Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health

Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health

If you can take good care of your body, you will be in a much better state to deal with any mental health issues. As a kid, my family always told me what kind of food I should eat to keep healthy. Mental health is obviously highly linked to your brain health, so it only makes sense that eating good, nourishing, nutritious food is good for your overall mental health.

You might often hear from fitness professionals that the secret of getting into shape is actually 70% diet and 30% exercise. Similarly (but not statistically), eating mindfully and having a balanced, nutritious diet does wonders for your mental health. These healthy practices not only benefit your physical health and body, they help your brain! Now, we can’t expect any kind of diet or eating specific kinds of food will miraculously cure mental illnesses. It won’t. But perhaps we can help our brain along with its recovery process by giving it the nutrients it needs.

There are a number of chemicals that affect your mood and brain health. Let us take a look!



Dopamine plays a big role in the reward-motivated behaviours of human beings. It gives us the feel-good factor to spur us on so that we can achieve bigger and better things in our lives. Eggs and Spirulina both contain tyrosine, which synthesizes dopamine. Fish contains Omega-3, which is often linked to the production of dopamine.


Endorphines are essentially a painkiller. They minimize the perception of pain in our mind. This is what keeps us going during a grueling, painful workout, or a late night of study and work. This will be music to the ears for those who are chocolate lovers: cocoa contains phenethylamine. It is believed that phenethylamine boosts endorphines. However, moderation is key – I’m a chocoholic with the best of them, but this isn’t a license to eat as much chocolate as we want!


Serotonin creates the feeling of pride and loyalty, amongst other things. This chemical creates a sense of belonging with others. A lack of serotonin is also linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood related issues. One of the food options that may help is eggs, which contain tryptophan. Tryptophan synthesizes serotonin and may encourage your brain to produce more of it!


Oxytocin in the brain creates the sense of trust, intimacy, and the feeling that someone will protect and take care of you. It promotes the feeling of safety. In fact, sometimes oxytocin is called the “love hormone.” Basically, eating any food may stimulate the release of oxytocin, which can be a double edged sword! Eating promotes oxytocin, but sometimes we might eat too much when chasing the feeling – again, moderation is key!


Glutamate acts as a neurotransmitter and encourages many brain activities. However, too much glutamate may lead to anxiety. Both plant and animal proteins contain glutamic acid. Our bodies are also capable of creating glutamic acid, so you don’t have to worry too much about choosing food that contains glutamate specifically.

gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)

GABA inhibits brain activities. A balance of GABA and Glutamate must be maintained for optimal brain health. Fermented foods, such as Kimchi, contain plenty of GABA. The popular Chinese tea, Pu-Erh, also contains bioactive GABA.


Norepinephrine is the chemical responsible for the fight or flight mechanism in human beings. Too much of this chemical can make you feel sleepy and tired. Too little norepinephrine can lead to symptoms of anxiety. Foods rich in protein stimulate the production of this chemical and may help keep a healthy balance.


By Andrew Neufeld, BA, MC, RCC, Birkman Consultant

If you would like to learn more about the connection between food and mental health, please contact your registered dietitian. Your counsellor and dietitian can also work together as your team of family health advisors – they can come alongside you to create the most optimal health plan for you and your family. If you have any questions, please call 604-283-7827 and reach Andrew Neufeld at extension 701 or Annie Tsang at extension 712.






The Anti-inflammatory Diet

The Anti-inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is a natural process that protects the body from an injury or exposure to a harmful substance. We all have experienced it – bruises that we see on our skin or dry blood formation from a cut. These types of inflammation are usually short term or also known as acute. When inflammation becomes chronic, lasting from weeks to years, it can lead to diseases that affect our immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), to name a few. People with chronic inflammation are also at greater risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer.

Why do people end up with chronic inflammation? There can be many contributing factors, including poor nutrition, stress, a bacterial or viral infection, aging, and long-term exposure to environmental toxins. While not all factors can be avoided, we can always work on how we eat, exercise, and manage our stress and sleep, in order to support a healthy immune system.

Let’s talk about how we can eat to boost our immune system! I call it the ‘Anti-Inflammatory diet’ but this really isn’t a diet that people usually refer to.  This diet is not about following a meal plan; it is about incorporating foods that contain potent nutrients that help reduce our body’s inflammation processes. Omega-3 fatty acids and phytonutrients (nutrients that are mainly found in plant sources) have been well recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies and rainbow trout, contain excellent sources of omega-3s. Ground flax seeds also contain good amounts of this fatty acid. You can easily sprinkle ground flaxseeds onto your salads or blend them with a smoothie. Supplement forms of omega-3s are not necessary if you consume enough through your diet. Only 2 servings (75 ounces each or size of a deck of playing cards per serving) of fatty fish a week can provide plenty of omega-3s to your diet!

As for phytonutrients, they actually contribute to the colours of vegetables and fruits that we see. Based on the Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, try to aim for 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits combined every day. Choose your fruits and vegetables in different colours every week, in order to ensure that you get the full spectrums of phytonutrients. Don’t like vegetables? Try adding them to casserole dishes or soups. Keep a bag or two frozen vegetables in your freezer as they are just as nutritious as the fresh ones.

Getting enough important nutrients into our body can be really simple – all we need is food! No matter what your goals are, whether that be adding a new vegetable every week or getting one more hour of sleep each day, just remember moderation is the key! Everyone likes to indulge a little. As long as we are eating healthy most of the time and making sure that we get enough varieties, we should not feel guilty about the dessert we want on the weekends. Happy eating!


If you would like more direct support, we are here to help. Alongside You can help you meeting your nutritional needs and achieve your health and nutrition goals. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 604-283-7827 ext. 712!

Annie Tsang, Registered Dietitian

Meal Planning Made Easy! – April 4, 2016

meal planning


Meal Planning Made Easy! – April 2016

Date: April 4, 2016

Time: 7:00pm-8:30pm

Location: Ladner Baptist Church – 5624 Ladner Trunk Road, Ladner, BC

Meal planning can be made easy! Join our Registered Dietitian, Katie Huston and gain hands-on experience in the kitchen to improve your skills, confidence, creativity and inspiration in the kitchen and learn the art of meal planning!

Lack of time (especially during the work week) and getting bored of the same old meals are two reasons that some of us struggle with planning healthy meals for the week. Katie will help you learn some basics of healthy meal planning skills and then put it to practice and make a meal to enjoy, plus a few meals to take home to have during the week.

If you have any questions about the class prior to purchasing, please contact Katie Huston, RD at 604-283-7827 or katie@alongsideyou.ca.

**Please note, we need a minimum of 8 participants to run the class. We reserve the right to cancel classes due to lack of attendance, and will provide a full refund if this is necessary. We will attempt to give as much notice as possible.**



Nutrition Month News

nutrition month

Nutrition Month

An Introduction by Katie Huston, RD

Did you know that March is Nutrition Month? Every March, Registered Dietitians across Canada promote healthy eating during a fun, themed campaign to help Canadians make healthy food choices. This year’s theme is taking a “100 meal journey” and making small changes, one meal at a time. The Dietitians of Canada have organized a national nutrition month for many years and we are excited to be a part of it this year at Alongside You! Making changes in our eating habits and nutrition can be a challenge, and we’re hoping that this month we can help make it a little easier for you. What’s one of the biggest pitfalls of making changes?

Too often when we try to make changes, whether its changes to our eating habits or exercise routines, or something entirely different, we tend to set goals that are too high and ultimately unrealistic. If we set smaller more attainable goals and aim to make easier, smaller changes, these changes are more likely to stick! Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that some of the changes we want to make are too easy, too simple, or not signifiant. This is completely untrue! While it may take a little longer than you might want, smaller changes are much easier to make and are much more likely to happen and stay for the long haul. Think about it, any positive change that you make won’t be as beneficial to your health if you can’t stick with it!

This March at Alongside You we are celebrating Nutrition Month by sharing an inspirational tip and photo every day to give you some ideas of what these small, achievable changes towards healthier eating habits could look like.  Whether you want new healthy recipe ideas, help and guidance with portion sizes, or want to make healthier choices at restaurants, there is something for everyone this Nutrition Month.  This March, join us and take the pledge to take a 100 meal journey and let’s see where it leads us!

Catch our tips on our Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram, and follow us so you get all the updates and so we can share our successes!