"I finally realized that being grateful to my body was key to giving more love to myself.”
- Oprah Winfrey
If you are a survivor in the process of recovery and healing, odds are your body is stressed, fatigued, and worn down. You may be seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, or seeking spiritual help. These activities are essential in the healing process, but only address your mind or spirit. What about your body? How can you heal yourself, if you are constantly weak and sick? You need your strength to fight, recover, and heal. You need your strength to take care of yourself and your children. Being constantly stressed is not healthy for your body. Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system. A weakened immune system can make you susceptible to common colds, flu and bacterial infections. You need a strong immune system and body to heal your mind and spirit.
I am a firm believer in the interconnection of our mind, body, and spirit. "To optimize the function of the healing system, you must do everything in your power to improve physical health, mental/emotional health, and spiritual health." (8 Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil, M.D.) How can we heal our mind, if our body is continually fatigued? How can we heal our spirit, if our body is battling one sickness after another? We must keep our bodies healthy and strong, if we are to heal our mind and spirit. Feeling strong feeds our spirit. In turn, feeding our spirit gives us courage to be strong. Eating healthy foods, in addition to counseling or spiritual help, will provide you with a resilient body on your journey to well-being and peace.
Disclaimer: This is my own compilation of foods for nourishing and healing your body. I am not a dietitian, doctor, nurse or in the health profession in any manner. I am an engineer, so I research, investigate, and problem-solve. These are foods I have found to help build my immune system and lessen the effects of anxiety and depression.
Salmon is excellent source for omega-3 fatty acids. "Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function." (University of Maryland Medical Center) Studies vary whether omega-3 fatty help reduce symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder, but some indicate there is an improvement versus a placebo. So, if there is a chance omega-3 fatty acids can help your brain, why not eat more? Tuna, mackerel, and sardines are other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
I try to eat salmon at least once a week. Salmon is easy to prepare and taste wonderful with minimal seasoning. I often throw a fillet in a casserole dish with olive oil, lemon juice, a little salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper and bake in the oven at 375 deg F for roughly 15 minutes. I confess I do not time it precisely. I usually take a knife and check that the thickest area of the fillet is not overly pink. Salmon is also easily grilled in the summer.
I never, ever, ever thought I would eat oysters. Ever. But I do now. I slowly came around to the idea after my blood work showed I was slightly anemic. During this same time I was beginning to have anxiety attacks as well. My chiropractor recommended a B12 and folate supplement. B12 deficiency can be linked to "psychiatric disorders, including impaired memory, irritability, depression, dementia and, rarely, psychosis." (American Academy of Family Physicians) Studies also show that B12 and folic acid "play a role in the formation of neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, epinephrine, nocotinamides, purines, phospholipids)." (Wikipedia, Folate deficiency.)
It turns out that oysters are full of B12, folate, iron, zinc, and selenium. All good stuff for your body's and brain's health. So, I thought I'd give them a try. I visited one of the local oyster bars and bellied up to the bar for a half peck of steamed oysters. I discovered that by putting one on a saltine cracker and covering with some cocktail sauce mixed with Tabasco or horseradish, the oysters aren't that bad. I have even begun to crave them. I suppose it is my body's way of telling me, "Hey lady! You are deficient in iron, B12, and folate; drive your butt to the oyster bar!" So, I do.
Spinach is another power food. Spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, iron, folic acid, magnesium and potassium. "Each of these nutrients plays a crucial role in our bodies health, from maintaining bone structure, preventing neural tube defects, assisting in red blood cell production, regulating our heartbeat, fighting free radicals and nourishing good eyesight." (lifescript, healthy living for women, "Spinach Nutrition Facts")
Baby spinach can be used in salads in place of lettuce or other greens. Spinach gives the salad a slight nutty flavor and provides a multitude more nutrients for your body than plain iceberg lettuce. I have begun to use baby spinach as a side to a chicken breast or salmon fillet. I simply heat up a little olive oil with some fresh garlic and saute the baby spinach for a couple of minutes until just slightly wilted. A couple times, I have thrown in a tablespoon of fresh salsa and mix it around with the spinach. Yummy!
Broccoli is known for having anticancer properties and is full of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin K. Broccoli contains "high levels of the powerful natural compound chemically known as glucosinolates. In the body glucosinolates are broken down into sulforaphane that exert protective anti-cancer characteristics." (NaturalNews.com)
Growing up I never liked broccoli. I finally saw the light as an adult when I tried raw broccoli in a salad. Overcooking broccoli can definitely turn off a person's interest. So I usually eat broccoli raw as a snack, in a salad, lightly sautéed alone or with other vegetables. One recipe I use includes sautéing broccoli with olive oil, fresh garlic, some lemon juice, sliced almonds (another good food) and crushed red pepper. Delicious!
Walnuts are another good source of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, research shows that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in walnuts provides protection against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. (WHfoods: Walnuts)
Walnuts can be eaten as a snack or in a salad. They can be added to a tuna salad, oatmeal, or a baked chicken recipe. You only need 1 - 3 ounces to get the health benefits.
The prime reason I eat garlic is for it's ability to boost the immune system. And it tastes good. Garlic "stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. The immune-boosting properties of garlic seem to be due to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin and sulfides." (Ask Dr. Sears) In addition, garlic is good for your heart. Garlic lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and inhibits blood clotting. (8 Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil, M.D.)
I love garlic, and I cannot imagine preparing food without it. I know some people dislike the smell, but if everyone ate more garlic, we wouldn't know the difference. :) I use fresh garlic every time I cook. I add garlic to olive oil when sautéing vegetables. I add garlic when baking chicken or fish. I add garlic to the marinade when grilling chicken or fish. And of course, you must add garlic to a tomato sauce. One can never have too much garlic.
Shiitake mushrooms are high in protein, iron, Vitamin Bs and many minerals. They also contain polysaccharides which studies suggest may improve human immune function. Other research indicates that the shiitake compound eritadenine may help lower cholesterol levels. (Science Daily) The use of shiitake mushrooms for medicinal purposes goes back 6,000 years to the Chinese and Japanese. Recently, the mushrooms have become more prevalent in Western diets and usually can found at the local grocery store.
I was first introduced to shiitake mushrooms in my early 20s by my Japanese boss at the time. I was working for a Japanese company building a manufacturing facility in the United States. My boss had two daughters of his own back in Japan and for whatever reason felt the need to teach me to cook. He sent me to the grocery store to buy shiitake mushrooms, bacon, noodles, and hot sauce. He proceeded to cook a very simple but tasty meal by sautéing some garlic (of course!) in olive oil, adding the bacon, a little hot sauce, and then the shiitake mushrooms, sautéing for a while at a fairly high temp. Once the mushrooms were cooked, he simply served over angel hair pasta.
These days I vary the recipe by using turkey bacon and adding onions and crushed red pepper and maybe thyme or oregano. At various times, I have added shrimp or chicken, red bell pepper, carrots, or whatever happens to be in my refrigerator. It's a simple recipe that can be built upon and varied.
Not only do cashews provide protein, but a half cup of cashews contain 470 mg of tryptophan. From WHFoods.com, "Tryptophan serves as a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the body regulate appetite, sleep patterns, and mood. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used therapeutically in the treatment of a variety of conditions, most notably insomnia, depression, and anxiety." Prescription antidepressants work by regulating serotonin levels in our brain. Other foods high in tryptophan are turkey, soybeans, lentils, peanuts, and Parmesan cheese.
Cashews are high in fat, so I wouldn't go crazy. I often take a handful of cashews with me to work and eat as a mid-morning snack. Cashews also go well when cooking chicken and broccoli over rice for an Asian inspired dish. Throw in some shiitake mushrooms and garlic for a nutrient-packed healing meal.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, calcium, B12, zinc and potassium. Yogurt has two main benefits, strengthening your immune system, and lowering your cholesterol. Studies show yogurt that contains live bacterial cultures may help you to live longer and may fortify your immune system. Yogurt has also been shown to lower your LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol improving your overall cholesterol profile. (WHFoods:Yogurt)
Yogurt is a staple in the diet of many countries and has become a staple in mine as well. As a woman, calcium intake is important to me. When I go to the grocery store I buy enough Greek yogurt for the week and throw a cup in my bag each morning to eat at my desk when I get to work. It's filling and keeps me going until my mid morning snack of almonds and cashews.
Eggs are another excellent source of protein and an important nutrient you may have never heard of called choline. Choline is important for brain health and function in multiple ways. First, choline is a key component of fat-containing structures in the brain's cell membranes. Second, choline has an important role in methylation, a chemical process cells use to send messages back and forth. And, lastly, choline is a key component in the neurotransmitter that sends messages between nerves and muscles. All in all, choline is essential in supporting a healthy brain. (WHFoods: Eggs)
I most often eat my eggs hard-boiled. I enjoy a hard-boiled egg for breakfast or on a salad. On Sunday morning, I will hard-boil a few eggs and have one for breakfast and then take the rest to work through the week. If I make a salad, I add a hard-boiled egg to my baby spinach and broccoli. How ever you enjoy your eggs, they make an important contribution to your diet AND your brain.
There are other power foods which should be mentioned. I did not include them above, because I do not eat them myself. Kale, blueberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes and ginger have all been noted by many sources to be packed with essential vitamins and minerals to support healthy immune systems and fight cancer. I need to start including these healing foods in my diet myself.
Each time you sit down for a meal, you have a choice of eating foods that support a healthy body or eating foods that provide no nutritional value. I have recommended a few foods that can help heal your body and keep your body resilient and robust. There is a multitude of additional information and research available on the Internet, if you care to investigate further. But the consensus is nutritious food can heal your body. If are currently going through a crisis or challenge, your body's immune system is weak. You can help prevent sickness during this time by eating foods like garlic, spinach, and shiitake mushrooms to boost your immune system as well as preventing heart disease and cancer. Your body is the only one you have, and it needs to be strong for you to heal. As you continue to eat healing foods, your body will become powerful, and your mind and spirit will have renewed strength to fight your battles and overcome your challenges.
A healthy body, a calm mind, and a joyful spirit are essential in obtaining the peace in life we all seek.
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