Be Well

Eating Greens Can Improve Your Mental Health

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”

If you are what you eat, I only want the good stuff”, you may have heard this sassy dialogue from Remy the little rat in the Disney Pixar blockbuster ‘Ratatouille’. Sassy yes, but truly a life lesson to remember! Nutrients from the foods we eat provide the foundation of the structure, function, and wholeness of every little cell in our body, from the skin and hair to the muscles, bones, digestive and immune systems. We may not feel it, but we’re constantly repairing, healing, and rebuilding our bodies, through what we consume.

The father of medicine Hippocrates has been quoted, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Since time immemorial, food is considered medicine because common health problems can be prevented or alleviated with a healthy diet.

On my recent visit to the Philippines, I read about a popular folk song called “Bahay Kubo” – which literally translates to ‘square house’. The short and sweet song references how important locally grown vegetables like turnips, eggplant, string bean, and white squash are to their lifestyle. The elders knew that vegetables, and especially greens, provide important dietary fibre in the body, which affects your physical as well as mental health. Surely, they knew better and hence consumed ample greens and fresh produce in their daily diet.

The role of Serotonin

The fibre we get from green vegetables transforms into a metabolite that helps produce serotonin in the body. Why is serotonin important, you’d ask. Serotonin is a chemical that carries messages between brain cells and the body. It plays a key role in digestion, sleep, mood regulation, bone health, wound healing, and more. If your serotonin levels are out of balance, it can lead to physical and psychological health problems.

The good news is that we can manage this through diet, as 98% of serotonin is produced in the gut, which makes eating metabolite-producing vegetables an important part of self-care.

Foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps increase serotonin production, include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, and peas. While meats such as turkey also contain the amino acid, the body can have a relatively hard time converting it to serotonin. A clean diet includes meals that are made from natural, organic (free of chemicals and artificial agents), and nutrient-rich food. Aside from using natural, organic, and nutrient-rich food in meals, a low-fat, low-salt and easily digestible cooking technique is also must be employed to supply optimum nutrition.

Here is a list of recommended vegetables from the team at The Farm at San Benito - and the corresponding areas of mental health they address:

Sprouts — mushrooms, mung bean sprouts, bamboo shoots

-          Strengthens the liver and gall bladder 

   -          Gives a boost when you feel sluggish, restless, angry, frustrated, or resentful

Leafy vegetables — sweet potato leaves, water spinach

-          Good for the heart and small intestines 

   -          Calms you when overly excited, tense, restless

Fruit vegetables — bitter gourd, squashes

-          Keeps your pancreas, spleen, and stomach healthy  

   -          Helps when you feel extra sensitive or emotional, or when you have strong cravings for a sweet taste

Beans/Seed vegetables —string bean, hyacinth bean, lima bean, and peanuts

-          Strengthens your lungs and large intestines 

   -          Grounds you when you feel depressed, nostalgic, lethargic, indecisive

Root crops — garlic, onions, ginger, beetroot

-          Reinforces your kidneys and reproductive organs 

   -          Helps when you feel worried, overwhelmed, confused, scared, or hesitant and crave a salty flavour.

Get in those greens

Knowing all these health benefits, isn’t it time we consciously bring some greens into our daily diet? Research shows that cost, limited availability and access, and not enough time to prepare or cook them are among the reasons why many of us don’t meet our greens. And it is a well-noted fact that it's not just children but many adults too, who struggle with their daily greens. So here are

These strategies can help us in bringing in veggies regularly to our diet:

1.    Making them more interesting by adding a little bit of cream, butter, or cheese will convert even the most veggie-phobic family member.

2.    Prepping your veggies in advance can save you a lot of time; for eg you can cut broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, slice tomatoes, and tear lettuce; these can be stored in airtight containers and kept in your fridge.

3.    Learn the art of hiding greens in comfort-food dishes such as lasagna, vegetable pulao, or an omelet.

4.    Add them to smoothies, and this way you can actually say you had spinach for breakfast! Throw in cacao nibs or almond butter for taste and it will be a wholesome meal in itself

5.    Almost any time you crave starchy carbs in your meals, you can swap them for a healthy veggie. Cauliflower rice is a more nutrient-rich alternative to white or brown rice and tastes delicious. Try zucchini noodles instead of spaghetti noodles, and make your own swaps as you go along!

It may not be easy at first, but remember that life is all about balance. If you have binged today, detox with green juices the next day and your body will thank you. Follow an 80/20 principle where you are allowed to ‘cheat’ 20% of the time. Once you know how to master this cycle, you will have a deeper understanding of your body, mind, and emotions. As Sufi philosopher, Dr Umar Faruq says, “If you can control what you eat and drink, you can control everything else.”

Green Juice:

Raw or “living” food is food that is fresh or minimally cooked at below 40ºC to retain all its enzymes, nutritional content, and alkalinity. Juice fasting includes vegetable juices that are made from vegetables, herbs, grasses, sprouts, fruit, and a variety of herbs that are packed full of vitamins, minerals, cleansing agents, electrolytes, and fibre.

The green colouring of the plant contains magnesium.  Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and a light-bearing molecule that then somehow allows for mental clarity.  This as well as the other ingredients helps purify the blood which also contributes to mental clarity.

Green Juice Recipe:
Courtesy Chef Marie, The Farm at San Benito
Makes 1 glass

100 g lettuce

300 g cucumber

½ green apple

½ stalk celery

A spoonful of sprouts (optional)

Blend together and enjoy fresh.