Nutrition, Health in Body and Mind

We humans grow, heal and function from the foods that we eat and drink. If we do not give our bodies the base materials that are re-assembled into us, then we become unhealthy. Our brain, the centre of our thinking and feeling, is the most resource hungry part of our body, magnifying the ill health that a poor diet creates. This is why it is important to understand nutrition and how that affects our body health and our mental health.

It is important to recognise that you can have a “perfect” diet and be experiencing ill mental or physical health due to non-diet related problems. The purpose of this article and subsequent pages is to minimise the impact that poor general diet or specific allergies/intolerance can have in either causing or exacerbating conditions.

Caveat – This is Not Specific Medical Advice

While we may address a specific condition you have been diagnosed with, it is important to recognise that this information is not specifically written for you and you need to check with your health experts to check if this is information that does actually apply to you.

You can use this information as a basis to start a conversation with your medical professional. In most Western Countries, the degree for a Medical Doctor includes approximately 8 hours of dietetics over 10 years. Also be aware that most people who call themselves a dietician have not got a university degree in deitetics, the study of diet in human physiology. A great deal of those who do study diet and humans are looking at sports medicine or wieght loss, rather than the subtle health consequences of diet.

Understanding Food

It is likely that you are familiar with the Food Pyramid. The concept that was originally developed in Sweden, 1970, as a consequence to the high price of food ingredients (Wikipedia [Link]). The Swedish government created a special committee to evaluate how to have a simple and complete nutritious guideline at affordable prices. This Food Pyramid was adopted by several different countries and modified based on local food availability and, unfortunately, lobby groups. [More: A Brief History of the Food Pyramid Link]

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

A more up to date concept is the Healthy Eating Plate from Harvard University [Link], which shows you a break down of approximate quantities of what kinds of food to have on your plate at meal time to have a complete diet. The “plate” represents your entire days food meals represented on one large plate.

This is a good place to start our understanding, but we will be delving much deeper into proteins, sugars, nutrients, minerals and vitamins. We want to give our bodies a variety of food types to choose from so that your body can pull out the nutrition that it needs.

Building a Healthy and Balanced Diet

“You are what you eat” should more properly be written as “you make yourself out of what you consume”. To ensure that you have supplied your body with all of the base ingredients, it is importan to give your body access to all of the base ingredients. We extract these from various foods. Each of the aspects of the Food Plate are listed below.

Vegetables and Fruits

Combined, the vegetation you consume each day should equal to about 1/2 of the food you eat. In this case, we are not referring to grains or potatoes.

Savory vegetation, often referred to as vegetables, should be around 2/3 to 3/4 of your daily vegetation, while sweet vegetables, often referred to as fruit, should be the last bit. Fruit often has fructose, which in countries outside of the USA is an uncommon sugar and can balance out your sugar intake. In the USA, many foods have fructose based sugars added to them changing the average balance of sucrose to fructose.

Generally, if you do not have a problems with diabetes or have an intolerance/allergy to fructose or sucrose, then the fructose in vegetation is not a high concern.

To give your body the best variety, aim for various colours. The colour of plants is a good approximation for the kinds of vitamins and minerals that you will find in it.

Whole Grains

Whole and intact grains should be approximately 1/4 of the daily plate, that is 1/4 of the amount that you eat each day. This can be rice, quinoa, oats, wheat, barley, buckwheat and many others. It is important to note that gluten allergies are moderately common, especially in neurodivergent folk. We’ll talk about that later in the allergens and intolerance section. Just note that if you are allergic or intolerant to gluten, that can include wheat, barley, rye and for some oats.

Modern western foods often make flour out of grains. So long as these are whole grain flour and not too processed, these are relatively healthy to eat. Often, though, flour is made of partial grain, bleached and very processed. This can exacerbate diabetes and or constipation.

Protein

Protein’s should be approximately 1/4 of your daily plate.

Protein comes in a few different forms, from meat from all animals (including birds and sea creatures), beans, nuts and grains. Protein is a unique family of molecules that we can break down to become most of our body parts.

Proteins are made up of various amino acids, which can be broken down further into peptides (this is a simplification). As we can’t make all of the amino acids directly, they need to be in the protein that we eat. Meat based protein automatically includes all of the proteins humans need. A meal that has all of the types of protein that we need is referred to as “complete protein”. Vegetarians and vegans need to consider if they have got the complete range. A quick system to get “complete protein” is the V*gan protein triangle: Grains, Legumes and Nuts; if you eat two of the three per 24 hour day, you can be confident you have complete protein.

Proteins are vitally important to basic body functions such as building muscles, bones and regarding mental health neurotransmitters [LINK]. If you are low on the amino acid tyrosine and tryptophan it can be hard to make essential neurotransmitters, which will cause brain fog, mood disregulation and difficulties initiating & completing tasks.

The Keto Diet is a high protein and low sugar diet that can be positively effective for certain kinds of diabetes and epilepsy. Some people have found that it dramatically improves some hard to treat forms of mental health ill symptoms when no other treatments have worked well.

Healthy Oils

A good diet has a moderate amount of healthy oil, generally from plants. Good examples are olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower and peanut (if you aren’t allergic).

Not all oils are good for us. Oils that are partially hydrogenated contain unhealthy trans fats. Looking at the label on the oil container will ist the ratio of trans fats per 100 mL serve, which allows you to compare that oil to others.

Low fat doesn’t automatically mean healthy – the type of oil and fat is more important than the quantity.

Water

Water is an essential part of your daily plate. It can be found in various forms, such as from the just water, fruit juice, tea, coffee, soft drinks etc. However, when the water isn’t pure, it is important to consider what the other components are. Drinks that have high levels of sugar, caffeine or other ingredients may be having other effects on your body.

We will talk more specifically about caffeine, sugar and sugar replacements later.

The commonly quoted “2 Litres of water per day per person” is not scientifically accurate. It was a misreading from an estimate made many decades ago. The true answer of how much water you need to drink per day requires information about how much you weigh, what kind of metabolism you have, what kind of exersion you are doing, and what is the environment you are in when you are doing that. For example, a child who weighs 20 kg and is sitting at home in air conditioned comfort playing board games won’t need as much water in that day as a person who weighs 100 kg and is carrying tons of bricks outdoors on a hot, dry 37 degree celcius day. That means that the range of water on your daily plate can range from 0.5 L to 3 L in a day. The most common healthy amount is about 1.5 L.

Stay Active
The difference between being sedentary and fit is 2 hours of exercise per week. That exercise can be broken up to be daily, or in one single 2 hour session. Exercise, here, is being defined as any activity that increases your hear and breathing rate, ideally that makes you feel warmer.

Any improvement on 2 hours will give you some improvements to your fitness, but not at the same linear scale. That is, 4 hours of exercise won’t make you twice as fit as 2 hours.

Different exercises will give you benefits in different areas. Talk to your doctor or fitness instructor on what fitness you want to build – strength, endurance, dexterity, bone density, breath control and so on.

Exercise beyond 2 hours per week will have minimal impact on weight. Those first 2 hours are the most important effect you will have. After that, the best gains are made by regulating your diet – more on that under weight loss [LINK].

There are some mental health conditions that benefit from exercise, such as ADHD, Autism and Anxiety. The first 2 hours per week will give you the most dramatic improvements, simply because your body goes from sedentary to fit. Exercise beyond the first 2 hours will have less impressive benefits, but these specific conditions often do – commonly about 20 to 60 minutes per day. Not all people (even within these conditions) gain from additional exercise.

If you are experiencing Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Fatigue, or Fibromyalgia, exercise may be detrimental to your healthy recovery. For depression, it is important to get to the bottom of your condition first, and ensure that you have adequate base health to push your adrenaline system up. Some forms of Anxiety are heightened by the presence of Adrenaline in your system, which can thus exacerbate your Anxiety – if this is happening, talk to your GP about trialling Beta Blockers. Chrnoic Fatigue and Firbomyalgia are very complex and won’t be covered here, but the short version is that often exercise makes these condtions worse – talk to your expert about it.

If you have good physical and mental health, then it is unlikely that you will receive much benefit from a change in your diet. If you are struggling with some aspect of mental and physical health then this guide is going to help you understand generally how the food and drink you consume can affect you.

Basic Nutrition Concepts

[This is a work in progress, please be patient, we are working on it]

While the maxim, “You are What you Eat” is a nice figurative idea, it is not literally true. We are, however, made from recombining the base materials that we consume. Our digestive system is a wonder of chemical processes, breaking down the foods, drinks and supplementary material such as medicines, into components to make our body out of. This is important to maintain who we currently are, make repairs and grow from conception into adulthood.

A way to look at it is to consider those plastic snap-together-blocks that we can combine in various ways to create toy houses, cars, ships and so on. I’m skirting the name to avoid copyright problems and hopefully you know the L word I’m referencing. Anyway, we figuratively consume existing toys, our digestive system breaks those down into the component blocks and then reconfigures them into various new sets for our body.

There are some fundamental minimums that we cannot make, and we must consume those things specifically. In our analogy, this is the plastic that the blocks are made from, some joiner specialty pieces and so on.

In biological reality, we are talking about certain base proteins, sugars, minerals, vitamins and water. If we consume items that have those, we can generally extract the bits we need

Eating Disorders

ARFID – Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

More specific information for ARFID can be found here [Link].

Binge Eating

Anorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia is medical term to describe a condition where eating “healthy food” has become obsessive. It comes from the Greek words ortho, meaning ‘correct’ and orexis, meaning ‘appetite’.

People struggling with this condition are over focused on the “quality” of the food they eat, to the detriment of the quantity of the food. This condition can start with just trying to eat more healthy and can then combine with anxiety, rejection sensitivity or OCD to become a more manifest eating disorder.

Eating Disorders Victoria [Link] has a fairly good additional information.

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