Autism and Nutrition: Where To Start?

Autism and Nutrition: Where To Start?

Mental Health Gut Article

It can be overwhelming and challenging having a child on the Autism Spectrum. As parents it can be hard to see your child struggle with communication and behaviour challenges, difficulties socially interacting with their peers, and/or the ability to concentrate and focus in school. 

Meal times can be especially stressful if your child is picky and refuses to eat; sometimes limiting their foods to just a couple of different items. Then you go and see a health professional, and they may recommend you remove certain triggers, thereby  restricting their food intake even more…aaarrgh!!

So, where do you start? 

First, let’s backtrack a bit and explore what causes Autism…

What Causes Autism?

Autism is a neurological condition where body chemistry influences brain chemistry. Diet and nutrition are the building blocks that affect this biochemistry. 

There is not one single cause of autism. In fact, there are quite a number of different reasons that your child may present with the symptoms or behaviours that they do. 

Autistic people have a higher likelihood of having problems with detoxification in relation to environmental pollutants; artificial colourings, flavourings, and other additives in foods (which are so common in a North American diet); and/or a decreased ability to detoxify the body of these. This can be due to a compromised immune system from gut inflammation, food allergies and intolerances, invading gut pathogens, microflora imbalances, or digestive issues such as “leaky gut”. This could also be due to oxidative stress, or differences in certain chemical pathways in the body, such as methylation and sulfation. 

The above potential variance in detoxification and metabolism in people with autism are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to innate biochemical differences that may be present. That is one reason why having a key focus on determining which underlying cause or causes (as often it can be more than one) there are for your child’s symptoms and behaviours.

So, where to begin?

Often, the first step is to determine underlying triggers, which may mean having blood work or other laboratory testing completed by a health professional that is specialized in autism.

Laboratory testing done by an autism specialist, such as an experienced Naturopathic Doctor, can provide valuable information including identifying nutrient deficiencies, food allergies and intolerances, gut issues, microbiome imbalances, immune problems and biological differences with certain biochemical pathways. 

As Nutritionists we can then help create strategies for your day-to-day life, in a hands-on way, that assist in the implementation of recommendations made by your Naturopathic Doctor or Functional Medicine Practitioner after testing. We have experience collaborating with other specialists to support the overall treatment plan required. Of course, we’re happy to offer our food or nutrient specific expertise as well!

What happens after lab tests have identified underlying issue(s)?

There are many potential options that would be evaluated on an individual basis including:

  • Supplement recommendations, as nutrient deficiencies are common due to several factors including poor diets (from being picky eaters) and imbalanced digestive systems affecting the ability to break down and absorb food. 
  • A specialized diet may be recommended for your child. Making dietary changes can promote systemic healing and help improve mood, learning and behaviour. We recognize that dietary changes in itself come with their own set of challenges.

Autism and Special Diets

Gluten and Dairy Free Diets

There is an abundance of diets that have been shown to help children with Autism. The most common and ideal starting point is going gluten and dairy free, as so many children on the spectrum are often sensitive to the proteins gluten and casein. 

In fact, a AIR Survey of parent ratings on treatment success of implementing a gluten and dairy free diet with kids on the spectrum showed that 55% of children experienced improvements on a casein free diet (based on 6950 children), 55% experienced improvements on a wheat free diet (based on 4340 children), and 69% of children experienced improvements on the combined casein and gluten free diet (based on 3593 children). It was also found that children experienced improvements on a casein free diet within a month, and that it took 1-3 months of elimination to see improvements on a gluten free diet. 

Implementing a gluten and dairy free diet can be challenging. But, working with an experienced Nutritionist to help guide you on your child’s journey through these changes can be very helpful. 

Why are gluten and casein so harmful for children with autism?

As mentioned above many children have problems with gluten and casein due to food sensitivities (IgG, IgM, IgA) or food allergies (IgE). They may lack the DPP-IV enzyme (the enzymes that helps to breakdown gluten and casein in the body) or lack digestive abilities to break down the gluten and casein proteins and absorb them. Unfortunately, these proteins can create an opioid-like response in the brain, similar to a drug addiction. If your child craves breads and dairy it may be part of that opioid-like response, where their addiction is so strong they refuse to eat other food groups, resulting in being a very picky eater. 

Gluten can create gastrointestinal inflammation and damage to the intestines resulting in “leaky gut” (or intestinal permeability, if you want to get fancy). Enzymes are diminished and nutrients are not absorbed properly leading to nutrient deficiencies which will affect mood, behaviour and cognition. This process leads to systemic inflammation, which taxes the immune system, and may result in autoimmune responses. Gluten issues and inflammation can cause depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms.

It is important to understand that if you implement a gluten-free, casein-free (GF, CF) diet that a child may experience a worsening of symptoms initially, due to the opioid-like withdrawal effect of removing these foods (proteins) from the diet, before they experience improvement.

Food Addictions & Autism

As mentioned above, one of the reasons why so many autistic people are picky eaters is because of food addiction. When the individual gets a “high” from a problematic food (which has shown to be similar to morphine), it can be so strong that they refuse to eat other foods and food groups. This is one reason why you may notice kids on the spectrum gravitating to food such as cheese and bread, but it could be anything. 

Symptoms and signs of a food addiction include:

  • Addicted and crave certain foods to the point that they can have temper tantrums if they don’t get it
  • High pain tolerance
  • Inattention and spacey behaviour
  • Aggression (to self and others)
  • Stimming
  • Mood changes
  • Poor eye contact
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Anxiety, depression and irritability 

Other Special Autism Diets

Although the GF,CF diet is a great starting point, there are many more diets that have been proven to be effective with improving day-to-day life and the health of kids on the spectrum. Based on laboratory test results you might be asked to explore one of the following diets or a combination of them including: 

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), GAPS Diet, low FODMAP diet, low phenols diet, low oxalate diet, low salicylate diet, ketogenic diet, paleo diet, low carbohydrate diet, candida diet, Failsafe diet, Feingold diet, Body Ecology diet, or a diet to support methylation and sulfation.

Do special diets for autism really work?

It is important to understand the goal of the diet, how to begin, and then progress from there with implementation of the special diet to help ensure the effectiveness of it. And although it might seem intimidating and overwhelming, it can be worth it! 

Based on surveys of parents with children on the spectrum that have implemented a special diet, they have reported the following improvements:

  • Gastrointestinal problems relieved
  • Diarrhea & constipation lessens/resolves
  • Improved language skills and learning
  • Greater focus and attention
  • Reduced hyperactivity
  • Improved eye contact
  • More appropriate behaviour
  • Aggressive behaviour and tantrums improve
  • Better sleeping
  • Easier toilet training
  • Skin rashes or eczema clear up
  • General health & happiness has improved

How to implement a special diet?

We highly recommend being supported by a qualified dietitian or nutritionist with specific experience addressing autism. It is likely they will work together with a Naturopathic Doctor to complete laboratory testing. Having someone to guide the foods to have and avoid in a way that is practical for your family is key. Having someone to turn to for recipes and ideas that are kid friendly, as well as strategies on how to introduce new foods, especially if your child is a picky eater is very important. Having a professional to work with will help take out the guesswork and stress off you to enable a successful outcome for your child. 

Remember you don’t have to do it alone. We know how challenging and overwhelming dietary and lifestyle change can be. But, it’s worth it!

The SuperPowers of the Superfood Jicama

The SuperPowers of the Superfood Jicama

Mental Health Gut Article

What is Jicama?

The Jicama looks similar to a potato. It is a bulbous root vegetable with golden-brown skin and starchy white flesh. Jicama is much healthier and has far fewer carbohydrates than your average potato, however.

The jicama plant grows mainly in Mexico and Central America, but can also be grown in the Philippines and many other regions of Asia. 

The white interior flesh of a jicama is juicy and crunchy, with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. Some say it tastes like an apple, but not as sweet. Others think of the flavour as a cross between a potato and a pear.

Nutritional Value of Jicama

One cup (130 grams) of jicama contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 49
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0.1 gram
  • Fiber: 6.4 grams
  • Vitamin C: 44% of the RDI
  • Folate: 4% of the RDI
  • Iron: 4% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 6% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 4% of the RDI

Jicama is gaining popularity within western cultures, and there’s good reason for that! 

Below we share  8 health and nutrition benefits of jicama:

1. Jicama Promotes Good Digestion

One cup (130 grams) of jicama contains 6.4 grams of fiber, which can help you meet your daily fiber needs (1). This is the equivalent of 17% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for fiber for men and 23% of the RDI for women. Dietary fiber helps increase the bulk of stool, allowing food and waste to move more efficiently through your digestive tract (2).

Moreover, icama contains a specific type of fiber called inulin. Studies show that inulin can increase the frequency of bowel movements by up to 31% in those with constipation (3).

2. Jicama Supports Healthy Gut Bacteria

As noted above, jicama is a dense source of a soluble fiber. When this soluble fiber is consumed, it results in something known as a “stagnant carbohydrate”. In the case of jicama, this “stagnant carbohydrate” is the oligofructose inulin that was mentioned above. What’s unique about “stagnant carbohydrates” is that they are not broken down to  sugar while passing through the human digestive system.. These carbohydrates are then able to ferment in the lower digestive system, feeding good bacteria such as bifidobacteria, and aiding in the growth of their probiotic colonies. Over 75 percent of our immune system in the gut. So, by helping  promote healthy gut bacteria growth, and balancing the flora in the digestive system, jicama can support overall health and immunity function.

3. Jicama Can Help Balance Blood Pressure

Jicama contains potassium, a mineral known as a vasodilator, which lowers the pressure in the circulatory system. The high potassium levels in jicama act as an electrolyte promoting hydration and fluid/sodium balance, which in turn may help keep blood pressure at a healthy level.

4. Jicama Is Loaded With Antioxidants

Antioxidants are vital to combat free radical damage within the body. In short, free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons that bounce around the body and can “steal” electrons from cells, resulting in molecular damage. Free radical damage is implicated in a variety of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cognitive decline. 

One cup of jicama provides 40%  of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of the antioxidant vitamin C. It also contains the antioxidants vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene (2). 

5. Jicama Is Rich In Water

Jicama is 85% water. Foods with a high water content can help you meet your daily fluid needs (4). Because jicama is also dense in minerals, which act as electrolytes, it further promotes hydration and fluid balance in the body. Similar to watermelon or cucumber, you can use it to help you stay hydrated, especially when it’s hot outside. 

6. Jicama May Promote Blood Sugar Balance

Jicama is an ideal food for people with diabetes because it does not break down into simple sugars during digestion. If you have diabetes or blood sugar problems, jicama is a safe snack or side dish. So although jicama may have all of the comforting starchy flavour and feel of a potato, and it does contain carbohydrates; unlike potatoes the carbohydrates in jicama have a low glycemic load, which means the carbohydrates don’t affect your blood sugar very much. (5,6)

7. Jicama and Weight Loss

As explained above, this root vegetable is low in calories and high in fiber and water, making it a weight loss-friendly food. Jicama has been found to help regulate metabolic processes, and promote the balance  of hormones.

Unlike many other root veggies, jicama is also keto-friendly! It’s also a natural source of nitrates, which have been shown to amp up your body’s natural ability to burn fat faster. (7) 

8. Jicama Can Strengthen Bones

The inulin produced during the digestion of jicama allows the body to absorb minerals more efficiently. Oligofructose inulin keeps bones healthy by slowing the rate at which you lose bone density while enabling the absorption of calcium and other minerals. Calcium is one of the more difficult-to-absorb minerals, so help boost your absorption by including jicama in your meals or snacks a couple times during the week! 

Jicama Risks

Jicama is a delicious, inexpensive, low calorie, and low-fat food that is high in fiber, water, and minerals.  BUT only the white flesh of the root vegetable is safe to eat. Jicama’s skin, stem, leaves, and seeds are poisonous.

How To Eat Jicama

Traditionally, jicama is eaten raw in slices with salt, lemon or lime juice, and chilli powder sprinkled on top. 

You can also:

  • Pickle jicama
  • Grate it into a slaw with cabbage, carrots, apple and/or onion
  • Use it in place of (or along with) carrots as a crunchy salad topping 
  • Serve it on veggie platters slices like cucumber or celery
  • Add it to stews, soups, or stir-fries
  • Boil and mash it like potatoes
  • Cut into thin strips, coat with oil, and bake or fry it

 

References:

1 https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2727/2#ixzz377hOonGG

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544045/

3 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25208775/

4 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21737769/

5 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26175995/

6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26798198/

7 https://www.firstforwomen.com/posts/diet/how-to-increase-nitric-oxide-weight-loss-165737

Comparing Current Common Diets

Comparing Current Common Diets

Mental Health Gut Article

There are so many diets out there, that it can be completely overwhelming. You can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or use social media without being subjected to advertising or discussions about the latest diet craze. It is hard to know where to start, and what the right diet is for you.

So, we are here to provide some guidance and insight to some of the current common diets. The 4 diets we are exploring today:

  1. Mediterranean Diet
  2. Vegetarian
  3. “Flexitarian” Diet
  4. “Paleo”

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most researched diets in the world, as it has been around for centuries. In short, the Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional foods eaten in Mediterranean regions such as Italy and Greece. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be the “best overall diet” by US News & World Report and many others in the nutrition and health world. Plus, the Mediterranean Diet is known to be beneficial for heart health and diabetes, plus it’s super easy to follow!

What Is The Mediterranean Diet

A traditional Mediterranean Diet is rich in plant-based foods including fruits,

vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and moderate amounts of red wine (yes, wine!); as well as plenty of good quality fats, with the main dietary fat being extra virgin olive oil; as well as fish, poultry, fresh dairy, and eggs. Red meat is used sparingly, and on a traditional Mediterranean Diet there is avoidance of added sugars, refined grains and oils, and other highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean Diet is flexible, simple to follow, and delicious! Plus, individuals typically feel satisfied and satiated thanks to the high-fibre content of the various plant-foods and goods fats being consumed.

Pros

  • Nutritionally sound/well researched
  • Diverse foods and flavours
  • Promotes heart health
  • Better diabetes prevention and management
  • Mental health benefits
  • Weight management
  • Reduced inflammatory markers
  • Cancer prevention
  • Environmentally friendly

Cons

  • Some foods are costly
  • Additional guidance may be necessary for certain conditions
  • Some dietary restrictions may be challenging
  • Concerns with it including alcohol intake
  • May fall short on some nutrients
  • No specific guidelines to follow
  • Can be time consuming

Specific Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

As a result of the high fibre intake from whole foods, and the avoidance of refined sugars and grains, the Mediterranean Diet can help prevent blood sugar fluctuations and may improve cholesterol levels (1).

The Mediterranean Diet can also positively affect physical and mental well-being. It is associated with decreased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (2,3,4,5).

Multiple studies have determined that the Mediterranean Diet can assist with weight loss, help prevent heart attacks and strokes, reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and decreases premature death (6). One long term study showed that the risk of combined heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease was 31% lower and appeared to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 52% (6).

What We Think?

The societal movement back to more traditional diets is a positive dietary trend. The Mediterranean Diet offers loose guidelines for overall healthy eating that the average person consuming a standard Western diet would benefit from, especially if care is given to moderate alcohol intake.

Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarian Diets have been followed for centuries, maybe millennia, in regions the world over – from Israel to India. In modern day, it’s a common misconception vegetarians are generally healthy, but this sometimes is not the case. A healthy vegetarian will focus on whole foods, but nowadays there are many vegetarians that will fill up on refined grains and sugars, which in combination with the avoidance of meat and seafood, puts individuals at high risk of nutrient deficiencies.

What Is A Vegetarian Diet?

While following a Vegetarian Diet, individuals avoid meat products. However, there are several versions of vegetarian diets:

  • lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products
  • lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs
  • ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products

Ideally focussed on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fresh dairy, eggs, legumes, lentils and whole grains. Vegetarians need to take special care to ensure they are consuming adequate vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians.

Pros

  • Possible reduced risk of disease
  • May boost longevity
  • May increase food variety
  • Improved weight control compared to a standard Western diet
  • Reduced food costs
  • Less environmental impact
  • Ethical treatment of animals

Cons

  • Possible nutrient deficiencies
  • Fewer food choices
  • Reduced satiety
  • Less convenient
  • Not always healthy
  • Difficult if eating out or dining at others homes

Specific Health Benefits of the Vegetarian Diet

There is ample research on the vegetarian diet. In a large cohort study evaluating vegetarian diets, researchers found that the group experienced a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cardio-metabolic risk factors, and some cancers (7).

Vegetarians may be up to one-third less likely to die or be hospitalized for heart disease (8) and had half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with non-vegetarians (9).

Osteoporosis rates are also lower in countries where people eat mostly vegetarian diets (10).

Several studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those who do not (11). A review of studies including over 1,100 participants determined those consuming a vegetarian diet for 18 weeks lost 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than participants who weren’t (12). However, there are many other diets that provide even more effective weight loss and weight management, so vegetarianism may not be the optimal weight loss diet.

What We Think?

Vegetarianism, done well, can be a therapeutic diet for those addressing cardiovascular conditions or some forms of cancer. Additionally, for individuals particularly concerned with their environmental impact and/or the ethical treatment of animals, the vegetarian diet addresses many of those concerns without the elevated risk of nutritional deficiencies associated with a vegan diet (where eggs and dairy products are avoided in addition to meat and seafood).

The “Flexitarian” Diet

The diet was developed by nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner. She believes that eating a vegetarian diet is healthiest, but recognizes that giving up meat isn’t something everyone is willing to do. Plus, it enables individuals to get some of those key nutrients found in meat such as B12 and iron. She designed a balance that keeps meat in the diet but consumed at a reduced amount and consists of healthy foods to help lose and maintain a healthy weight.

What Is The “Flexitarian” Diet?

The Flexitarian Diet is a meal plan focuses on a vegetarian based diet with consumption of some meat and fish on occasion. Flexitarians limit processed foods and eat more whole foods.

Pros

  • Emphasizes nutritious foods
  • Easy to accommodate personal preferences or needs
  • Budget-friendly and sustainable
  • Supports weight loss
  • May reduce risk of diabetes

Cons

  • May be difficult for daily meat-eaters to follow
  • Potentially low iron intake
  • Additional guidance may be necessary for those with diabetes

Specific Health Benefits of the “Flexitarian” Diet

Since “Flexitarian” diets are relatively new, there limited evidence addressing it specifically, but it is expected to offer many of the same benefits as a vegetarian diet while offsetting some of the negatives with adhering strictly to vegetarianism or veganism.

What We Think?

There are no specific rules to follow on a “Flexitarian” Diet, making it an appealing option for many individuals and allowing the space to tap in to what your body is feeling day-to-day or week-to-week and adjusting accordingly. A “Flexitarian” Diet can easily be tailored to suit your own nutritional needs and health goals, which we love.

“Paleo”

The “Paleo” Diet also referred to as the Paleolithic Diet, Stone Age diet, hunter-gatherer diet and caveman diet has become increasingly popular over the past decade. It is based on eating the way our early ancestors did.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The basic Paleo Diet consists of whole foods including: animals (meat, fish, reptiles, insects, etc.) with a focus on “nose to tail” eating consuming almost all parts of the animals, including organs, bone marrow, and cartilage; animal products such as eggs or honey; vegetables and fruits; and nuts and seeds that can be eaten raw. While following the Paleo Diet foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago are avoided including: dairy products, legumes, grains and, of course, processed foods.

 Specific Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet

There are many health benefits to following a Paleo Diet. In 2017, when researchers compared people whose diets most closely matched the attributes of a Paleo Diet to those whose diets least matched, they found a lower risk of all cause mortality, cancer  mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality in those that followed the Paleo Diet (13).

Research has shown that participants that followed the diet had improved body composition. One study, in which participants followed the diet for just 3 weeks lost an average of 5lbs per person, as well as experiencing slight reductions in their waist circumference and systolic blood pressure (14).

There is emerging research on possible benefits for patients with MS, and other autoimmune conditions.

Pros

  • Rich in nutrient-dense foods
  • Helps some people lose weight
  • May promote heart health
  • Linked to longevity
  • Avoids many common food allergens/triggers

Cons

  • Eliminates entire food groups
  • Unclear impact on gut health
  • Small risk of iodine deficiency
  • Costly and time-intensive
  • Difficult to follow long term

In Summary

Bottom line, everyone’s biochemistry is different. The ideal diet for one person might not necessary be the best approach for the next. It really is true that there is no one diet out there that fits everyone.

Your health goals are, what disease or health conditions that you are struggling with, along with your individual genetics and biochemistry – all must be considered together to determine what dietary strategy is best for you.

We would love to help you on your health journey by creating an effective dietary plan that fits for your goals and lifestyle! To find out what is the best approach for you, please reach out to us at Koru Nutrition or book with us today!

 

References

1.Mediterranean diet adherence is related to reduced probability of prodromal Parkinson’s disease (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

2. Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan (2019, mayoclinic.org)

3. Role of Mediterranean diet on the prevention of Alzheimer disease (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

4. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health (2019, ahajournals.org)

5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-studies-on-the-mediterranean-diet

6. Le, L., Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients, 6(6), 2131–2147. doi:10.3390/nu6062131

7. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/97/3/597/4571519

8. https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes

9. https://www.pcrm.org/veganstarterkit

10. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/maintain-weight-loss#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26138004/

12. Whalen KA, Judd S, McCullough ML, Flanders WD, Hartman TJ, Bostick RM. Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults. J Nutr. 2017;147(4):612–620. doi:10.3945/jn.116.241919

13. Osterdahl M, et al. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Trusted Source European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008.

 

Top 10 Foods To Reduce Anxiety

Top 10 Foods To Reduce Anxiety

Mental Health Gut Article

Current polls suggest that as many as 4 in 10 Canadians are experiencing anxiety. The mental and emotional toll anxiety can take on a person can be significant, and the physical symptoms that can come from having anxiety can also be uncomfortable and unpleasant – headaches, nausea, chest pain or shortness of breath, restlessness and insomnia, fatigue, and poor immune function are just some of the physical manifestations of anxiety. In short, many Canadians are suffering.

Thankfully, as we covered in a recent blog post, there are simple dietary and lifestyle habits that can be implemented to help reduce anxiety. In this blog post, we’ll be exploring our Top 10 Foods to potentially help you get some relief from your anxiety symptoms.

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most economical food sources of Vitamin D3, the sunshine vitamin. Optimizing Vitamin D has been shown to be effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety (1). Plus, they are protein-packed, which can help promote balanced blood sugar levels, which in turn promotes a more even mood. If you’ve ever been “hangry”, then you’ve experiences some of the mood instability that can occur with poorly managed blood sugar levels. Consuming adequate amounts of protein-rich foods such as eggs, is one step toward controlling blood sugar levels.

Eggs also contain an important amino acid, tryptophan, used to make serotonin in the body. Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, memory and behaviour. And as if all that wasn’t enough, eggs also offer a large dose of choline, an essential nutrient that supports brain and nervous system function, including mood and memory.

Boiled eggs are an easy food to keep on hand to slice and toss on a salad, or just peel and eat for a snack when you don’t feel like cooking. Boiled eggs can be stored in the fridge, for 7 days in the fridge, so make a batch for the week and this will be a great grab and go snack. You can also use eggs in baked goods, frittatas or quiches, omelettes and more!

Salmon

Studies have shown that salmon consumption three times per week can significantly decrease anxiety. (2) Salmon is not only delicious and another good source of vitamin D, it’s also full of healthy, brain-building omega-3 fats! Consuming adequate amounts of EPA and DHA may also promote your brain’s ability to adapt to changes, allowing a person to better handle stressors that can trigger anxiety symptoms. (3) Salmon also contains Vitamin B12 which helps convert amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into neurotransmitters that send messages within our brain and nervous system and help regulate many functions including mood.

If you are not a big fan of consuming fish, take an omega-3 supplement. Researchers found that people who took high doses of omega-3s (up to 2,000 mg a day) seemed to have the most reduction in anxiety symptoms. (4)

Salmon is enjoyable baked, fried, or barbequed! Plus, we have several sources of recipe inspiration to get you cooking up more salmon, including Salmon Avocado Toast, Smoked Salmon Egg Cups, and Salmon Chowder.

Spinach

Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables can improve feelings of wellbeing in as little as 2 weeks! (5) In one study, participants who were given three extra servings of fruits and vegetables per day for just two weeks felt improvements in their vitality and motivation, although the study authors note that longer-term intervention is necessary to impact anxiety levels. Focussing on consuming a variety of nutrient dense plant foods is a cornerstone of solid nutrition that, in turn, supports our body and mind.

Spinach is high in dietary fibre, which, along with protein and healthy fats, assists in balancing blood sugar levels. Generally speaking, with more stable blood sugar levels come more stable moods. (6) Spinach is also rich in B-vitamins, which are known to support nervous system functioning, brain health, and boost energy levels.

While spinach is a great option… don’t forget about other leafy greens such as kale, beet greens, Swiss chard, bok choy, cabbage, and collards. These leafy green vegetables have many of the same nutritional benefits!

Turmeric

Curcumin, the bioactive compound found in the culinary spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. In studies, curcumin has been shown to be as effective at reducing anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms as leading SSRI prescription medications. (7) It is believed that curcumin may help boost serotonin and dopamine, two of our “feel good” neurotransmitters.

Turmeric is well-know for it’s distinct flavour in curries, like our Coconut Chicken Curry and Zoodles, whereas, the extract curcumin, is available in many supplement forms.

Jicama

Jicama is a low calorie tuber, native to Mexico and Central America. It has all the comforting feeling of other starches (like potatoes), but without spiking blood sugar levels, which as you’ll recall from above helps maintain a more even mood!

Jicama also contains inulin, a fibre that supports gut health by feeding the good bacteria in our intestinal tract. Our gut and brain are intricately connected via a pathway dubbed the “gut-brain axis”. When attempting to reduce anxiety symptoms, it is imperative to strengthen gut health as an unhealthy gastrointestinal system can be a cause of anxiety. (8)

If jicama isn’t available in your area, other healthy, slow-digesting carbohydrate options include sweet potatoes, winter squashes, beets and turnips.

Sardines

For many of you, including sardines in your diet may mean trying something new! Like other oily fish, sardines contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. You brain is made of approximately one third Omega-3 fats. So, to keep your brain functioning well, consuming Omega-3s is critical! In addition to omega-3s, sardines contain Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and the antioxidant mineral selenium. Studies show the lower the levels of selenium in the diet, the higher the reports of fatigue and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. (9)

Making a paté is an easy and tasty way to introduce yourself to sardines!

If you aren’t interested in sardines, other oily fish include mackerel, herring, and Arctic char.

Cashews

In addition to containing a blood sugar balancing combination of proteins, fats, and fibre; cashews also contain an important amino acid called typtophan. Tryptophan is used within our body to create the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps boost mood in folks with both depression and anxiety.

Most nuts have brain-boosting omega-3 fats and antioxidant vitamin E. Anxiety is believed to be correlated with overall lower levels of antioxidants. (10) The vitamin E in cashews and other nuts, is the most abundant fat-soluable antioxidant in the human bodies, so optimizing our intake of this vitamin may improve our overall antioxidant status, and therefore reduce anxiety levels.

Cashews are a great snack option, because you can just grab them and go! Cashew butter is delicious as a fruit or vegetable dip, as the base of creamy sauces or salad dressings, and in granola or these Crunchy Yogurt Clusters. If you don’t love cashews, you could reach for almonds, pecans or walnuts instead!

Sauerkraut

We’ve written in more depth about the connection between gut health and mood, here and here. But for the purposes of this blog post, suffice it to say, probiotics and the fermented foods that provide them, are key to the health of our digestive system – which is where we manufacture 95% of our serotonin! You may recall from above that serotonin is the neurotransmitter believed to regulate anxiety, happiness and mood, among other things.

If sauerkraut isn’t your favourite, other naturally fermented foods such as pickles, pickled carrots or beets, kimchi, and yogurt also boast probiotic benefits. We recommend trying to include some type of fermented food daily. A scoop of sauerkraut with dinner, some kefir in a smoothie, maybe a tablespoon of kimchi on your salad, or some pickle juice in a salad dressing; a little goes a long way to building a diverse microbiome, a happy gut, and a balanced mood!

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a tasty way to add some crunch to your day, even if you are nut free. These little green gems, also known as pepitas, are a rich source of protein and the minerals potassium and zinc. Zinc modulates nearly countless neurological actions in the brain, and zinc deficiency is associated with many brain disorders, ranging from anxiety to Alzheimer’s. (11)

One study noted, that raising levels of zinc in the body helped to raise GABA levels. And because GABA is primarily known as a calming neurotransmitter, increasing GABA levels in turn reduced anxiety levels (12).

Chocolate

You have likely heard of theobromine. It’s the part of chocolate that is toxic to dogs, but in humans it acts as a vasodilator, relaxing smooth muscles and enhancing blood flow to the brain. Less well known is anandamide, the “bliss chemical” which, when consumed, produces a feeling of euphoria. And perhaps even more obscure, Phenylethylamine (PEA) known as the “love chemical”. PEA increases signals to the nervous system that increase the release of endorphins, promoting alertness and focus while elevating mood and boosting memory.

In one study, individuals who consumed 74% dark chocolate twice daily for two weeks had improved levels of stress hormones commonly associated with anxiety, such as catecholamines and cortisol. (13) Eating dark chocolate has also been shown to increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is our happy neurotransmitter and this may help reduce the stress that leads to anxiety (14, 15)

We bet we won’t have to do much convincing for you to include a little dark chocolate in your day! In recent years, chocolate avocado pudding has been popular. But, in case you need an extra little nudge, we’ve got you covered with some awesome chocolatey recipes like this Hot Chocolate Elixir, Chocolate Cauliflower Shake, JuicePlus Chocolate Bark, Pistachio Pomegranate Bark, or Black Bean Brownies.

Anxiety During A Pandemic: What Can We Do?

Anxiety During A Pandemic: What Can We Do?

Mental Health Gut Article

Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) policy advice in July 2020 reported that COVID-19 is having a negative impact on Canadians’ mental health, with many seeing their stress levels double since the onset of the pandemic. (1) People are struggling with fear and uncertainty about their own health and their loved ones’ health, concerns about employment and finances, and the social isolation that comes from public health measures such as quarantining and physical distancing. (2) A recent poll found that 50% of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began with many feeling worried (44%) and anxious (41%). (3)

Although our individual circumstances are unique, these are stressful times for everyone and it is important to recognize when you or your family member maybe experiencing feelings or symptoms of anxiety.

What Are The Symptoms of Anxiety?

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea or frequent need to urinate
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light headedness and dizziness
  • Tremors or twitches
  • Excess sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Decreased libido
  • Impaired immune function

If you or your family member have ticked off many of the symptoms above, it would be wise to check in with your primary care practitioner. Additionally, below we’ve outlined some strategies that you can incorporate into your diet and lifestyle to help manage and reduce your experience with anxiety.

Diet and Lifestyle Strategies To Reduce Anxiety

  1. Balance blood sugar levels.

We are all living through unprecedented times; a pandemic and lockdown. People are out of regular routines and stretched for time with trying to work, manage a household, and – if you’re a parent – homeschooling, all while everyone is confined to their home.

When you are stressed or anxious your body naturally produces the stress hormone cortisol. However, excess cortisol can wreak havoc in the body if you are producing high amounts over a prolonged time period. High cortisol can lead to numerous health problems, which are compounded even further if you have unbalanced blood sugar levels.

Blood sugar imbalance is an extremely common issue for so many people who consume standard western diet. With the stress of a lockdown, and the impact of cortisol, blood sugar imbalance can become even more of an issue.

Skipping meals, consuming processed foods, sugars and refined grains, ordering fast food, and consuming caffeine or energy drinks can all contribute to a rollercoaster ride with blood sugar highs and lows. Unstable blood sugar levels can have a negative impact, not just on our physical health, but on our mental health as well.

When blood sugars drop (hypoglycemia), you can experience a multitude of symptoms similar to the ones described above, including insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, irritability, weakness, anxiety, depression, aggression, blurred vision, headaches, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, and frequent urination.

The problem is, after consuming processed or refined foods and sugars or consuming caffeine, blood sugar levels will rise steeply and then drop. When blood sugars drop too far too fast, your body naturally produces that stress hormone cortisol to help raise blood sugars back up into a health range. Starting the blood sugar rollercoaster cycle all over again.

For most people, cortisol also increases cravings and appetite – adding further issues to eating habits and blood sugar imbalances. Plus, cortisol has also been shown to interfere with the production of neurotransmitters to help you feel calm and relaxed. We need those feel-good neurotransmitters right now!

How To Balance Blood Sugar Levels:

  • Eat within one hour upon waking to avoid a blood sugar drop
  • Consume 3 meals (and 1-2 snacks if needed) during the day
  • Each meal needs to include a healthy fat, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, beans/legumes, and starchy vegetables)
  • Avoid all sugar and refined grains which will spike blood sugars
  • Avoid stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeine and pop
  • Don’t go long periods of time between eating
  1. Consume Foods High In Calcium And Magnesium

Calcium and magnesium help to relax the mind, as well as calm the nerves and muscles. A person with a magnesium deficiency can show signs of nausea, muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, cravings for chocolate, insomnia, restlessness and muscle weakness as well as anxiety. A calcium deficiency can cause a person to experience joint pain, nervousness, irritability, anxiety, sensitivity to noise, heart palpitations, insomnia and muscle cramps.

Unfortunately, when your body is under stress it uses up vitamins and minerals more quickly including calcium and magnesium, along with B-vitamins and Vitamin C.

Sugar, refined carbohydrates, coffee and alcohol, salt and vinegar all interfere with calcium absorption and should be limited.

To help increase your intake of magnesium it’s beneficial to consume foods such as black beans, Swiss chard, spinach, avocados, pumpkin seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa. Whereas incorporating broccoli, almonds, kale, salmon, or sardines can help boost your calcium intake. 

  1. Support A Healthy Gut

Growing research has been showing the gut microbiome plays a role in a wide range of neurological conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, chronic pain, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease as well as depression and anxiety (4).

Research has also found that “good” gut bacteria can have a marked effect on GABA levels in the brain (a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating anxiety, digestion, sleep and relaxation), which can reduce anxiety and elevate mood (5). So supporting healthy gut function can play an important role in supporting your mental health.

Dietary fiber supports the growth of positive intestinal bacteria that are critical to maintain proper digestion. One study found the diversity 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. This is great news!

To help support your mental health through optimizing your gut microbiome, consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as other high fiber foods such as milled flax seeds, legumes, and whole grains. There are plenty of benefits to fermented foods such as kefir (dairy or non-dairy), sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi, and some folks choose to incorporate a probiotic into a supplementation program to boost good gut bacteria even further.

The other option to support a relaxed and clam state of mind is supplementing with GABA. Research shows that GABA helps to calm the mind and promote a sense of relaxation.

For more info on the gut-mood connection, check out our article.

  1. Exercise

Working out helps to release endorphins, which are “feel good chemicals” that act as a natural pain relievers, boost mood, burn off our stress hormones, help maintain a healthy weight, enable better sleep and help to stabilize mood and reduce anxiety. Exercise can also help to reduce fatigue, anger and tension associated with anxiety.

Although there might seem to be huge barriers to exercise – with gyms closed, kids at home, ski hills closed, and so on – there are a ton of great options for workout routines that you can do at home, even with kids! There are Avenger workouts, Pokemon yoga, dancing workouts, or indoor runs on the Wii! Although it might not be the typical exercise that you’re used to, it is a way to keep you (and your kids!) active.

Go out for family walks, nature hikes, sledding, skating, snow shoeing, or cross-country skiing. Plus, there are a plethora of apps and online workouts at your fingertips!

Our best advice is to create a schedule to establish consistency with exercise. Maybe getting up earlier to have some quiet time to exercise while everyone is sleeping could be the ideal workout time for you, or maybe you feel most energized after dinner. Whatever works for your life right now – just be sure to squeeze in some time to move your body! Your mind will thank you!

In Summary

If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or high stress – we would love to assist you in rebalancing mood through diet and lifestyle changes. Balancing blood sugar levels, increasing your intake of calcium and magnesium, supporting gut health, and committing to exercise are great places to start!

Plus you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram for more tips, or book an appointment today for one-on-one support!

References

  1. MHCC, 2020a
  2. MHCC, 2020a;Morneau Shepell, 2020; Pfefferbaum & North, 2020; Vigo, Patten & Pajer, 2020
  3. Angus Reid Institute, 2020
  4. Mayer EA, et al. 2014
  5. American Society for Microbiology, 2012

 

 

 

Understanding Morning Sickness and Food Cravings

Understanding Morning Sickness and Food Cravings

Mental Health Gut Article

Two of the most commonly reported pregnancy symptoms are “morning sickness” (nausea and vomiting) and food cravings. Below, we offer some tips to support you through your pregnancy and reduce these symptoms!

Morning Sickness

Approximately 50-90 percent of women experience nausea and vomiting in their pregnancy, and 5 percent of women have the same symptoms throughout the entire pregnancy, per The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Unfortunately, science hasn’t proven the exact cause of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. However, the elevated pregnancy hormone, BHCG, and estrogen may be a contributing factor, in addition to unbalanced blood sugars. (Mayo clinic)

We have some tips for you in surviving nausea and vomiting in pregnancy:

  • Eat several small meals a day, and don’t skip breakfast. Many women need to have a few rice crackers before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • Avoid triggers. If the smell of chicken makes you nauseous, avoid the smell when possible.
  • Don’t lie down after eating.
  • An empty stomach can contribute to nausea so try to eat regularly. Plan small snacks throughout your day to avoid long periods of time without eating.
  • Avoid spicy and fatty foods such as pizza, french fries and burgers.
  • Consider using anti-nausea wristbands. These bands are placed on your wrist to trigger pressure points that may alleviate nausea.
  • Use ginger, nature’s anti-nausea remedy. There are many options including ginger , ginger candies or ginger tea. Use ginger candies sparingly as the do contain sugar.
  • Increase your intake of vitamin B6, which can be found in foods such as spinach, bell peppers, garlic, tuna and cauliflower has been shown to help decrease nausea.
  • Change the time of day you take your prenatal vitamins. Take your prenatal vitamins in the morning, afternoon or night.
  • Try to get plenty of rest.
  • To combat nausea, try reaching for cold foods—hot bites are more likely to have an aroma that triggers your gag reflex.
  • Keep lemons on hand. Sniff them, squeeze them in drinking water or even lick slices—the refreshing smell and taste can calm your stomach when morning sickness hits. Lemon and other citrus essential oils can have a similar effect.

Cravings

No one really knows why pregnancy cravings occur, though there are theories that it may be related to nutrient needs in the mother or baby and the craving is the body’s way of asking for what it needs. For example, craving fries can actually mean the person might be needing sodium, craving ice cream could be the need for increased calcium or fat, and craving chocolate might indicate a need for magnesium.

Our taste buds do actually play a role in how we interpret our body’s needs. Studies show that the high hormone levels present during pregnancy can alter both a woman’s sense of taste and smell. So, certain foods and odours can, not only be more enticing, but in some cases more offensive; a problem that often plays out as a pregnancy food aversion.

While some pregnancy cravings can certainly seem a bit odd, in most instances, they don’t represent any real threat to mother or the baby. This, however, can change dramatically, when the craving is for a non-food item. The condition, known as pica, can lead to an overwhelming desire to consume any number of substances, some of which can be extremely harmful to both mother and baby. During pregnancy a woman can crave – and eat – things like dirt, laundry starch, crayons, ground-up clay pots, or ice scraped from the freezer. While pica (eating non-nutritive substances) is not well understood, sometimes these cravings represent a nutritional deficiency, particularly a need for iron, there are no studies to prove this is always the case. Among the most dangerous aspects of pica is the consumption of lead, particularly when women eat dirt or clay. This can lead to infant and child developmental problems with low verbal IQ scores, impaired hearing, and delayed motor skill development. Other research has shown an increased risk of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders in infant exposure to lead before birth (Webmed).

It is important if you do have cravings to think about the food that you are craving and what nutrients it may have that you could be needing. With this information, you can make a plan to switch out what typically might be an unhealthy craving to something that is more nutritious, and feed your body with the nutrients it requires. For example, if you are craving ice cream you might be needing calcium and fat, so you could switch out your sugar-loaded ice cream with organic full-fat Greek yoghurt with frozen berries. The latter is much better for you and your baby as it offers more nutrients, less sugar, and can help maintaining balanced blood sugar levels and a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

In Summary

We don’t have all the answers as to why nausea, vomiting and food cravings are so common during pregnancy. But, we there are many available strategies to help manage and resolve these symptoms.

If you need help navigating these, or any other pregnancy symptoms, or just want to optimize your nutrition during pregnancy – book an appointment with Koru Nutrition today!

References:

1. Wilson RD, et al. (2015). Pre-conception folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the primary and secondary prevention of neural tube defects and other folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 324. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada37(6): 534–549. http://sogc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/gui324CPG1505E.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.