Eating Disorders and Nutrition: Why Your Brain Needs Green Veggies
As a dietitian who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, I enjoy educating my clients about the role of nutrition in eating disorder recovery. Eating well isn’t just about weight gain or weight loss – it’s about feeding your brain so you can think clearly and feel in balance emotionally.
You’ve probably heard this statement from your parents, teachers, or dietitians – “Eat your green veggies!” If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, this may seem like yet another “food rule,” which you either take to an extreme by over consuming these foods, or, you may rebel and eat very few green veggies.
Have you ever wondered, “Why does my brain need green veggies?” Consuming enough folate-rich food is often talked about in the news as a way to assure having a healthy pregnancy. So, since folate so important for women who are pregnant, is folate important for non-pregnant women, and men, too? Recently, a great deal of research with folate has been done, which everyone should pay attention to, as it effects the health of the brain.
Folate is commonly found in deep green veggies, such as spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, and broccoli. In addition, it is found in whole grain cereals, lentils, and black, navy or kidney beans. When we eat folate-rich food, it is converted in the intestine into a substance called L-Methylfolate, which goes into our brain and makes the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. You may have heard of the importance of having a good balance of these neurotransmitters in the brain, because of their role in having a balanced mood.
Proper levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine can help reduce depression and anxiety – and overall, when these neurotransmitters are in balance, we have a sense of wellbeing. If the balance in your brain is off, medications can be helpful. Seventy percent of clients have to get their medications changed, or feel no real shift in their depression or mood, which has stumped doctors for years. It turns out that many of these clients lack a key component to convert folate to L-Methylfolate. If there’s no L-Methylfolate for your brain, then you can’t make serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine and therefore can’t feel relief from depression.
If you have tried numerous antidepressant medications, are consuming enough folate in your diet, and you still suffer from symptoms of depression – it may be worth talking to your psychiatrist or medical doctor to request a blood test to determine if your body does not make the component to convert folate to L-Methylfolate. If you are deficient, then you can take a supplement to treat the deficiency, your medications will start working correctly, and you can feel better!
Janelle Hunt, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and an EDIT™ Certified Counselor, and she can provide Nutrition Counseling and address Intuitive Eating to help you make peace with food. EMAIL JANELLE
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