Change Your Carbs to Boost Mental Health

Did you know carbohydrates are found predominantly in plant foods?

  • leafy greens
  • vegetables
  • tubers (root vegetables)
  • legumes
  • fruits
  • grains

These are the carbs humans ate for tens of thousands of years.

Refined carbs – pasta, bread, processed foods, even ground grains (flour) – are a relatively recent food development.

Consuming refined carbohydrates is linked to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to physical and mental ill-health.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”right” source_author=”Leslie Korn, MD” source_title=”Nutritional Essentials for Mental Health” full_quote=”Chronic low-level inflammation contributes to depression and cognitive decline.” ” short_quote=”Chronic low-level inflammation contributes to depression “]

By choosing carbohydrates from nature instead of refined human-made carbohydrates, you will

  • reduce inflammation
  • give your body and your brain more essential micronutrients
  • consume fewer calories

Combine those plant carbs with protein and good fats from nature for stable energy, help your body absorb vital minerals and vitamins, and produce neurotransmitters- chemical messengers in your body. They enable your brain to provide a variety of functions.

Additional benefits:

Stable blood sugar
Blood sugar regulation is your body’s priority for stable energy and for optimal brain function.
Refined carbs cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. This can deplete important neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry signals between neuron). Erratic blood sugar can also lead to degeneration of the brain.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”David Perlmutter, MD” source_title=”Brain Maker” full_quote=”Surges in blood sugar have direct negative effects on the brain, effects that cause more inflammation. Blood sugar increases lead to a depletion of important neurotransmitters, including serotonin, epinephrine, GABA, and dopamine. Materials needed to make these neurotransmitters, such as B vitamins, also get used up. High blood sugar also causes magnesium levels to dwindle, impairing your nervous system. More important, high blood sugar sparks a biological process whereby sugar molecules bind to proteins and certain fats that contribute to the degeneration of the brain and its functioning.” short_quote=”Surges in blood sugar have direct negative effects on the brain”]

These foods are rich in fiber. Fiber slows down glucose absorption and controls the rate of digestion. This helps stabilize your blood sugar.
Your microbiome (the trillions of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract) influences your mental health. Fiber-rich plant foods feeds the good gut bacteria. A healthy gut is linked to a healthy brain.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Drew Ramsey” source_title=”Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety” full_quote=”When it comes to depression and anxiety, the microbiome matters – and matter greatly. By improving the microbiome, we may have another way to fight mental health issues. Maintaining a healthy mood is having g a lot of different types of good bugs hanging out in your GI tract. Most serotonin neurotransmitters that help regulate mood and learning are in the gut, not the brain. There is a lot of information zooming back and forth between the gut and the brain that helps keep us healthy, and scientists are only beginning to understand all the ways that the microbiome can affect brain functions through the gut-brain axis. What’s become utterly clear is that a healthy gut is a prerequisite for a healthy brain” short_quote=”By improving the microbiome, we may have another way to fight mental health issues”]

Rainbow phytochemicals
Phytochemicals are powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and DNA-enhancing compounds in plants. Every color represents a different family of plant compounds.

Your brain consumes twenty percent of everything you eat. By choosing plant foods as your carbs, you are getting essential micronutrients to produce and support each element of your brain, especially critical neurotransmitters. You will be better able to prevent and manage mood and anxiety disorders.

What to Do?
Instead of worrying about carbohydrates calories, aim for greens and rainbow plant foods to be make up the main part of your meals. There are so many ways to eat the rainbow¡

Have fun exploring and find the way that works best for you.

Here are a some delicious, nutritious options:

Quinoa Tabbuleh

Grain Pilafs – mix different grains like brown rice and quinoa, add herbs and veggies, and/or chopped nuts

4 Delicious, Nutritious Potato Salads

Roasted sheet pan veggies like Roasted Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts



Seeds of this Blog

Does food affect our brain? How does what we eat affect our health? Those questions are the seeds that have grown the content of colormyfood. They’re the cornerstone of my eating lifestyle and why I cook the way I do.

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008. This disease causes the brain to stop producing dopamine (a neurotransmitter) that helps regulate movement and ultimately affects common daily activities.

After going through shock, denial and grief, I launched into an all-out effort to learn about Parkinson’s, its prognosis and treatment. My dad is my friend and mentor. His life is the stuff books are written about and movies are made of — fighting the Communists at the height of the Cold War when Cuba sent Che Guevara into Bolivia to overthrow the government and use our country as the base for the Communist take over of all of Latin America. My childhood was interspersed with dad going into hiding because there was a price on his head for planning revolution, a brief exile, a bomb thrown at our house until finally after tremendous sacrifice, the tide turned and in 1979 my dad became an architect of Bolivia’s democracy. He served as Congressman, Senator and Ambassador in his passion for building a better country. But that’s a different story.

Back to Parkinson’s; we found a world-renowned Parkinson’s expert in Houston and for the next 7 years, my dad followed Dr. X’s prescriptions of continuously increased dosage. Every checkup, I asked if nutrition mattered. The doctor’s only diet recommendation was to reduce animal protein because it interferes with the absorption of Parkinson’s medications.

My blind faith in the world-renowned expert eroded as I witnessed my athletic, handsome father’s brisk walk convert to a shuffling gait, his hands freeze and handicap his ability to use his beloved camera or the computer so instrumental to his prolific writing. Reaching beyond “what the doctor said”, we sought additional alternatives: consistent exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture, and yes — food.

The more I researched, the more I kicked myself for not doing so earlier. Obviously diet has a direct impact on our health. Duh. But what I didn’t know is how much diet can impact the health of our brain.

I wish I knew in 2008 what I now know. Would it have made a difference in the progression of my father’s disease? I’ll never know. But I do believe what I’ve learned can help slow further progression. I have faith it will help my brain’s health. And I’m keenly motivated to share what I’ve learned with hope it may help others.

I’ve chewed through more books than I can recall, spent innumerous hours on the Internet seeking and digesting credible information and made endless notes.

Now I’m streamlining what I’ve learned into weekly blog posts on food and health.

Join me on this empowering discovery of food as a path to wellness. Jump in with your own experiences and lessons learned, with your questions or comments.

And on colormyfood you’ll also find recipes to incorporate knowledge into what you eat.

Next week’s blog post will be on food and brain health.

For Further Empowerment

Dr. Hyman: 7 Steps to a Super Brain

Dr. Amen: 10 Steps to Brain Healthy Eating

Dr. Greger: Treating Parkinsons with Diet

Plant-based diets in general, and certain plant foods in particular, may be used to successfully treat Parkinson’s disease.

The Healthy Mind Cookbook

More than a cookbook of colorful, flavor-bursting recipes, this wonderful resource show us how nutritional and culinary science can help us to live healthier.