Today’s interview is with Tyema Sanchez who is a wellness coach and plant-based advocate. I wanted to interview Tyema because I have long been interested in the connection between our diet and our mental health. I am a fairly healthy eater, but like us all I fall short sometimes and am inconsistent in my diet. Because of this inconsistency I notice a difference in myself in relation to how and what I am eating. When I am eating a healthier diet, I feel great, I have more energy, I am better able to focus, I am motivated to complete task, and my mood is over all increased. While the opposite is true when I am eating unhealthily. When I am eating unhealthily, I am lethargic, my mood is low, I lack motivation, and I am not performing at optimal level. I know that one of the most important things that I must do for my mental health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is so much research out now that supports the saying that we have all heard as a child, we are what we eat. My goal as a mental health professional is to increase the conversation about diet and mental health because I feel that this is something that is overlooked. As with any change start small and do what feels right and comfortable for you. Your health is your wealth.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live” – Jim Rohn
A disclaimer before we start, the information today might be overwhelming but living a healthy lifestyle is a marathon not a sprint and one of the key components to success is moderation.
What does the research and literature say about the connection between diet and mental health?
Today, childhood mental illness affects more than 17 million kids in the U.S. Recent studies have shown the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher quality, whole-food diet. Let me break down a Western diet vs a whole-food diet. Western diets mostly consist of processed and sugary food while whole-food diets consist of plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Examples are whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is a protective factor while an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. Research is finding that a nutritious diet is not simply good for the body; it is great for the brain as well. I would like to discuss some ways diet affects your mental health.
- It is crucial for brain development.
We all have heard the term “We are what we eat!” When we eat real food that nourishes us, the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body. Which puts the brain into grow mode. Certain nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc, boosts levels of this substance. On the other hand, a diet high in a saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on the brain proteins.
2. It fills the gut with healthy bacteria.
Trillions of good bacteria live in the gut. They fend off bad germs and keep your immune system in check, which means they help tame inflammation in the body. Some gut germs even help make brain-powering B vitamins. Food with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help maintain a healthy gut environment, or biome. A healthier microbiome is going to decrease inflammation, which affects mood and cognition. A high-fat or high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and, therefore, your brain.
Why do we feel tired after we eat unhealthy and heavy food?
Although, all food is digested in the same manner, not all food affects your body in the same way. Some food can make you sleepier than others. In fact, the food we eat should give us our energy. If you primarily eat food that offers little nutritional value, you will most likely begin to feel sleepy after eating. Foods that do little for your energy levels are typically high in saturated fats, sugar, and salt. A spike in our blood sugar levels from eating can also make us feel fatigued. Most processed food fall into these two categories. Your body breaks down and absorbs these foods quickly, causing your digestive system to work hard for a short period of time, which leads to fatigue. Food providing good nutritional value take longer for your body to break down and absorb, thereby giving you energy for more extended periods.
Are there any foods that help to increase production of the feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin?
Another disclaimer, I am a plant-based advocate so when I make suggestions I will lean more towards plant-based food, but as a wellness coach, I do try to meet people where they are in their journey. The internet will say that yogurt, eggs, and meat with low-fat content are food that help release those good hormones, but my suggestions would be beans, almonds, and pineapples. I know we are discussing food but again as a wellness coach, I have to mention exercising is the best way to increase those feel good hormones.
Are there any foods that we absolutely should not eat?
Food with Gluten, which are bread, pasta, pizza, rice, and cereal. Gluten provides no essential nutrients; it helps food maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. People with celiac disease have an immune reaction, which is triggered by eating gluten. They develop inflammation and damage their intestinal tracts and other parts of the body when they eat food containing gluten. My second suggestion is mucus-producing food which are dairy, alcohol, sugar, soy products and red meat. I know at this point you are thinking “What can I eat?” but If it is difficult to remove these foods, I suggest eating them in moderation.
If you had to pick only one healthy food choice that you would recommend people eat everyday what would it be and why?
Fruits and vegetables, the reason I cannot say just one food is because all fruits and vegetables give our bodies different nutrients. That is the mistake people make when they eat the same food every day. Eating a variety of food from the five major food groups provide a range of different nutrients to the body, which promotes good health and can help reduce the risk of disease – as well as keeping your diet interesting with different flavors and textures!
Please provide some tips on how to ease into a healthier lifestyle.
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
- 80/20 rule – Your plate should be 80% of fruits, vegetables, greens or legumes and 20% meat, pasta, dairy or fish. The 80% are the foods that help flush the toxins of the 20% out your body.
- Substitute snacks with fruit/nuts
Tyema can be contacted with the information below.
Tyema Sanchez, Founder of The Healthy Pledge
Plant-based advocate, Wellness Coach and Yogi
Social Media – IG: @Thehpledge, Facebook Fan Page: The Healthy Pledge, Twitter: @thehpledge