In the last two years of my born again, plant-based diet, I have heard a number of comments from strangers and acquaintances. They revolve around a similar theme: “I would rather die than not enjoy my food.”
Sure, for many it’s just something they say, but for others it actually is a very entrenched position. It is a line in the sand clearly stating, “I will not change my behavior regardless of its outcome.”
Isn’t that a suicidal decision?
I had a discussion with a gentleman who works in my building. He is in his 60s and had a recent scare related to a minor heart attack that he was fortunate to walk away from. He asked me what I have done to take control of my heart disease. I relayed that I had to flip the food pyramid upside down and move to a nutrient rich, low oil diet.
The entire time he was shaking his head. “Nay, I don’t see myself changing the way I eat.”
I persisted and suggested he could make small changes that could have immediate benefits in his angina issues—such as substituting his six Diet Cokes a day for water.
“Nope, not an option.”
Next time you ask a guy for his advice on being healthy, maybe you should have an open mind? So should I feel empathy for him when his next heart attack confines him to a wheelchair or worse? Didn’t he make his own choice?
A man named John Alleman died earlier this year of a heart attack outside of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. He had been known for eating at the restaurant every single day since they opened in 2011. The slogan, ‘a burger to die for,’ refers to the joint’s famous 9,000 calorie ‘bypass burgers,’ and the waitstaff cleverly dress as nurses as they serve these artery-blocking meals.
If someone you loved told you their plan was to drink a gallon of vodka every day until they died, would you do anything to intervene? I am sure you would. But each and every day we stand by and watch loved ones choose the same fate using a different weapon.
How does this happen?
We eat when we are depressed. What if what we eat makes us depressed?
There is evidence that diets rich in fat, sugar and salt can change our brain function.
Extensive research has shown the dopamine effects from eating high fat, high sugar and high sodium products. We actually become addicted to this chemical response, and once we are hooked the real problems begin.
Serotonin is another hormone that acts as a chemical messenger and affects our moods. Low levels of serotonin are directly linked to depression and suicide. In humans, serotonin levels are also greatly affected by diet.
“Eating a heart healthy diet—high in fiber and low in saturated fat—is a great place to start to boost your mood. There isn’t any question about it,” says Diane M. Becker MPH, at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Conversely, “a high-fat, high-glycemic load meal can make you physically feel dysfunction in your body. People who eat this type of meal tend to feel bad and sleepy afterwards.”
How to Raise Serotonin Levels Naturally
Be Happy. Reported levels of happiness are positively correlated with serotonin synthesis in the brain.
Go Outside. Exposure to bright light is a possible approach to increasing serotonin without drugs.
Exercise. A comprehensive review of the relation between exercise and mood concluded that antidepressant effects have been clearly demonstrated.
Eat Healthy. Look for foods with tryptophan. Serotonin is made via a unique biochemical conversion process that begins with tryptophan, a building block to proteins.
The common idea, that a high-protein food such as turkey will raise brain tryptophan and serotonin is false. Actually, eating a diet rich in carbohydrates and low in protein is the way to increase serotonin. Mushrooms, fruits and vegetables are common sources of serotonin—plantains, pineapples, banana, kiwis, plums, papayas, dates and tomatoes.
Seeds also have very high tryptophan levels— walnuts have the highest content followed by butternut squash seed, peppercorn squash seed, pumpkin seed, lentil seed, sunflower seed, flax-seed, watermelon seed, sesame seed, canola seed, barley, safflower seed, alfalfa seed and soy beans.
Because all carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin, it is best to eat complex carbs—such as oatmeal—which are digested more slowly and supply the brain with steady source of this feel-good chemical.
I believe that the current Western diet promotes addiction and depression. In turn, depression and addiction reduces the body’s ability to promote serotonin production. By simply adopting a plant-based diet, one’s serotonin levels are naturally increased.
“According to preliminary research in both adolescents and adults, depression is more common among people with lactose intolerance. The theory is that undigested lactose in the intestines interferes with tryptophan metabolism, leading to low serotonin levels. So people with mild undiagnosed lactose intolerance who still consume some dairy foods could actually be at higher risk for depression.
This is all especially interesting since cow’s milk is touted as a soothing food and a remedy for sleeplessness based on its alleged high content of Tryptophan. But a cup of cow’s milk actually has around the same amount of Tryptophan as a cup of soymilk or ½ cup of black beans. Foods like legumes also provide the carbohydrates that are needed for Tryptophan to get into the brain.”
In 2011, at the age of 40, Ian Welch underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Ian completely transformed his life, adopting a plant-based approach to wellness. His goal is to provide others with a plan of action when faced with difficult circumstances. Ian lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with his wife. Ian’s day job involves managing municipal bond portfolios. He is an avid long distance runner and Bikram Yoga practitioner. His blog can be found here.
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- Assist Ed: Olivia Gray
- Ed: Brianna Bemel