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.






Staff Changes at Alongside You

First, A Sad Goodbye

katie huston registered dietitian

It is with a heavy heart we bid farewell to Katie Huston, our Registered Dietitian. Katie has been with us from the get go, and has been an excellent member of our team here at Alongside You. We’re excited for her as she continues her work as the Manager of Food Services at St. Paul’s Hospital and starting her Masters degree at the University of British Columbia. We know she’ll do well and we wish her all the best as she takes on these new challenges! She will be sorely missed around Alongside You HQ.

I Know You Say Goodbye, I Say…Pause

kristin beare occupational therapist

You may have noticed that Kristin hasn’t been around the office much since June. We’re missing her while she’s on maternity leave, but happy to announce the birth of her first child, Owen! We’re not sure how long she’ll be away, but we are excited for her and her family and look forward to her return sometime next year!

Hello From The Other Side


It is with great pleasure I get to announce that we’ve hired another Occupational Therapist who has joined the team and is a great fit! Wendy Meades is an Occupational Therapist with over 20 years of experience, and also a visual artist. To say we’re excited at the possibilities would be a grave understatement! To give you an idea of the services she offers, check out this list:

  • Fine motor skills enhancement
  • Improving printing skills
  • Sensory issues for kids
  • Self care skills
  • Wheelchair/Equipment needs assessments
  • Home/building consultations to make spaces more accessible
  • Ergonomics assessments

This list is not exhaustive, so if you have questions about how she can help, please give her a call at (604) 283-7827 ext. 3, or through our contact page!

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!

Food Cravings – 3 ways to beat them!

food cravings craving change alongside you ladner tsawwassen

Food Cravings got you down? 3 Ways to Jumpstart a Happy and Healthy 2016!

Are you feeling guilty about overindulging in rich food and beverages over the holiday season? Perhaps you have a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, get in shape, or just eat “healthier.” If this sounds like you, then you are not alone! As a Registered Dietitian I work with clients on these types of goals all year long, but I definitely notice an increase in these goals during the months of January and February!

While there is nothing wrong with using the New Year as motivation to improve your health, I have a few words of advice (and caution) to share when trying to change your behaviour around food cravings:


    1. Ditch the “all or nothing” thinking.This is the main reason I am wary about using the New Year as a fresh start and motivator to lead a healthier life. We tend to try to do things perfectly, so when we set New Year’s resolutions, we aim big! Have you set goals like eliminating “junk food” entirely or going to the gym every single day? When we aim for perfection, we set ourselves up for failure. Imagine setting a goal of achieving 100% on your math test and then being upset when you get 95%….that is all or nothing thinking. Instead of aiming to eat perfectly healthy all of the time, try to follow the 80/20 rule. Stick to your healthy eating habits 80% of the time and allow a treat, guilt-free, 20% of the time. Food cravings happen to everybody, and often, feeling guilty leads to eating more treats, and then putting off healthy eating goals until the next day, week, or even next year until we can be perfect. It is a viscous cycle. Allow treats, don’t let yourself feel deprived, and don’t beat yourself up! If you have a cookie, that’s ok, just enjoy the cookie and move on. Maybe add five or ten minutes to your walk tomorrow. If you feel guilty and decide to wait until you can be perfect, one or two cookies may turn into ten.


    1. Set realistic goals that are action oriented.If you have a goal to lose weight, translate that into what action you are going to take to lose weight. Maybe you will go for a walk three times per week and aim to eat out at restaurants no more than two times per week. Perhaps you may aim to have veggies at both lunch and dinner and a fruit at breakfast. See how specific these goals are? Food cravings are usually specific, our goals should be too!


  1. Aim low and go slow.It is much easier to achieve them when you know exactly what you are going to do. Be specific, and start with a goal that you are at least 70% sure that you can achieve. Remember you can always set another goal once you achieve the first one. Perhaps once you are regularly walking three days per week you could set a new goal to aim for four days per week. If we set goals that are unrealistic and we don’t meet them, we feel discouraged. If we set small realistic goals that we can achieve and build on, we feel motivated. Sounds simple I know, but try it!


I find that when it comes to improving our eating habits, it often comes down to strategies like these. It is not just about knowing exactly WHAT to eat (or in the case of food cravings, what not to eat). These are also lifelong skills that we can use in many aspects of our lives besides healthy eating and exercise.

Starting January 13, 2016 I am running a workshop called Craving Change that is all about exploring the reasons WHY we eat and developing strategies and eating habits to cope with food cravings that come from reasons other than hunger such as stress, boredom or emotions. If this workshop interests you, contact me for more details or you can register online right now. Let’s start a happy and healthy new year together!

– Katie Huston, RD