10 Tips to Improve Mental Wellness This Winter

Most of us ditch our self-care routine in December; the excess social engagements, holiday temptations, and opportunities to indulge can cause not only our physical health to suffer, but also our mental health. As we shift into January and February we can fall into a post-holiday slump. While this time of year can be challenging there are a few adjustments we can make in our day-to-day to help manage our well-being.

 
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1.EAT YOUR GREENS

Optimal diet is key to optimal health. Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, chard and arugula contain vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, magnesium and iron. These nutrients can reduce inflammation, boost energy and metabolic function, and improve mood by supporting the formation of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

2. LIMIT SUGAR AND PROCESSED FOODS

We all expect there to be a ton of sugar in pop, candy, and baked goods, but shockingly sugar also hides in places we don’t expect it! Check the labels of your cereal or granola, sauces and condiments, protein bars, and even dairy products like yogurt and you’ll be surprised by the sugar content. The World Health Organization recently lowered the recommendation of daily sugar intake to under 5% of daily energy intake, or ~25g of refined sugars per day.

When we eat sugar our bodies release an excessive amount of insulin to process all the sugar which causes a rapid reduction of blood sugar. This leads to the release of a hormone called cortisol to compensate for it  Cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone, a necessary survival mechanism but it can also cause anxiety and irritability. Blood sugar spikes and crashes also affect our energy levels and lead to that afternoon sluggish feeling. The best way to avoid these blood sugar crashes is to limit refined sugars, and if you are going to have something with sugar or a lot of starch, pair it with fat, fibre, and protein!

3. SUPPORT THE ADRENALS.

The adrenal glands produce our stress hormone cortisol, and as previously mentioned cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone. Cortisol is released from our adrenals when something is considered in our minds to be dangerous, harmful or stressful, or during physiological stressors like illness or inflammation. As you can imagine, there are a lot of things in our day-to-day lives that cause cortisol to be released, and therefore our adrenal glands often need some TLC.

There are lots of natural ways to support the adrenal glands including mitigating our stress where we can, and practicing mindful meditation or breathing exercises. We can also use adaptogenic herbs to support the adrenals. These herbs counteract the adverse effects of cortisol and stress, and support our adrenal glands to do their job more efficiently. Adaptogens enable the body's cells to access more energy and eliminate toxic by-products. Some examples of adaptogenic herbs include ashwaghanda, licorice, rhodiola, ginseng, and reishi mushroom. Check with your naturopathic doctor if adaptogenic herbs are right for you.

4. BE REALISTIC, SET GOALS, AND PRIORITIZE.

It seems so simple, but it makes a world of a difference. Make a list of tasks you must do, and tackle them in order of importance. Delegate responsibilities where you can and prioritize what you love the most. Sometimes even this can seem overwhelming, so I often coach my patients to break projects into small steps. Be willing to compromise with yourself and with others, but set boundaries and stick to them.

5. BREATHE

Shallow breathing prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason you might feel exhausted at the end of a stressful day. Breathing deeper, slower, quieter and more regularly helps you force more oxygen into your cells. Increased oxygen in your cells slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, and ultimately provides more energy.

6. GET ACTIVE

Just 30 minutes of exercise at least three times per week allow us to get the cardiovascular benefits that lead to increased vitality. A study by California State University has found that the more steps people take, the more energetic they report feeling. This can be hard to imagine, because a lot of times when people are fatigued the last thing they want to do is exercise, but realistically exercise will be the thing that often energizes them the most. Unfortunately during the busy (and cold) holiday season, this is typically what gets dropped! Try to maintain an exercise routine to keep your mental and physical health in check.

7. SLEEP SOUNDLY

Sleep hygiene is vital to getting those valuable Zzz’s. The basic aspects of proper sleep hygiene are having a regular schedule and bedtime routine; eliminating all light sources; avoiding stimulants in the afternoon and avoiding snacks high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) before bed.

Some ways to optimize your bedroom for sleep are to:

  1. Keep it cool. A drop of body temperature stimulates sleep.

  2. Keep it comfortable. If you wake up with more back or neck pain than you went to bed with it is probably time to buy a new mattress or pillow.

  3. Keep it quiet. If your room is noisy use ear plugs, white noise, a fan or soft music.

  4. Keep it dark. Melatonin, the main hormone for stimulating sleep, requires darkness. Use thick curtains, blinds, or eye masks to ensure maximum darkness.

  5. Keep it work-free. Your bedroom is for sleeping and sex only. Watching television, working on a computer and reading can over stimulate the mind and negatively affect sleep.

  6. Keep it free from distractions. Turn your phone on do not disturb (better yet, keep it out of the room), and turn your clock away from view.

  7. Create bedroom “Zen.” Try removing clutter, homework, calendars etc., if you can, think about painting the room to earthy tones or making it your relaxing place, use calming lavender or peppermint essential oils in a diffuser.

  8. Avoid using a loud alarm clock. Waking up suddenly to the blaring wail of an alarm clock can be a shock to your body; you’ll also find you’ll feel groggier when you are roused in the middle of a sleep cycle, if you get enough sleep on a regular basis, an alarm clock will not be necessary, if you do use an alarm, you should wake just before it goes off

8. GET ENOUGH VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble compound that’s important as much for brain development as it is for bone development. Data suggests Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased depressive symptoms. To naturally get enough vitamin D we require 15 minutes a day of sunlight on the skin between 10am and 3pm during summer when the UV index is at its highest. That being said, sunscreen is still advised to ward off harmful UV rays, and unfortunately reduces your ability to produce vitamin D by 90%. Aside from sunlight, vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, UVB-exposed mushrooms and fortified milk.

9. INCORPORATE HEALTHY FATS (OMEGA-3S, ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS)

Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids) have a vital role in maintaining proper neuronal structure and function, as well as in modulating critical aspects of the inflammatory pathway in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids are one of nature’s best anti-inflammatories. Omega-3 fats can be found in nuts, seeds and oysters, although the highest amounts exist in oily fish such as sardines, salmon (especially King salmon), anchovies and mackerel.

MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil is another source of essential fatty acids that is rich in antioxidants. MCTs are digested easily and sent to your liver where they can quickly positively affect your metabolism by being burned as fuel, as ketones. A 2004 study found that the MCTs in coconut oil helped improve memory problems in older adults (The Journal of Neurobiology of Aging), and also can make you feel more clear-headed, energetic and positive. MCT oil helps not only feed your brain cells, but also improves your digestive health via the gut-brain connection.

10. OPTIMIZE GUT FLORA

Research shows a connection between the bacteria in our guts and brain health, which may affect mental health, mood and energy (Trends Neurosci, 2013). Likely because over 80% of our serotonin is produced in the gut by these bacteria and serotonin is our happy, calm, focussed and relaxed neurotransmitter. Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and by types of immune cells and neurons.

When the composition of the gut flora is compromised it can result in inflammatory responses that can negatively affect the nervous system and brain function. A balanced microflora environment is supported by a diet rich in the foods that nourish beneficial bacteria and reduce harmful microbial species. Beneficial microflora can be supported by eating fermented foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt, and by pectin-rich foods such as fruit skin or supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic.

You don’t need to completely change your lifestyle to employ these tips. Do what you can, and start small. Even a few changes can lead you to be more mindful of your mental wellness.


It is always encouraged to consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner regarding any mental health concerns you are dealing with

Magnesium!!

Magnesium!!

In a perfect world, magnesium is supposed to be the fourth most abundant mineral in our body, as it is necessary for the synthesis of ATP, the body’s main form of energy. However, it is estimated that over 43% of Canadians do not get sufficient magnesium through the diet. This is due to our food sources being depleted of magnesium themselves. With depleted soils, food processing, and absorption issues becoming more common getting enough magnesium in a day can become quite challenging! When you increase your demand for magnesium by chronic stress and various medications, it is no wonder it is one of the most commonly deficient minerals in developed countries.

Meal Prep Inspiration - Buddha Bowls

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Have you ever heard of a Buddha bowl? Its a glorious mix of nutrient-dense foods when blended together keep you full and satisfied. I also love these so much because with a little planning you can eat a different combo of nutritious foods every day of the week. They're also super easy to prepare in advance (I like to make 5 on Sunday for my weekly lunches). The best part is you can't really mess it up! Here I'll give you my tips to prep delicious, healthy Buddha bowls for your week ahead. 

Step 1: Grains or greens or both! Choose from 1 or 2 of the ingredients below, and make a big batch if necessary. Divide your base into your containers for the week. 

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa or any other ancient grains (amaranth, millet, kamut)
  • Mixed spring greens
  • Arugula
  • Kale
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Step 2: Choose your veggies. I usually like to pick whatever is in season (and on sale). I would recommend prepping 6-8 different vegetables to mix and match on top of your Buddha bowl. Each bowl I make usually has 3-4 types of veggies on it. The goal is to see a rainbow of colours when you look at your bowl (or any meal for that matter). I love prepping all my veggies by either roasting, steaming or lightly sauteeing them. Some vegetables like radishes, sprouts, and bell peppers I like to have raw to add a little crunch to my bowl. Here are just a few suggestions: 

  • Sweet potatoes or yams
  • Baby potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Lightly steamed or sauteed greens (EX. kale, collard, swiss chard, etc.)
  • Carrot
  • Purple cabbage
  • Mushrooms (personally loving shiitake right now)
  • Bell peppers
  • Beets
  • Squash (EX. butternut, spaghetti, acorn)
  • Radishes
  • Sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
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Step 3: Choose your protein. As we know, protein comes in a ton of shapes and sizes so play around with this and try to vary your protein throughout the week. I usually by 1 animal-based and 2 plant proteins weekly, and try to alternate my animal source and plant source proteins throughout the week. Cook and prepare your protein however is convenient and tasty! Some protein ideas:

  • Organic poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)
  • Organic grass-fed beef
  • Wild-cought fish (get those Omega 3s!)
  • Tofu
  • Beans/Legumes (EX. chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc. )
  • Nuts/seeds (EX. almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
  • Falafel
  • Hummus
  • Egg (hard-boiled, fried, poached etc.)
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Step 4: Dressing. OK, this is the piece-de-resistance. To be honest I usually stick to the same dressing recipe, but you can switch it up and use what you have around the house. If you prepared your vegetables and protein with enough flavour, consider skipping the dressing and just enjoying the flavours of each ingredient! Here are some of my favourite Buddha bowl dressing recipes:

Step 5: Put all your prep work together in 5 big containers. Pack your dressing on the side to avoid sogginess. Enjoy your bowl warm or cold. Lunches for the week, Done!

Now go enjoy your gluten free, dairy free, nutrient-packed meals :) 

BULLETPROOF COFFEE RECIPE TO UPGRADE YOUR MORNING AND BOOST YOUR ENERGY THROUGHOUT THE DAY

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You may or may not have heard of bulletproof coffee, but this yummy morning brew is going to amp up your mornings and the rest of the day! So many people these days are in a huge rush in the morning and simply grab a coffee, a muffin (or another carbohydrate dense breakfast food) and head out the door. In my experience, this usually causes fogginess, fatigue and hunger mere hours later. Sound familiar?

Bullet or Bulletproof coffee is a delicious, creamy and easy recipe to add some healthy fats to your morning brew. Adding healthy fats, such as MCT oil and grass-fed butter dense with omega 3 and 6, to your coffee slows down the absorption of caffeine. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are isolated from coconut oil, for their ability to bypass metabolism in the liver and provide the body and the brain with sustained energy. Blending in these fats and some other powerful, natural add-ins essentially turn your drab morning joe into a breakfast of champions. No need for any more muffins and it will keep you full until lunch! It is important to note that Bulletproof coffee is not the appropriate choice for everyone, but can be a healthful breakfast substitute for many.

The individual ingredients in bulletproof coffee are nothing too special on their own, but all together... Look out! You’re in for a treat! Aside from the joy of your morning coffee ritual, you’ll also have these amazing benefits:

1.      Less desire for multiple coffees throughout the day

Possibly one of my favourite benefits of bulletproof coffee, is that having one cup in the morning is going to stop you from reaching for that second, third or even fourth cup in the afternoon. This is a nice change for both your liver and your wallet. Black coffee has some proven health benefits, but these only hold up if consumed in moderation, meaning less than three cups (250mL) of coffee per day.

The reason for this reduced craving for that afternoon joe is multi-factorial but largely due to the ability of fats and coffee to balance blood sugar levels. The addition of fats to caffeine slows its absorption and prolongs coffee’s energy enhancing and blood sugar balancing properties throughout the day. More specifically, one component in coffee (chlorogenic acid) causes glucose to be absorbed further along in the intestine, therefore prolonging satiation and reducing blood sugar spikes. Moderate black coffee consumption has been linked to enhanced metabolic profiles by improving insulin sensitivity, which in turn can even lower the risk of Type II Diabetes. We know that carbohydrates and proteins (like the ones in your breakfast muffin) can be converted to sugar, and therefore cause blood sugar levels to rise, but the fats in bulletproof coffee aren’t going to promote blood sugar spikes at all. Without a blood glucose spike in the morning, you won’t get a blood glucose drop in the afternoon.

Having fewer blood glucose highs and lows creates a sustainable balance that will have you saying goodbye to that 2-3pm slump!

2.      More efficient fat metabolism throughout the day (which can lead to weight loss for some)

Ok, wait… so adding fat to coffee, can improve my fat metabolism? You bet!

Adding fats to coffee is going to massively increase the caloric profile of your morning brew. Giving your body ample calories in the morning is important so that it doesn't get tricked into entering starvation mode, which is prompted by caloric restriction. Calorie restriction promotes fat storage and decreased metabolism, which in turn causes you to gain back all the weight that you would have lost restricting your calories. Instead, having a calorie dense, fat-filled breakfast is going to kick-start your metabolism for the day ahead of you!

The coffee itself is known to improve the satiety hormone profile, via ghrelin and serotonin, while specific phenols in coffee also increase fat utilization and promote fat excretion. Butter that comes from grass-fed cows contains a much higher content of healthy essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) when compared to regular run-of-the-mill butter, and these EFAs are going to promote the production of an optimal hormone profile. Having healthy hormones is key for efficient fat metabolism (see benefit #4).

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is a specific type of fat that is more easily digested than other fats and sugars. While being easy to digest, MCT oil helps you feel full longer by producing ketones that will suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin, and increase the satiety signal via CCK. Ketones also fuel your brain and promote thermogenesis, which helps speed up your metabolic rate.

3.      Improved cognitive function and energy (no more 3 pm fatigue and brain fog)

We all know that the caffeine in coffee gives most people an energy boost, can stimulate digestion, and promotes regular bowel function. MCT oil helps stimulate digestion in a similar way, therefore it is important to start with only about 1tsp per day, and increase slowly from there. Regular bowel function is key to removing toxins, and an overburden of toxins and inefficient digestion can make us foggy and fatigued throughout the day, which will reduce our energy and cognitive function.

There has been a lot of mixed research on the benefits and harms of coffee. However, recently black coffee in moderation has been shown to reduce rates of neurological disorders such as Parkinson disease, age-related cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Potentially due to the large antioxidant profile of coffee which can be protective against oxidative damage in the brain. Similarly, MCT oil is known to help optimize brain function and cognition by being metabolized into ketones quickly, and providing the neurons in your brain with fast, available energy.

4.      Increased production of healthy hormones

I’ve already mentioned a lot about hormones, particularly the ones that send signals of whether you’re hungry or full: ghrelin, CCK, and serotonin. However, it is important to note that the building blocks of ALL hormones in the human body is through saturated fat and cholesterol – no fat equals no hormones. The fats from both MCT oil and grass-fed butter are going to promote production of our hormones including steroid and sex hormones, including testosterone. Testosterone is known to promote fat loss, lean muscle mass development and improved energy! 


Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. Health-related information contained in this post is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a Naturopathic Doctor.

print recipe
Bulletproof Coffee Recipe
Ingredients
  • 1 cup organic coffee (Not a fan of coffee? Try experimenting with bulletproof matcha, or chai tea!)
  • 1 tsp MCT Oil High in C8
  • 1 Tbsp organic grass-fed unsalted butter (or ghee if you’re dairy sensitive or lactose intolerant)
  • ¼ tsp organic vanilla extract
  • 2-3 drops stevia extract to help sweeten the mix (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp Chaga mushroom powder as a coffee substitute or for its adaptogenic and immune boosting function (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp Collagen Hydrolysate to hydrate connective tissue and joints (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon to additionally balance blood sugars and add a warming flavour (optional)
Instructions
Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix on high speed for about 20 seconds until frothy. Enjoy immediately!
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 serving

REFERENCES

Pourshahidi, L. K., Navarini, L., Petracco, M. & Strain, J.J. (2016), A Comprehensive Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Coffee Consumption. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 15: 671–684. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12206

Cunnane, S. C., Courchesne-Loyer, A., St-Pierre, V., Vandenberghe, C., Pierotti, T., Fortier, M., . . . Castellano, C. (2016). Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimers disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,1367(1), 12-20. doi:10.1111/nyas.12999

5 Stress-free Nutrition Tips to Start you on the Path Towards a Healthier Diet!

5 Stress-free Nutrition Tips to Start you on the Path Towards a Healthier Diet!

“What should I eat?!”

This is a question I probably ask every day, and I know you probably do too! Recently this question comes up for me because I’m indecisive… like when I can’t choose where to order take-out during final exams, or what to make for dinner, or what to put in my morning smoothie.