your body goes into repair and recovery mode, balancing hormones and supporting healthy weight management and lean muscle mass. If you experience poor sleep then cortisol will naturally go up and your ability to deal with stress during the day becomes even more difficult.
  4. Laugh – Laughter can have a positive impact on elevated cortisol levels. Research found that laughing more could help reduce stress and keep cortisol levels down. (6)
  5. Stay well hydrated – One study found that levels of hydration can affect cortisol. When the body is dehydrated, cortisol levels increase. (7)


  5. Kingsley M. Effects of phosphatidylserine supplementation on exercising humans. Sports Med. 2006;36(8):657-669. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636080-00003
Can Gut Health Impact Mental Health?

Can Gut Health Impact Mental Health?

Mental Health Gut Article

It may be hard to comprehend that our gut has anything to do with our emotions. But, there is growing research showing that our gut has an instrumental role in managing our mood and supporting our mental health. Now, more than ever, the prevalence of mental health issues and mood disorders have been soaring to all-time highs. This has a huge impact on our ability to function at work, manage a household, puts strain on relationships, and challenges our ability to enjoy what life has to offer.

For many, the first line treatment for mood disorders are a prescription for antidepressant medications. Unfortunately, although some people find antidepressant medications helpful, a growing body of evidence is showing they are often ineffective or provide only minor relief and come with a whole host of side effects. With mood disorders and mental health challenges, as with most aspects of health care, we believe it is really important to address the underlying root cause.

There are a number of contributory factors concerning depression. Among the common factors are trauma, life events and genetics. There are also biophysiological factors that can also heavily influence our mood, and these include:

Why does our gut impact our mood?

Believe it or not, there isn’t one reason, but rather multiple factors that influence our brain chemistry and mood via our gut.

Our gut – and in particular our gut microbiome – can play a role in a wide range of neurological conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, chronic pain, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and of course, depression and anxiety. (15)

There are various nerves that connect from our brain to our gut and these are in constant communication with each other. Plus, we have neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which play a crucial role in regulating mood – and 80% of serotonin is produced by the gut!

How does our gut impact our mood?


  1. Gut-brain connection

Our gut has also been coined “second brain” and that it because it has its own complex nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Our gut contains an estimated 500 million neurons, stretching 9 meters long. No wonder it is referred to as the second brain! There are hundreds of millions of neurons connecting the brain to the enteric nervous system. 

The gut-brain-axis connects the ENS and central nervous system (CNS), allowing your gut to communicate with the brain, and vice versa. So, when our gut is not working properly then our brain can often become negatively impacted as well via a feedback loop in the nervous system.

  1. Good versus bad bacteria in the gut

We all have good and bad bacteria in our gut. What is important is that we keep the bad bacteria in our gut to a minimum and make sure we have plenty of good bacteria that include a variety of different healthy species. In fact, bacteria outnumber human cells in the body 10 to one and they have an instrumental role that these bacteria have in our body.

Research suggests that healthy gut flora may help reduce depression symptoms and that changing the gut microbiome could potentially be a treatment option. (4) One of the reasons for this is that research shows the gut microbiome can influence levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — a chemical messenger — that helps regulate mood and promotes feelings of happiness.

Different types of species can have a role to play too. Researchers found that those with depression showed differences in specific groups of “bad” gut bacteria and that people with higher concentrations of certain other “good” gut bacteria generally reported better mental well-being. (1). People with depression were also seen to more likely have depleted levels of the good bacteria (specifically Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Coprococcus and Dialister) compared with people who reported a higher quality of life and mood.(2,3)

The gut microbiome is so powerful in influencing our body chemistry that it can even affect our response to medications in both the effectiveness and/or side effects of medications used to treat these disorders. So, even if you are taking an antidepressant your response to that medication, either positive or negative, could be as a result of your bacteria in your gut. (5,6)

  1. Digestive Disorders

Another reason why the gut impacts mood can be seen through individuals that have issues with their digestion. Research has found that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had higher levels of depression than people without IBS. (7) One reason goes back to the microbiome imbalances. One study showed that people with depression also had bacteria associated with Crohn’s disease. (2,3)

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are particularly common among patients with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and IBS. Changes in neurotransmitters play a role in the development (or potentiation) of mood disorders seen in patients with SIBO and other GI issues. 

How to Improve Gut Health to Benefit Mood

  1. Follow a Mediterranean diet

A 2018 systematic review concluded that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 33% lower chance of being depressed than people who did not. (8) This is due to the limited intake of processed foods and sugars and the high intake of fish, good fats, nuts/seeds, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables which support gut health and help feed good bacteria.

  1. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high antioxidants that can help manage inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders (9). A recent study found eating four extra portions of fruit and vegetables could boost people’s mental health. The more fruit and vegetable people ate, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with a mental illness. (10)

Dietary fiber, like that contained in fruits and vegetables, supports the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria. One study found the variety of bacteria in the gut microbiome was based on the variety of fruits and vegetables in a person’s diet and that the microbial composition of the gut can be rapidly altered with dietary changes. (11)

  1. Make sure you include berries in your diet each day

Berries are high in anthocyanins and fiber to support healthy gut flora and digestion. They are also a great option if you have sugar cravings and need a healthy alternative. One study associated a diet rich in anthocyanins (such as berries) with a 39% lower risk of depression symptoms (12).

Research also shows that blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries may block the chemicals that cause depression and anxiety (13).

  1. Avoid sugar and processed foods

Sugar and refined grains feed the bad bacteria in our guts which can negatively impact our mood. Research shows that people who ate more unhealthy food were more likely to report psychological distress compared with people who ate a healthy diet. In fact, research showed that eating fried foods or foods contain too much sugar and processed grains is linked to depression. (14)

  1. Eat fermented foods

Fermented foods includes kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha. Fermented foods are filled with good bacteria to help support healthy gut flora. Many beneficial probiotic strains are contained in traditionally fermented foods. Research has shown that these healthy bacteria not only help to produce neurochemicals, but also help the body respond to them as well.


If you are someone that struggles with depression or other mood disorders (and potentially have digestive issues) there could be a number factors that would be beneficial to address – leaky gut, food intolerances/allergies, gut microbiome imbalances such as SIBO, and nutrient deficiencies due to poor absorption.

You may wish to consider seeking support from a health professional. Getting your gut health assessed is best done by a Naturopath doctor who can complete the appropriate testing. Blood lab work, stool analysis, and breath tests for SIBO are just some of the functional tests that can be completed to help get to the root cause of a potential physiological issue that is influencing your mood.


  9. Redzo Mujcic et al. Does eating fruit and vegetables also reduce the longitudinal risk of depression and anxiety? A commentary on ‘Lettuce be happy,’ Social Science & Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.01.004
  11. Journal information: Social Science & Medicine
  13. Keservani RK, Sharma AK, Kesharwani RK. Medicinal Effect of Nutraceutical Fruits for the Cognition and Brain Health. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:3109254. doi:10.1155/2016/3109254


How Nutrition Can Support Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

How Nutrition Can Support Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Mental Health Gut Article

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs as the result of a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident, physical or sexual assault, severe injury, abuse, military combat, and natural disasters, to list some of the most contributing factors. Approximately seven or eight out of every 100 people (7-8%) will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. (1)

PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person but frequently include the persistent reliving of the trauma, avoidance of any place that is a trauma-reminder, trouble sleeping, flash backs, mood changes, feeling on edge, and many others (2). PTSD can be debilitating and impacts an individual’s ability to socialize, work, and engage in day-to-day activities.

Interestingly, women are approximately twice as likely as men to develop PTSD despite the fact that more men than women experience trauma (60% and 51%, respectively) (3).

PTSD is a treatable condition, and many people with PTSD are able to successfully manage their symptoms after receiving effective treatment. However, if left untreated, PTSD can affect relationships and impact daily life making it difficult to work, study, eat, or sleep. It may also lead to suicidal thoughts.

Treatment for PTSD

Counselling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy, along with medications are the go-to approaches for PTSD. Unfortunately, the importance of nutrition is often overlooked as a therapeutic modality.

Diet and lifestyle changes can help manage PTSD symptoms by providing foods that calm the mind (down-regulating the nervous system) and avoiding foods that can over-stimulate the mind (up-regulate the nervous system). Similar nutrition strategies that support that those with depression, anxiety, stress management, and sleep will also generally be supportive for an individual with PTSD.

In this article, we’ll review four strategies that may help support individuals experiencing PTSD.

Top 4 Nutrition & Lifestyle Strategies to Support Individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Lifestyle Strategies for Managing PTSD

There are a number of strategies that can help better manage PTSD. First and foremost, it is important to learn about PTSD to help better understand your symptoms. Meditating, exercising, journaling, and attending a support group can all be helpful.

Additionally, removing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol is also key. Although drinking alcohol might feel that you are numbing the pain of PTSD, it is a depressant, and can fuel depression-like symptoms, which are already common among individuals that have PTSD.

  1. Increase GABA Levels to Manage PTSD Symptoms

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because when GABA attaches to GABA-receptors in the brain, it produces a calming effect. This can help reduce (or inhibit) feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. (4)

In the diet, GABA can only be found in fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh and within green tea. In modern day, most people consume GABA in supplement form. According to a 2006 article, two studies found that participants who took a GABA supplement had increased feelings of relaxation during a stressful event than those who took a placebo or L-theanine, another popular calming supplement. (6)

GABA has been shown to increase when adhering to the popular high fat, low carb, ketogenic diet promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation. (5)

Some beneficial bacteria that have taken up residence in our guts can also increase GABA receptors in the brain. When there are more GABA receptors in the brain, more GABA is being put to good use! This is a positive thing, especially since a decrease in GABA receptors has been associated with mood disorders such as chronic depression. (6) To feed the good bacteria in the gut you need to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid sugar (which will feed the bad bacteria preferentially). Taking a probiotic and consuming fermented food such as sauerkraut can both help to increase the good bacteria in our gut.

  1. Increase Intake Calcium and Magnesium to Reduce PTSD Symptoms

Calcium and magnesium are calming minerals. Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium are known to contribute to anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and feeling stressed and uptight – all symptoms that can commonly be experienced in someone that has PTSD.

Calcium and PTSD

A calcium deficiency can cause irregular moods, heart palpitations, fatigue, anxiety attacks, and depressed thoughts – which are all symptoms that a person can experience when they have PTSD. A calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcaemia, can masquerade as anxiety or exacerbate symptoms in those who already have anxiety. (7)

To increase intake of calcium rich foods, include sources such as dairy products like kefir (which contains probiotics as well), goat or feta cheese, and low-sugar yogurt, dark green vegetables including kale, arugula, spinach, and broccoli, nuts including almonds, and calcium-fortified breads and cereals.

Magnesium and PTSD

A magnesium deficiency can also lead to many symptoms that are consistent with PTSD such as cardiac arrhythmia, muscle tremors, fibrillation, as well as being tense and unable to relax. A lack of magnesium may lead to high blood pressure, startle reactions, hypersensitivity to noise, and repeated tapping of hands and feet. It is important to make sure that you are getting enough magnesium in the diet along with exploring supplementation. If you are going to supplement it is best to choose magnesium bisglycinate as this form is effective for calming the nervous system.

Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate or cacao, nuts and seeds, tofu, legumes, and avocado.

  1. B-Vitamins Support A Healthy Stress-Response

When the body is under prolonged stress is tends to use up certain vitamins and minerals more readily. These tend to include calcium and magnesium (as identified above), vitamin C, and the B vitamins. The B vitamins, which include thiamine, niacin, B12 and folic acid, are often referred to as the ‘stress’ vitamins. There are many symptoms of B vitamin deficiency, and these include tension, irritability, difficulty managing stress, poor concentration, and anxiety – again, all symptoms that an individual with PTSD can experience.

B Vitamins are a crucial part of the process of manufacturing various neurotransmitters in the brain. Vitamin B6 is especially important, because not only is B6 essential for at least 100 enzymes, but it also helps the brain make the key neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and glutamate. These neurotransmitters help a person to feel motivated, happy, calm, and energized.

You may want to explore taking a B-Complex and incorporating foods high in B vitamins such as avocado, pork, plain yoghurt, salmon, chicken, eggs, sunflower seeds, chickpeas and tofu.


PTSD can be debilitating and impact individuals every day lives and ability to function. While it is clear that counselling, medications, and making healthy lifestyle choices are all important aspects of treating PTSD, it’s also essential not to overlook the role of diet.

Consuming foods high in calcium, magnesium, and the B vitamins are beneficial to potentially improve PTSD symptoms. Supplementing to address deficiencies that could exacerbate or compound their PTSD may also be considered. Consuming fermented foods to support healthy gut flora, as well as drinking green tea can help raise GABA levels in the brain to promote a sense of calmness and relaxation.

This is not an exhaustive list of nutrition strategies for PTSD but can be a great starting point in helping to better manage your symptoms. 



  2. Tracy, N. (2021, December 15). PTSD Symptoms and Signs of PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 21 from
  5. Wang ZJ, Bergqvist C, Hunter JV, Jin D, Wang DJ, Wehrli S, Zimmerman RA. In vivo measurement of brain metabolites using two-dimensional double-quantum MR spectroscopy–exploration of GABA levels in a ketogenic diet. Magn Reson Med. 2003;49:615–619.
  7. to cause a reaction in sensitized individuals
Top 4 Nutrition Strategies Aggression and Defiant Behaviors in Children

Top 4 Nutrition Strategies Aggression and Defiant Behaviors in Children

Mental Health Gut Article

In this day in age, the prevalence of behavioral and mood problems in children have come an all-time high.

Numerous factors may contribute to a particular child’s struggles with anger, irritability, or aggression (behavior that can cause harm to oneself or another). One common trigger is frustration when a child cannot get what he or she wants, or is asked to do something that he or she might not feel like doing. For children, anger issues often accompany other neurological or mental health conditions including Autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome. Frequent angry outbursts and aggressive behaviors can interfere with family life, with a child’s ability to make friends, and may negatively impact school performance.

With aggressive and problematic behaviors and outbursts parents can become desperate and may look to physicians for medication to help control these. But by exploring other options such as nutrition, specific diets and supplementation first you may potentially help to avoid the need for medications and the adverse side effects that go along with this. This is not to imply that medications should be avoided as you need to do what’s best for your child, but it is important to explore all avenues and find out what works best.

Below, we review our top 4 nutrition strategies to explore in an attempt to significantly improve – or even resolve – your child’s aggressive or defiant behavior.

#1. Food Allergies, Food Intolerances, and Food Sensitivities

Food reactions, including allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can be a contributory factor to aggressive and defiant behaviors. Although gluten and casein are two commonly discussed food-based triggers (especially with kids on the spectrum), an individual can be reactive to any food.

Blood work is one way to explore food allergies and sensitives, however, a food elimination diet is still considered the gold standard in determining a food reaction.

An important nutritional starting point for any child with Autism or ADD/ADHD is implementing a gluten and dairy-free diet. There must  be 100% compliance with this approach as it only takes a microscopic amounts of gluten or casein to cause a reaction in sensitized individuals.

To reduce feelings of overwhelm some individuals opt to explore eliminating one of the food groups first and then the other. With removal of the dairy protein casein, you can start to see results in behaviors within 1-3 weeks (providing that casein is an issue), and with gluten changes may be seen within 1-3 months (if gluten is an issue). It is important to track behaviors before removal of any foods, during elimination, and after reintroduction (if reintroduction is attempted). Research shows that parents noticed 55% improvements in behavior in their children who are autistic with removing one of the food groups, and 69% improvement with removing both gluten and casein simultaneously.

Another way to help determine if your child has a food intolerance is to identify what your child is addicted to or constantly craves. Children tend to be addicted to the foods that they have food reactions to because it creates an opioid-like response in their brain. With this natural high that they receive with a food addiction a child may tend to have a high pain tolerance level (due to the opioid-like response in the brain dampening pain experiences), inattention and spacey behavior, as well as aggression (to self and others), poor eye contact, as well as mood changes such as anxiety, depression and irritability.

Working with a health professional like a naturopathic doctor or nutritionist can be beneficial to help navigate the identification of potential food allergens, food intolerances, or food sensitivities as well as to assist with the implementation and tracking required during a therapeutic food elimination diet.

#2 Reduce Sugar

Sugar is hidden almost everywhere, disguised under many other names, and can even be found in many savory foods. Ketchup, crackers, pasta sauces, deli meat, and even peanut butter frequently contain large amounts of added sugar, and this is just to name a few. Sugar is significantly linked with aggressive behaviors and can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and moodiness in children (1). In juvenile rehabilitation camps, when children were put on a low sugar diet, there was a whopping 44% drop in antisocial behaviour (2).

When you think of a daily standard western diet for children it can often begin with sugar-loaded cereals (often marketed as “healthy”) for breakfast; lunch meats, crackers, and treats in their school lunches; packaged after-school snacks like granola bars, fruit gummies, or cookies; packaged “kids foods” like chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese for dinner; and then often ending the day with dessert. But, the majority of sugar is often consumed in sweetened beverages such as juice, pop, energy drinks, electrolyte drinks, and chocolate milk.

Not only does sugar consumption led to blood sugar imbalances that can result in negative behaviours, but it also impacts nutrient levels in the body. Sugar upsets many mineral relationships in the body including; causing chromium and copper deficiencies and interfering with absorption of calcium and magnesium, which are key minerals that help to calm the nervous system and reduce the stress and anxiety that may contribute to outbursts. (3)

Be aware of sugar intake in your food products and take the time to read labels. It is recommended that children should limit consumption to a maximum of 25 grams of added sugar per day, which is about the amount in a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and 3 Tbsp of ketchup. It is recommended that children consume no more than 8 oz of sugar-sweetened beverages per week.

For better sugar options check out our article on the best sugars to use.

#3 Low-Phenol Diet

Low Phenol diets are particularly helpful for children that struggle with aggression, defiant behaviors, and mood instability such as irritability, frustration, anger, rage, sadness, anxiety, and inappropriate laughter. Low-phenol diets include removal of foods high in salicylates , glutamate and amines. It’s important to note that foods high in amines are correlated to defiant behaviors and foods high in glutamate have been linked to aggression and rage.

Foods high in amines that could be contributing to defiant behaviors include banana; yellow, aged, or blue cheese; chocolate/cocoa; fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, or soy sauce; bone broths; and meat or aged meat.

Foods high in glutamates that could be contributing to aggression and rage include foods that contain MSG or autolyzed yeast; soy sauce; parmesan cheese; marmite/vegemite; sauerkraut; bone broths, gelatin; and peas, corn and tomatoes.

The Failsafe diet is a diet the focuses on removal of these particular food groups as well as salicylates  that can help support behavior stability and reduced symptoms of aggression, irritability and outbursts. For more information on this specific diet please refer to our article on The Low-Salycilate Diet.

#4 Supplementation

Deficiencies in certain nutrients might also be impacting mood and contributing to aggressive or defiant behaviors.

A Jim Adams study (2001) looked at supplementation in children on the spectrum to determine if, in fact, supplements help to address mood and behaviors. Specifically, parents were surveyed to identify how much children’s symptoms improved during treatment, and the following was identified:

With Magnesium supplementation there was a improvement noted in children’s behavior, Vitamin B6 (30%) but B6 with magnesium was (49%), Calcium 36%, Zinc 54%, Vitamin B12 72%, folic acid 45%, vitamin B3 45%, Vitamin A 44%, Vitamin C 46%, Omega 3 fatty acids 59%, digestive enzymes 62%, and melatonin 66%. (4)

The symptom improvements noted after supplementing for 3 months included not only improving hyperactivity, temper tantrums, social ability and eye contact but also improvements in expressive language, recreational language, play, cognition, and digestion. (4)

John Adams concluded that “The data from this study strongly suggests that oral vitamin/mineral supplementation is beneficial in improving the nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism, and in reducing their symptoms.”


Aggressive or defiant behaviors and frequent temper tantrums in children can be stressful and challenging, and there are a number of underlying reasons why this can be occurring. Often children on the spectrum can struggle with breakdowns in certain biochemical pathways leading to the need to be on a low-phenol diet which looks at eliminating foods high in salicylates, glutamates, and amines. High sugar intake and blood sugars imbalance can be a key place to start as well as exploring potential food reactions. Getting blood work to determine if there are nutrient deficiencies might be another avenue to take.

It is important to explore the underlying cause of the behaviors, which are often multifactorial, but assessing biochemistry and nutrition status is very valuable. Seeking out a Naturopathic doctor and/or nutritionist to explore testing options and therapeutic diets is crucial in knowing what direction to take and ensuring changes are made safely and effectively. If your family would benefit from support relating to aggressive or defiant behaviours, please reach out. We’re here to help!


  1. Jones, T. W., et al. Enhanced Adrenomedullary Response and Increased Susceptibility to Neuroglygopenia: Mechanisms Underlying the Adverse Effect of Sugar Ingestion in Children. Journal of Pediatrics. Feb 1995;126:171-7.
  2. Schoenthaler, S. The Los Angeles Probation Department Diet-Behavior Program: Am Empirical Analysis of Six Institutional Settings. Int J Biosocial Res , 1983 5(2):88-89.
  3. Couzy, F., et al. “Nutritional Implications of the Interaction Minerals,” Progressive Food and Nutrition Science 17;1933:65-87
  4. Adams, J. B., Audhya, T., McDonough-Means, S., Rubin, R. A., Quig, D., Geis, E., & Lee, W. (2011).