Let food be thy medicine

“Let food be thy medicine” — Hippocrates, c400BC

Nutritional therapy is the practice of using food as medicine to alleviate or prevent chronic health problems. Food is the body’s only fuel source and so it must be given the right fuel in order to function; eating junk foods is akin to filling an unleaded engine with diesel and expecting it to drive.

What we eat greatly affects our mood and wellbeing. Implementing a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle plan through nutritional therapy can help with many chronic conditions including mood/stress related conditions, digestive problems, skin conditions, fertility issues/hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular conditions, blood sugar imbalances, low energy, impaired immunity, and children's behavioural issues.

We are all aware of the truth behind the old adage “You are what you eat” but what is largely forgotten is that this applies to our mental wellbeing as well as our physical. Mood, motivation, and mental performance are powerfully influenced by diet.

The brain has an extremely high metabolic rate, making it a very hungry organ. Research shows that the right foods, containing brain boosting nutrients, can enhance mental capabilities, resulting in greater concentration and ability to handle stress, reduced depression and aggression, improved motivation and memory, and perhaps even prevention of age related brain disorders.

Nutrition is key when it comes to preventing and relieving the symptoms of a wide variety of mental illnesses. The brain is one of our most important organs and it needs to be fed a nutrient rich diet in order to function properly. Unfortunately the modern Western diet is not providing these vital nutrients and mental ill-health is increasing at an alarming rate as a result. As one Danish nutritional consultant put it: “Modern diets are a recipe for madness.” In comparison to our ancestors, most people are now eating very little oily fish and small amounts of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Instead, the modern diet consists of large quantities of refined carbohydrates, intensively produced meat and meat products, and unknown quantities of food and agricultural chemicals. A lot of these foods are known as anti-nutrients which means the body is using up more nutrients breaking them down than it is actually receiving from the food. In addition, there is a Catch 22 situation going on when someone is stressed or anxious because this will impact on the digestive system, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients, which will in turn affect brain function.

It is also important to remember that there are no health conditions, and in this case mental health disorders, that are caused by antidepressant or other drug deficiencies whereas there are many that are caused or worsened by nutritional deficiencies or poor diet and lifestyle choices. Yet due to time constraints resulting from modern living, we are more inclined to pop pills than prepare nutritious meals which will feed the brain the nutrients it needs to thrive. Unfortunately, the pills don’t treat the underlying cause.

In addition to healthy eating, good lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum all have profound effects on brain function and reducing stress levels in the body.

Lynda McFarland gives one-to-one nutritional consultations and nutrition and wholefoods cookery classes in Galway city as well as Dublin and Athlone. For appointments or further information call (087 ) 7927471.

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