There' a shrink in your kitchen

Published: Jun 16, 2009, 09:43 IST | The Italk Team

Beat the energy-slump you feel in the middle of the day and overcome anxiety, tension and mood swings by choosing what you eat intelligently

Beat the energy-slump you feel in the middle of the day and overcome anxiety, tension and mood swings by choosing what you eat intelligently

Eating well and choosing what you eat with care can change the way you feel, says The Kitchen Shrink author Natalie Savona. The book says that the basics of eating for good moods are dictated by common sense eat food as close to its natural state as possible, eat a variety of foods and relax and enjoy your meals. Few health concepts are as poorly consensual as the "balanced diet", hence the core element of the healthy eating programme has to be just that balance. Broccoli and brown rice are indeed healthy foods, but they alone will not sustain you. On the other hand, the occasional bar of chocolate or red wine can be positively good for the soul. We give you five common problems that can be solved just by letting your kitchen help you.

Victoria's Secret supermodel Marisa Miller loves to eat yogurt with organic fruit


The basic qualities of any balanced diet are:

>>Eating food as close to its natural state as possible
>>Pure water

These basics translate into practice like this
>>Drink at least one and a half litres of pure water through out the day.
>>Have fresh, coloured vegetables, raw or slightly steamed stir-fried, twice a day.
>>Have at least two pieces of fresh fruit everyday.
>>Eat a variety of lean proteins: Eggs, poultry, soya produce, dairy produce.
>>Eat plenty of fibre-rich food.
>>Limit the amount of sugar you add to your food.
>>Limit intake of refined food (white bread, white rice).

Up brain power, feed on good fats

On the list below, tick any of the symptoms that you experience regularly
Dry skin
>>Cracked nails
>>Dry, limp hair
>>High blood pressure

If you suffer from any of the above symptoms, your diet could be lacking essential fatty acids (EFAs). These fats have been shown to form part of healthy cell membranes and are crucial to the well being of our brain and nervous system. EFAs are converted in the body into more concentrated versions of fats and other substances. These are put to very good use in balancing hormones and keeping skin soft. They also ensure that brain cells and neurotransmitters work efficiently and that makes them such an important factor in maintaining stable moods and optimum brain-power. Walnuts, flax-seed oil and fish such as mackerel and sardines are rich in such fats.

How to optimise your body's supply of EFAs
>>Have one tablespoon of unrefined seed oil on salads, stirred into soups and porridge daily.
>>Use whole pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds as snacks.
>>Eat oil-rich fish (sardines, tuna) at least three times a week.
>>Use olive oil for cooking.
>>Avoid fried foods grill, bake, poach or steam instead.
>>Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to maximise your intake of antioxidants.

Control binge eating

On the list below, tick any of the symptoms that you experience regularly

>>Feeling that your eating is out of control.
>>Eating large amounts of food quickly, even when not feeling hungry.
>>Eating till you are uncomfortably full.
>>Feelings of disgust or guilt during and after overeating.
>>Mood swings and irritability.
>>Feelings of worthlessness.

If your have ticked five or more of the above symptoms, you may be suffering from disturbed eating patterns. Increasing number of people especially young women are reporting that their eating is out of control. While it's not unusual to turn to food when your are feeling low, if comfort eating becomes bingeing then your health can be threatened. Some people can open a packet of chocolate biscuits, eat a few and keep the pack away.

Others can't resist eating the whole thing. Food cravings and overeating are often linked to problems such as PMS, stress and depression as well as feelings of loneliness and boredom. People turn to food as some food triggers chemical reactions in the body that bring temporary relief.

Appetite control
The body has natural impulses which signal hunger and satisfaction with a meal. One hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) aids the digestive process and is known to give the sign that you are full after a certain amount of food.

It is important to sit down and eat slowly. CCK is released as food enters the small intestine. If you eat slowly, the hormone is released and the satiety message is sent while you are eating. 

Shun sweet food
Instead of eating refined food, eat high-fibre foods such as an oat bar or fruit with yogurt. A diet of unprocessed foods will even out your blood sugar levels, and make you less likely to overeat.

How to keep energy levels up

On the list below, tick any of the symptoms that you experience regularly

>>Feeling tired all the time.
>>Using coffee, tea or a cigarette to get you going in the morning.
>>Feeling unrefreshed after sleep.
>>Having mood swings and concentration problems.
>>Getting angry easily.
>>Feeling anxious and nervous.
>>Craving for starchy food, tea, coffee, alcohol.

If you have ticked off 5 or more symptoms, you need more energy to get you through the day. Without a good intake of the nutrients needed to produce energy, you are likely to end up feeling constantly exhausted, on the edge and irritable. There are a host of reasons for this. You might be dehydrated: drink at least six glasses of water a day. Similarly, you may not be eating enough nutritious or iron-rich food. It could also happen if you're not sleeping well. Avoiding foods that sap your energy is just as important. The energy drainers are generally coffee, alcohol and sweets, which play havoc with our blood-sugar levels.

Some key energy nutrients and their sources
Vitamin B1:
Beef kidney and liver, chickpeas, pork and soya beans.
Vitamin B2: Almonds, cheese, mushrooms and wheatgram.
Vitamin C: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes.
Magnesium: Almonds, fish, green leafy vegetables and nuts.
Zinc: Egg yolk, milk, oysters and whole grains.

Bite-size solution
To get each day off to a good start, have a protein and carbohydrate-rich breakfast. Later in the day, you are best off eating meals that contain protein, and fibre-rich food.

Control blood sugar see saw

On the list below, tick the symptoms that apply to you more or less daily

>>Cravings for sweet foods or drinks/coffee/tea/cigarette.
>>A need for regular snacks.
>>Lapses in mood/concentration/memory.
>>Difficulty in making decisions.
>>Sweating for no apparent reason.
>>"Butterflies" in stomach for no apparent reason.
>>Difficulty getting to sleep or waking in the night.

If you ticked six or more of the above symptoms, you may be having difficulty keeping your blood sugar balanced. Regular fluctuations in mood and energy are often linked to highs and lows in blood sugar levels.

These in turn are linked to the food we eat and drink, particularly, sweet, sugary and starchy foods. Such foods may temporarily fulfill a craving brought by sudden tiredness and irritability, but they also cause our blood sugar levels and with them our energy and mood to seesaw.

Bite-size solution
Breakfast's name comes from breaking your overnight fast providing the body with fuel to get it going for the day. Skipping the most important meal of the day sets the scene for fluctuating blood-sugar levels. So always have breakfast, even if it's not as soon as you get up.

Here's how to maximise blood-sugar balance:
>>Avoid coffee and tea.
>>Avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
>>Avoid sugar and foods containing sugar and honey and dried and fresh fruits.
>>Avoid refined foods (white bread, wheat, rice and so on), processed foods and fast foods (many contain hidden sugar as well as chemicals and harmful fats).
>>Dilute fruit and vegetable juices with 70 per cent water.
>>Eat dried fruit with protein, such as natural yogurt, a handful of nuts, cottage cheese and so on.
>>Eat small meals five or six times a day, and include some fibre and protein rich foods in each one.
>>Consider taking nutritional supplements designed to support blood-sugar balance.

What is your diet doing to your blood sugar levels?

One of the main reasons specific foods, certain eating patterns, or missing meals affect the way you feel is that they have an impact on your blood-sugar levels. So what do they actually do to them?

Eating slow-releasing carbohydrates like fish/seafood, meat/poultry, eggs, whole milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, soya/tofu, green vegetables, tomatoes and mushrooms: Blood sugar rises gradually over a few hours.
Eating proteins with carbohydrates: Blood sugar rises slowly over a few hours.
Eating sugary/fast releasing carbohydrates like pasta, oranges, peas, baked beans, potatoes, muesli, popcorn and wholemeal bread/sugary drinks: Blood sugar level rises within a few minutes, followed by a dramatic fall.
Drinking caffeine: Blood sugar rises rapidly, followed by a slump.
Drinking alcohol: Blood sugar rises and falls rapidly.
Missing a meal: Blood sugar drops.

Fight sleeplessness

On the list below, tick the symptoms that are familiar and persistent for you

>>Difficulty getting to sleep.
>>Waking up in the night.
>>Waking early and not getting back to sleep.
>>Feeling unrefreshed after a night's sleep.
>>Putting off going to bed, even when tired.
>>Energy slumps/dozing during the day.
>>Falling asleep early in the evening but not sleeping well at night.

If you ticked four or more symptoms, you could probably benefit from altering your diet and lifestyle in order to improve the quality and amount of sleep you are getting.

13 Going on 30 actress Jennifer Garner never misses breakfast

Solving your sleep problems

One or several of the following could be keeping you from getting a good night's sleep. Cast your eye down to the list of problems and their solutions to see which you could be dealing with in order to sleep better:

Eating too close to bedtime: If your body is busy digesting a recent meal, your sleep will be disturbed. Eat at least 3 hours before going to bed.
Excessive / late caffeine or alcohol intake: This raises cortisol levels, which keeps you awake. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol, at least from early evening onward.
Late cigarette smoking: This raises cortisol levels. Avoid smoking, at least early evening onwards.
Indigestion: The discomfort this causes is likely to prevent you from sleeping well. Eat early in the morning, slowly and in moderation.
Widely fluctuating blood-sugar levels: Dips in blood sugar during the night may wake you up.

Nutrients for sleep

Sleep difficulties can be triggered or exacerbated by a lack of the minerals calcium and magnesium, because they work together to calm the body and help relax muscles. Your diet is more likely to be low in magnesium than calcium, so make sure you are eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as seeds, nuts, green vegetables, whole grains and sea food.


Eating away from home whether during the working day, business lunches or going out for dinner is increasingly common. It may seem like hard work to follow the principals of Feel Good Food when you do not have absolute control over your food, but it can actually be easy to do.

>>Choose a light starter, such as salad, grilled vegetables or non-creamy soup.
>>Go for a simple main course or ask for it to be cooked plainly, without a rich sauce.
>>If you have a dessert, share it with someone or just choose a fruit salad.
>>Order a peppermint tea instead of coffee — it will help you digest.
>>Start with a large glass of water, then alternate a glass of wine with a  glass of water.

To know more about how food can affect your mood, pick up a copy of The Kitchen Shrink by Natalie Savona, available at bookstores for Rs 695

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