Managing Depression

On my travel out to New York I sat in the plane next to a lady who after a quick introduction involved me into a deep discussion about “food and depression”.

It was not one of those agonizing in-flight stories; Actually I would have loved to converse with her hours more! People living in busy urban environments all know of others suffering from loneliness, having introverted torturing thoughts and being pained with inadequate feelings… I too sometimes feel “down” or not as perceptive as I know myself to be. However, I have several methods of “coping” with the onslaught of depression. One of them is to change the “interior monologue” from bad to positive: Instead of allowing the thinking process to assume negativity we willingly can adapt to “correct” our thoughts. I point in the mirror and say: He you, I love you!  I will make you laugh. When I “frown” back, I actually crack a smile…

Take a cold morning shower, meditate, even a two minute yoga stretch initiates change; simply getting out of bed, opening the windows, allowing oneself to be happy by not  drowning  in “darkness”. Instead of watching NEWS listen to your oldies (loudly), take a quick dance step, lift your chin high and say something nice about yourself: “Hey! I’m the shit!”

We are clearly the result of what we do and what we eat. Food is a major factor in how we feel; here is your blog that might encourage you to change a few things to curve your mood and for the wise one to avoid loosing your mind.

First off, if you are a moody person, cut back on sugar and never, NEVER consume anything that contains Aspartame. Let’s learn something about the chemistry that directly influences our neuro-receptors in the brain. This is important to understand when activating your full brain function while studying or preventing inherited genes from “freezing” our mental capacity. Whilst we are at the NEVER – avoid power-drinks named fittingly “Monster” or “Booster” – you kinda know they are bad, it’s just not totally respected how horrible their side-effects are. Manufacturers quickly jump onto modern science to create supplements based on isolated information and they will express (advertise) that we are all made from the same matter and hence react uniformly.

That’s when I am telling you to turn the NEWS back on and realize we are NOT the same. Made of equal matter, similar prepositioned in mobility and limited by genes and gravity – but certainly not the similar when acting outside human compassion towards others.

“Brain foods” are obtained from eating high protein such as meat, dairy, avocados, soy products, and certain nuts and seeds. What makes them ideal for mental health is their high content of phenylalanine that through proper combination and digestion convert into tyrosine (another amino acid) used in protein synthesis. For the few I lost above: A healthy brain needs cottage cheese, avocado, lentils, chick peas, seaweed, pumpkin and sesame seeds. For the lesser vegetarian there is lots of phenylalanine in meat, fish, eggs and butter!

In humans, phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that must be obtained from the diet and not from an isolated source. In contrast, tyrosine can be synthesized in your digestive track from phenylalanine and is considered a non-essential amino acid. Both compounds can be altered into chemicals that affect mood and brain functioning by controlling the “side-dishes” you swallow at the same time. We eat terrible combinations of foods, they are often deprived of natural sources for phenylalanine and tyrosine, so frequently we take them as nutritional supplements. This is not ideal; it’s like a chest implant; it might look nice but there is no strength or actual physical function.

L-Phenylalanine turns into L-Tyrosine that is converted into L-Dopa (dopamine) which stimulates the brain to either “like” or “crave”… A healthy brain needs this to function! And here is a dilemma, it can be abused to make you addicted to the wrong foods if viciously added. Industries (as do drug dealers) keep you hooked when promoting you to consume chemically altered substance…  Some people suffer from a genetic disorder called phenylketuria (PKU), in which phenylalanine is not metabolized. It can build up to toxic levels and cause retardation and death. The artificial sweetener Aspartame is one of the modern spike for this growing illness in babies! A combination of aspartic acid and phenylalanine are a common component in diet sodas. I have clients with serious mental problems consuming daily sodas, pop-corn and artificially enhanced products while medicated to prevent loosing their mind. We are a weird species!

Anyone with a family history of Alzheimer. Amyotophic (ALC) Lou Gehrig’s and neurodegenerative diseases should never consume artificially modified food products. Before you run to the health store and buy DL-phenylalanine synthesized supplements try eating accordingly. Nature is chuck full with healthy solutions that are tasty and cause no side-effects.

Changes in dopamine levels can have beneficial effects on mood disorders such as depression and diseases such as Parkinson’s. People with PKU or who take antidepressants as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take supplements of phenylalanine (there is a hint from the manufacturers…)

Start your day with a positive thought! Drink a glass of room temperate water and eat bran cereal or oatmeal that is only slightly sweetened (honey). Eat plenty of berries and fruit but do not eat bananas that are totally white. They are not healthy and do not contain as much phenylalanine as “spotted” ripe bananas.

You should eat an avocado every week, increase your consumption of pumpkin, blanched kale, broccoli and spinach. They are very difficult to digest raw! Eat chickpeas, humus, lentils and pumpkin seed whenever they are presented; It’s super rich on brain oil. Consume a few sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds or any (unsalted) nuts when feeling like “snacking” they curve appetite and nourish your skin and lungs. Pumpkin seeds and fresh pressed oils are ideal if not roasted or baked with… Avoid pop-corn, sodas and anything that is lazed with sweetener, it most certainly will block good dopamine effects and is merely designed to keep you hooked. Dairy products when fermented (cheese, some yoghurt and butter) are healthy and rich on brain-fatty acids. If you are already affected with a neurological disorder you need to stay away from too much soy product, avoid too much artificial starches (bread, pasta, pastries) and you should consult with your doctor about foods that might interfere with your medication.

I am working on a cookbook specifically targeting foods that benefit the brain…

Until my flight back to Los Angeles… Enjoy and share!

chef raphael

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