Baked salmon steak with tomato, onion, mix of green leaves salad. (File photo)

Revy Let’s Talk: Sugar, nutrition and mental health

Stacie Byrne

Special to the Review

April 7 was World Health Day. This day supports health for everyone, everywhere.

As Alex Sosnkowski knows first hand, food impacted not only her physical health, but also her mental health and wellbeing. Here’s what Alex had to say:

“Nutrition affects mental health and mental health affects nutrition. Sometimes they show up together, leading to a seemingly inescapable cycle. I didn’t always know this.

Here’s how it would go: I’d have a long day at work, would be feeling down or low and wondering why things weren’t going quite the way I wanted them to. I’d feel sluggish and bloated, too, although I was usually eating what I always did: a bowl of oatmeal or whole grain bagel for breakfast, a mid-morning latte, a turkey sandwich for lunch and cookies or chocolate in the afternoon.

Here’s what I didn’t know: My diet was primarily to blame. A diet high in simple carbohydrates like the one I’d had, with minimal protein, fiber, or greens played havoc with my blood sugar. My diet was so high in sugar that my insulin levels remained elevated throughout the day, which meant I was addicted to sugar. Consistently high blood sugar and insulin levels is what happens before people are diagnosed with diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, or hypothyroidism, and many other dis-eases rooted in inflammation, including mental health issues.

Here’s how it works: When we eat simple or complex sugars, our digestive enzymes and bacteria break them down so they can go directly into the blood stream. As soon as those sugars are detected, the pancreas releases insulin to process them, sending the sugars for storage in the liver and muscles for ready energy. However, if the liver and muscle stores are already full (because you didn’t burn off what you’ve already stored from a previous meal), then those sugars are stored as fat, specifically belly fat.

On top of that, when blood sugar levels are consistently high, that places stress on the adrenal glands, which messes with cortisol levels. When your cortisol levels are out of whack, then so are your hormones. And guess what? Hormonal imbalances are often associated with mental health issues.

Do you see what a vicious cycle that is? It’s a vicious cycle that leads to sugar cravings, fat storage, and possibly more, like mental health issues, hypothyroidism, diabetes and so on. And I didn’t even think I was eating too much sugar.

I used to be part of that vicious cycle, so I know what it felt like for me. I didn’t get better over night, but what I did learn was how hooked on sugar I was and how to shift my focus from carbohydrates to protein, fat, fiber and greens as often as possible. And drink lots more water—especially first thing in the morning. This meant making some big changes to my routines and habits. It wasn’t easy at first. My body craved carbohydrates. But the more good nutrition I put in, the less room there was for the not so good nutrition. On top of that, I started feeling better and sleeping better. My moods didn’t swing from one extreme to another and the brain fog started to lift and even stay away.

If you’re talking to someone about nutritional advice, make sure they’re trained to see the connection between nutrition and health. Remember what Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Start small: drink a 12oz. glass of water first thing when you wake up in the morning and avoid sugar for breakfast. Be your own best doctor. Trust me, your worth it.”

You can find Alex during the week behind the desk at the Feel Good Collective on Wednesdays and Fridays, on Facebook at Your Whole Health Solutions, on her website at yourwholehealthsolutions.com, or you can email her at info@yourwholehealthsolutions.com.

Other health and nutrition supports in Revelstoke:

Nutritional Education Program, Food Bank, Kids Snack Program and Food Security at Community Connections

Learn about healthy eating or speak to a dietician and exercise professional at healthlinkbc.ca call 811 (soon to be a text service)

Soup and a Smile at United Church (all are welcome to drop-in Monday during fall/winter at 11:45am)

Breakfast Programs at every school in SD19

Dietician at the Diabetes and Nutrition Office at Queen Victoria Hospital, Sandra Rourke @ 250-814-2276

Public Health at Queen Victoria Hospital

Stacie Byrne is the Project Lead for the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use (CYMHSU) Local Action Team, which is a part of a larger Provincial Collaborative working together to support people between the ages of 6-24 years old and their families with mental health and substance use challenges. The Collaborative works with Service Providers and the community to share how all of the pieces of the recovery puzzle fit together and what is available within and outside of Revelstoke.

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