Considered the “father of modern medicine,” the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates advised, “Let food be thy medicine.” Before we had medicine, humans collected foods–often berries, bark and herbs–and made teas, poultices and potions to build strength and restore health. (And it was a piece of moldy bread that led to the discovery of penicillin.)
Our mood states are part of overall health, and their influence on the body’s functioning–the ability to fight off infection, to regenerate cells, to recuperate from illness and accidents–is profound. Nutritious food, carefully prepared and mindfully eaten, could be our natural Prozac.
Anxiety and stress
Stress-related complaints–sleep disorders, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and heart disease, among others–are the No. 1 reason Americans visit doctors. Foods high in iron and B vitamins, such as avocados, whole grains and soy, help the body replenish what stress depletes.
Western medicine attributes depression to a disruption in the flow of certain brain chemicals (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine), which can be brought on by an event, genetic factors or some combination of the two.
Many Eastern medicinal traditions say depression is centered in the liver, which influences digestive and general health. Eating liver-supportive foods such as onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables and herbs such as turmeric and dandelion can help keep the liver functioning well. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate antidepressive brain chemicals, can naturally improve mood.
During a period of grief, people can experience wide-ranging effects, from sleeplessness to oversleeping, lack of appetite to overeating, depression to intense agitation. Eating healthy comfort foods and high-quality proteins such as lean meats and soy products helps ensure physical health when you’re grieving.
This light, fresh dish packs a nutritional wallop. Flax seeds and tempeh are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce symptoms of depression, among many other health benefits. Blueberries teem with antioxidants, and their fruity acid tones balance the tempeh’s earthiness.
A filling vegetarian meal with bright summer flavors, this comforting tofu sandwich is loaded with stress-fighting B vitamins. The healthy fat in avocado combined with the gentle taste of orange makes a healthy substitute for mayo. The vitamin C in the tomato and avocado enhances the body’s absorption of the iron in the tofu.
Few foods are more comforting than ice cream. Try this healthy nondairy alternative packed with magnesium and potassium. It’s inexpensive and a cinch to make.
Leslie McGrath Taylor is a Connecticut-based poet and holistic health counselor who helps people improve their health through lifestyle change and nutrition. Her first poetry collection, Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage (Main Street Rag Publishing), will be published this year.