Four Foods to Eliminate Irritation

For the past two weeks, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against anger. There are a lot of changes taking place in my life. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I find that I constantly butt heads with certain people in certain situations. I’m sure you know the feeling. It seems as if once one thing is squashed and settled, then another thing pops up in its place. Ughh!

 

What’s more, I feel like there are moments where my usual methods of dealing with stressful situations don’t seem to be working as well. The answer is to let go and let be. It sounds very airy but it isn’t. I find that a lot of my frustration stems from resistance. We all have our own beliefs and experiences that we cannot shake no matter what. They shape who we are and how we react. There are certain situations and people who we will not synch with despite our best intentions because of those experiences and beliefs. So find your tribe, whoever they may be, and learn to respectfully walk away from the ones that you don’t mesh well with. Okay that’s my  sermon for today 😉.

When I have those irritating moments, I like to use the stress-busting tools that I discussed here. Sometimes, I like to just stop what I’m doing for five minutes to glance out the window. What I’m trying to say is changing a small thing can be valuable in terms of dealing with bigger issues.

As far as diet goes, I like to make sure that I have a lot of calcium-rich foods. Low levels of calcium may affect your mood. So please feel free to indulge in some broccoli, soybeans, and kale. Here are some other foods I thrive on when I feel a little too heated:

 

Bananas

Let me start by dispelling a very widespread belief that many of us grew up with regarding bananas. Yes, bananas do have serotonin’s precursor tryptophan, but no, they will not improve your mood because of it. Unfortunately, most foods containing tryptophan like bananas must compete with other amino acids for access to the brain and the serotonin doesn’t cross that blood-brain barrier. That’s why you crave carbs when stressed out—high carbohydrate foods increase the tryptophan ratio and allow more serotonin to your brain, which alters your mood for the better. So why the hell are we even talking about bananas? Well because bananas have other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for enhancing your mood such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. This fruit is an antioxidant that is rich in vitamin A and B-vitamins. I like to mix banana puree into my baked goods like muffins or mix it in the occasional smoothie. Other times, I use it as an after dinner topping on my dessert.

Black beans

If I do one thing with this blog, that one thing will be having you walk away with a total lovefest with pulses like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Black beans, like other pulses, are a good source of protein, fiber, and iron. They also contain folate and magnesium. Some studies indicate that folate deficiency is linked with conditions such as depression and I talk about the benefits of magnesium here. Definitely a plus when dealing with daily irritants. But what makes black beans special is that they contain a higher amount of antioxidants than other beans. I love black beans in quesadillas, sandwiches, and salads.

 

Sourdough bread

Unrefined whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates and, as previously mentioned, that may promote that good mood that we’re seeking. And some research has shown that eating whole grains protects against chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My husband turned me on to sourdough bread last year when I found that I had a lot of difficulty digesting other wheat breads. There is a problem with whole grain bread that a lot of us don’t know. While whole grain bread is high in potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B1, and zinc, the presence of an antinutrient called phytic acid makes it very hard to absorb those nutrients into our bodies. What I love about sourdough bread is that the fermentation process allows for better mineral availability and digestion. I like my sourdough avocado toast during the week, but honey, I am a sandwich girl through and through.

Almond milk

As a person who has suffered from allergies my entire life, I was determined that for the first year of my son’s life that he would only drink plant-based milk. And this was before I was a vegan. Now, my son is ten years old and, for much of his childhood, he has had soy milk at home. About a year ago, my husband and I decided to switch to almond milk. While the protein content is higher with soy milk, almond milk has more fiber (wonderful for lowering blood cholesterol). Almonds are a good source of antioxidants and the milk is high in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium that may influence mood disorders and brain function. Every now and then, I like to drink golden milk made with turmeric and almond milk.

 

Those are some of the good mood foods I enjoy. What do you like?

Five Ways to Calm Your Menstrual Cramps

One of the wonderful things about being a lady is dealing with that time of the month or when Auntie Flow from Red Hills comes for a visit, as they say in my neck of the woods. When I was in my teens and twenties, I absolutely hated that visit. Bloating and lots and lots of cramping. #bigsweatshirtweek. Now, the cramps and bloating are almost non-existent, thank goodness. Unfortunately, for some people managing your menses can be a freaking nightmare that includes severe cramps that may affect your ability to function. This common condition is known as dysmenorrhea and it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. What causes all these cramps are hormonelike substances called prostaglandins, which are usually kept in check by progesterone during much of the monthly cycle. But before menstruation begins, progesterone levels drop and prostaglandin levels increase. The prostaglandins in the menstrual blood trigger the uterus to contract and cramp and that means a cycle of pain. Women with gut-wrenching cramps have more prostaglandins than women who aren’t as affected by them.

Dysmenorrhea is divided into two categories: 1) primary dysmenorrhea, which is menstrual pain without organic disease; and 2) secondary dysmenorrhea where the pain is related to an identifiable disease. So don’t be a hero—if your pain is so severe that you need a medical professional, please, please, do something about it.

There are certain things that I like to do when my auntie likes to come by like applying warm castor oil to my abdomen. Some research indicates that applying a heat wrap for an extended time can relieve pain. Another thing I like to do is to eat more high-calcium and high-magnesium foods right before my period. It has been reported that increasing calcium reduces pain, mood symptoms, and water retention during the menstrual cycle. And magnesium has been effective with reducing dysmenorrhea symptoms. So I pile on my broccoli, lentils, and chickpeas during that time of the month.

Here are some other foods I eat that provide relief from those moody menses:

Carob

Way before I became a vegan, I thought carob was only something that patchouli-smelling hippies ate. This was also before I realized that, deep down inside, I was a patchouli-smelling hippie. I was never really a chocolate aficionado. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some chocolate when the mood strikes but I never really went crazy to get it. So when I passed carob powder one day at the supermarket, I thought why the hell not? Carob is a natural sweetener that looks similar to chocolate but what makes carob so special is that it doesn’t contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Also, carob is high in calcium. What’s more, carob is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, niacin, iron, and potassium. I like to mix carob powder into protein balls, frothy smoothie-like drinks, and baked goods like this chocolate cake.

 

Nettle

I started drinking nettle tea last year for a relentless case of allergies. As some of you may know, nettle is a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial. Some research suggests that nettle may be effective as a treatment for conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases and rheumatism pains. In addition, nettle contains vitamin A, vitamin B1, potassium, and calcium. I like to kick back with a nice cup of nettle tea when I need to build a defense against those uncomfortable menses moments.

Oats

I have always, always been an oatmeal lover. Back in the day, it would be nothing for me to sit in front of the TV with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies or enjoy a bowl of instant oatmeal. There is a small controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to eat steel cut oats, rolled oats, or quick-cooking oats. That all boils down to the fact that steel cut oats have a higher cooking time but are lower on the glycemic index than rolled oats and quick-cooking oats. Choose whatever floats your boat. Oats are a gluten-free food but, depending on where it is processed, there may be a possibility of wheat contamination, so always practice caution in terms of the brand you choose if needed. Oats contain magnesium, vitamin B1, fiber, and iron. And some studies have shown that the consumption of oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels. I like to put oats in my chia pudding, muffins, and cookies.

Dill

Dill used to remind me of summers as a kid: barbecues that featured potato salad slathered with mayonnaise and chopped fresh dill with relish. Even back then I had more fondness for the side dishes than all those meat-laden stuff. But dill is more than just a flavoring for your cousin’s salad. This herb is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial. Dill is loaded with calcium, manganese, and iron. Some research indicates that dill may be effective as a treatment for gingivitis, indigestion, and menstrual disorders. In fact, a 2014 study showed that dill reduced the pain severity of women who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea. This herb also contains minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Even though I’m a vegan now, I do tend to follow tradition and mix a teaspoon of dill in some vegan mayo to top my veggie sausages or falafels.

 

Blackstrap molasses

My husband always talks about my weird taste in food. For example, years ago before I became a vegan or even a vegetarian, I went through this phase where I was growing tired of chicken (I never really liked red meat except for the occasional fast food burger—my, how the tide done turn!). Anyway, I didn’t know what to do to make my meals more interesting so I got the bright idea to use dark molasses as a topping for my grilled chicken. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good idea then. Maybe I didn’t choose the right one because it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. But later, after much research, I finally figured out the right way to use blackstrap molasses. Molasses is the concentrated and clarified extract of sugar cane that is made by boiling cane juice until most of the water is evaporated. There are three grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. The grades can be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphured molasses are made from young sugar cane that is treated with sulphur dioxide during the extraction process. Not good. We want unsulphured molasses that are made from mature sugar cane with no sulphur added. Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated form of the sugar cane extract. This sweetener is a great source of B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. And please note that this is still sugar, so use it sparingly. I like this brand a lot. I like to drizzle about a teaspoon of molasses on sweet potatoes or combine it with about two and half tablespoons of unsweetened coconut shreds for coconut bacon.

 

These are some of the ways I alleviate monthly cramps. What are some of the ways that help you?

Five Ways to Handle Headaches

Last Sunday, I woke up with a bothersome sinus headache. I knew that it was connected to the pollen floating around from the previous day. In fact, as my family and I were driving back and forth for our errands, my son looked out the car window and pointed to the small white wisps and said, “Look at all the pollen blowing in the wind!” I rarely get headaches at all, thank goodness, but unfortunately headaches are all too common for many people that we know and love. Common triggers for headaches may include:

  • Foods such as ripened cheeses, chocolate, vinegar, and fermented foods
  • Caffeine
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Drug-related reactions
  • Hormonal factors such as menstruation and pregnancy
  • Visual stimuli such as glare, eyestrain, and flicker
  • Odors and smells such as paint and exhaust fumes
  • Seasonal factors such as sudden changes in weather, humidity, heat, and cold
  • Allergens such as pollen
  • Head trauma
  • Neck pain
  • Sexual intercourse

Chronic headaches can result in lost peace of mind and income. It is estimated that 156 full-time work days were lost because of headaches, at a possible cost of $25 billion in lost productivity. So it is absolutely important to identify these triggers and to prevent these headaches from occurring if possible. And most importantly, seek professional medical attention if you are a chronic sufferer.

On the rare occasions that I do have a headache, there are certain foods that I like to indulge in for relief. Here are some of them:

Green Tea

Green tea leaves contain caffeine (I know, I know, I just said caffeine may be a trigger—I’ll explain), theophylline, essential oils, and polyphenols. Okay, caffeine influences the central nervous system by decreasing fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and facilitating idea association. That’s why we like it now and again, but moderation is the key. In addition, theophylline causes a relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle and stimulates on a respiratory level. This is beneficial for those of us who are suffering from allergy-related headaches. Also, those polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that boost our immune system, definitely a plus when healing your body. Green tea is my beverage of choice for most mornings. I have it plain without an ounce of sweetener (it took me a while to get used to that!) with a dash of amla powder and lemon or ginger juice.

 

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper contains the compound capsaicin that stimulates circulation and aids digestion.  Some evidence suggests that capsaicin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may be useful in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain. And some clinical studies have found that capsaicin may be effective in relieving and preventing sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on my morning avocado toast when I need it.

 

Garlic

I grew up with a Jamaican mother who wouldn’t hesitate to put fresh garlic or garlic powder on any meal she was preparing for dinner that night. And when I say garlic, I don’t mean a dash. I mean a full-blown massive attack where you are walking away with some halitosis. I am proud and, a little bit scared to admit, that I inherited a little of her sensibilities when it comes to this plant. I don’t think I put as much garlic in my dishes as she did, but just enough for my husband to yell that he can smell it from the living room 😊. Garlic is a stimulant, antiseptic, antihypertensive, and carminative. This plant has vitamin A, C, sulfur, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium and manganese. But most importantly, garlic contains compounds such as allicin that have antioxidant properties for scavenging the body for those damaging free radicals, which is definitely helpful when combating pain. I like to have raw garlic cloves with my dinner for that extra boost of flavor.

 

Ginger

One major rule in my household is that we use garlic and ginger in treating a lot of common illnesses like colds and coughs. Again, it’s my Jamaican background, my friend. Ginger, like garlic, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This plant has been studied as a treatment for conditions such as post-operative nausea and vomiting. But some studies indicate that ginger may be as effective as medications like sumatriptan for treating acute* migraines. I like to have a spoonful of fresh minced ginger first thing in the morning before eating any meal. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this brand below.

 

Magnesium-Rich Food

I have spoken about why it is important to have magnesium as a staple in your diet here. Magnesium deficiency may be associated with headaches. For example, some studies have shown that low magnesium levels have been found in patients with cluster headaches. And it has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraines. I like to take the preventive route and have a high magnesium meal like chickpeas with rice when I feel the slightest bit of pressure coming on.

 

So these are some of the ways I ward off headache woes. How do you do it?

*Again, please note that I am not a medical professional, so it is absolutely important to consult one before using any method to treat a serious condition.

Five Foods to Sharpen Your Focus

Usually, I’m a pretty detail-oriented person. Maybe that’s part of being an introvert. But there are days when every little thing in the world distracts me and my brain is like a freaking hamster on a wheel that fell off the spikes. You know how it goes: you want to finish an assignment by a certain time but then the mind minutia rolls in. Did I pack everything for my son’s lunch? Did I put away that thing before I left the house this morning? Do I have time to do that thing in the evening?

What I’ve found is that it is helpful to give myself little ten-minute breaks throughout the day. Then I’m able to refocus and follow through on my main priorities. The other thing is just to appreciate small things in nature. It sounds corny as hell but sometimes just staring at a succulent plant or listening to a bird chirp for a couple of seconds can provide newfound energy for anything that you need to do. Most importantly, don’t forget to hydrate yourself with water throughout the day (believe me, I have to remind myself too :)). Dehydration has been linked to poor mental performance. Here are some other things that helped me to firm up my focus:

Rosemary

I love the smell of rosemary. During the Thanksgiving season, I love to put huge amounts of fresh rosemary on my stuffing. But I usually settle for dried rosemary during the rest of the year. Some studies suggest that rosemary is a powerful antioxidant and antidepressant. In addition, some research indicates that the aroma of this herb may enhance alertness and cognitive function. I like to toss some rosemary on a bowl of potatoes when things start getting a little tense during the afternoon or evening.

Cashews

Cashews, like many nuts, are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E. Cashews are also a great source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the production of that feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Diets that have a significant level of antioxidants and tryptophan may have a positive impact on mood and cognition. My husband and I love to snack on cashews. They are creamy and buttery delicious. Also, we enjoy Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses*, which are made primarily from cashews. For those of you who are newly vegan, I implore you to please, please try her products because some vegan cheeses can be scary and just…meh. These cheeses are the truth. When I first tried Miyoko’s, I got really scared because I thought I ate dairy. It’s that good, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Lentils

Lentils are one of the best plant-sourced proteins that you can get. These legumes also contain magnesium, which along with folic acid and vitamin B12 helps increase the level of the amino acid tyrosine in the brain. Tyrosine is eventually converted to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which promotes mental energy and alertness. Lentils are a staple on my weekly dinner menu. Why? Because they are hella-easy to prepare. Red lentils do not require any soaking at all and take thirty minutes in the rice cooker if I’m in a hurry. But other times, I will pick up prepared lentils from the supermarket and use them for tacos.

 

 

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are chock full of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) the precursor to omega-3 fatty acid. ALA is converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You can read more about it here. DHA is essential for brain plasticity, maintenance of learning and memory, and neurological development. Some studies indicate that low levels of DHA may be linked to cognitive decline in older adults. So we want to consume as many healthy fats like this one (BTW: walnuts and flaxseeds are wonderful sources too). My all-time number one breakfast is chia pudding because it is so simple to make. I mix in things like oats, pumpkin seeds, pineapple—you name it, if I want it, then it’s all up in there! On days when I really need that extra boost of energy, I will throw in a little protein powder like this one.

 

Broccoli

Broccoli was one of the few vegetables that I liked eating as a kid. I remember my mother would buy the frozen rectangular packs from the supermarket for our side dishes during the week. You know the ones where the broccoli is drenched in cheddar cheese sauce because that was the only way that my brother and I would eat it. It took many years for me to really learn how to prepare and appreciate this wonderful vegetable. Broccoli is high in vitamin C, an antioxidant and free radical scavenger that promotes brain function. Despite my scary introduction to this vegetable, I am blessed to say that I am now mature enough to enjoy broccoli without a darn thing added to it.

Those are just some of the foods I enjoy for boosting my mental energy. What are some foods that you enjoy?

*Please note the opinions are my own. I was not paid to plug Miyoko’s cheeses.