Food for Thought: The Link Between Food and Mental Health

Written by Maxwell Li 

Your brain works around the clock to perform vital bodily functions to keep you alive. Similar to a sports car, our brains require constant premium fuel, in the form of nutrients from food for peak performance and in turn, good mental health.

The reason behind this lies in Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Around 95% of its production takes place in your gastrointestinal tract, which happens to be filled with over a hundred million neurons. Furthermore, neuron functionality along with serotonin production are highly dependent on the presence of “good bacteria” in the gut. These bacteria protect your intestinal linings against toxins and inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, and activate direct neural pathways to your brain.

In short, the types of food you choose to eat have a profound impact on your short-term mental health!

A study conducted by flagship medical journal, BMC Medicine, found that depressed individuals assigned to a Mediterranean diet experienced substantial improvements to personal mental health. This is because “traditional” diets (e.g. Mediterranean) are high in unprocessed vegetables, fruits, proteins, and grains, which tend to be fermented and thereby promote growth of “good bacteria” in the gut.

Here are five nutrient-rich foods that will do wonders when it comes to improving your mental health:

1. Salmon

This pink fish is rich in Omega-3 and anti-inflammatory acids that protect brain cell membrane. It also contains Vitamin D, which helps manage depression and protect immune function.

2. Lentils

Lentils are rich in the B vitamin folate which is vital in the production of serotonin. They also allow your blood sugar levels to rise more gradually, for a consistent energy level throughout the day.

3. Bananas

Bananas affects tryptophan, another important amino acid that helps with serotonin production.

4. Kefir

Often described as a drinkable yogurt, Kefir is high in the “good gut bacteria”, more commonly known as probiotics.

5. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes contain high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which protects against damage to brain cells and oxidative stress on DNA. Both processes have been linked to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

 

Here at Optimity, we recognize that a sudden dietary change is painful and often short-lived. That is why we have created a way to pursue a healthier lifestyle at the office or on the go, that is both effortless and rewarding for our users, through personalized daily health challenges!

 

To find out more about Optimity solutions, visit: www.myoptimity.com/our-solution

Eat Well to Live Well: Celebrating Nutrition Month (Webinar Recap)

Five friends cooking

Written by Brett MacDonald

We had a great webinar in March, in honour of Nutrition Month. I sat down with Optimity’s Client Success Advisor, Mira Levine, to talk about how cooking at home is good for not only your body, but also your wallet. You can watch the full webinar here. Here are a few key takeaway points from the webinar:

Understanding the big picture and how the world wide physical burden is influenced by our dietary choices:


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  • Report made by The Guardian summarizing Global Burden of Disease Study showed that 20% of deaths world wide are attributable to poor diet
  • The biggest concern from these poor nutrition eating habits is a diet high in sodium

Not only does poor nutritional eating habits cost us physically, but there is also a financial burden associated:

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  • In Canada, the economic burden attributable to poor nutrition is estimated to be over CAD$13.8 billion/year
  • In America:
    • Medical cost associated with obesity is estimated to be US$147 billion/year
    • Medical cost associated with diagnosed diabetes is estimated to be US$254 billion/year
  • It’s important to note the difference in these monetary values, as America has a larger population and a different healthcare system compared to Canada which influences these values. However, it’s clear that regardless of this there is still a financial burden associated to poor nutrition

 

It’s essential to understand that poor nutrition costs us both physically and financially. See what can you do to ameliorate your eating habits and what the benefits of home cooking are:

Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Eating Plate

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This is an excellent guide to help you understand what a healthy eating plate looks like and how you can adopt these practices when preparing your own meals.

 

Top 5 Benefits of Home Cooking

  1. Saves Money
  2. Saves Time
  3. Healthier Ingredients
  4. Portion Control
  5. Social Impact

 

What to Look for When Grocery Shopping

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Optimity’s Zero Restaurants Challenge

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Optimity has a large library of activities and challenges related to nutrition such as our Zero Restaurants Challenge, where individuals try cut down their eating and spending at restaurants to zero for 30 days. We had a client from Linedrive join us during our webinar to talk about his positive experience with the challenge.

 

Establishing new healthy eating habits can be difficult at first. However, much like we learned from our January webinar on habits, small micro-changes to your diet and lifestyle will have the biggest impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

An Upstream Approach for a Healthy Heart

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Posted by Tasneem Panchbhaya

In honor of heart awareness month, we will be discussing why it’s important for employers to focus on an upstream approach to a healthy heart.

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Heart disease is costing companies billions of dollars in loss of productivity and absenteeism.

Workplace wellness program can help prevent heart disease for their employees and in return bring down cost.

It’s essential to understand that heart disease can easily be prevented by making small behaviour changes.

See what can you do to prevent heart disease:
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Physical Activity

  • Physical activity elevates your heart rate, which is essential for keeping your heart in shape.
  • Something as simple as taking the stairs, does wonders for your heart. To read more on helpful tips on how to get physically active, especially in the colder months, check out our blog post here on exercise.

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Nutrition

  • Nutrition is key to a healthy life.
  • Some helpful tips in eating healthy is avoiding the foods that are big contributors to heart disease. Processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and sodium, so these should be kept to a minimum.
  • Cook your own food, it allows you to eat as clean as possible when using raw ingredients to make your meal.
  • Eating with others makes you more mindful of what you’re eating, and how much you’re eating. For more information on healthy eating for employees, check out one of our popular webinars on nutrition and mindful eating the workplace for more insightful tips.

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Stress Less

  • Identify your stressors in order to avoid them or create coping mechanisms that work for you.
  • Physical behaviours such as stretching and yoga can help relieve stress.
  • Change your thinking: see if your stressor is actually rational or if you’re just blowing it out of proportion. Try to make your thinking more positive.
  • Meditation is a great technique that can be done just about anywhere, and is proven to reduce stress. Here is another great webinar we’ve done on mindfulness and meditation in the workplace.

It’s cheaper to prevent heart disease than to treat it! Simple lifestyle changes can have the biggest positive impact financially and on the individuals health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

Or sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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Recharge Your Diet: Our Secrets for a Healthy Lifestyle

Posted by Emily Guterres

TIME STAMP: 3 MINUTE READ

It seems like everyone’s talking about the real solution to weight loss. Every day it seems like a new diet craze is ready to make weight loss faster and easier than ever before. However, beware most fad diets generally go something like: “Take a few foods give them magic power and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss.” says Alexandra Caspero, R.D a nutritionist based in Sacremento, CA.ye_girl_eating_a_salad.png

In a society that is so image driven, it seems as though everyone’s talking about it, “THE secrets to get that summer body.” If you searched online for weight loss solutions you get 38 million results. How is anyone supposed to find the real solution? With this overwhelming amount of information it can be extremely difficult to get started on achieving your goals.

BUT WAIT – We’re here to help you break through the 4 most searched for diets of 2019 and discover whether or not they’re really worth it.

1. 20/20 Diet 

The Claim: Wait Doctor Phil? You have the answers to all of my life problems and now you want to help me loose weight? Even though he doesn’t promise you’ll loose weight, he says you “may” loose weight.

The 20/20 diet is a cycling diet plan and was online most searched diet of the year. It’s a 30-day cycling diet, with three phases every 30 days. The first two phases are 5 days long and the third is 20 days. The foods Doctor Phil recommends are supposed to help with thermogenesis, which is a state where the process of energy production in the body caused directly by the metabolizing of food consumed.

The 20/20 diet is about looking past your dieting efforts, failed attempts and what you can do to make up for it. He is trying to repent you from your dieting sins and tell you all of these failures are what eventually led him to create this plan.

Worth It? This diet requires you to stick to a rigid meal plan and eat every 4 hours, which could be time consuming. Be weary, of diets that have a start and stop date, after all there are no phases or end dates to a healthy lifestyle.

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2. Zero Belly Diet 

Wait but actually? Trying to take away my carbs? Sounds like a nightmare. They’re also telling readers they can magically turn off, their fat genes.

The Claim – You can lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days. This diet and fitness program includes a list of nine foods that supposedly target and melt your fat cells.

Worth it? There is no way to turn off your genes to fast track weight loss. While hundreds of genes affect your overall weight in small ways, this isn’t to say that you can’t learn new healthy behaviors to adapt your lifestyle.

 

3.Mediterranean diet – Not the see food and you eat it diet? Ugh.

This diet emphasizes a primarily plant based foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood and nuts – coupled with physical activity. It suggests avoiding a list of unhealthy foods and ingredients such as processed food and added sugars.

The Claim: This diet will help you eat your way to optimal heart and brain health. Additionally it claims increased longevity and living a longer and healthier life. When there is a reduction in developing heart disease or cancer, there is a 20 %reduced risk of death at any age.

Worth it ? YES, this diet can have positive long-term effects on your over all health. Benefits include keeping you agile, preventing heart diseases and strokes and reducing Alzheimers.

So what is the real solution?   Remember those days when you were 6 years old and you used to carelessly dance around? Imagine even what a minute or 5 minutes could do for your over all health.

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Who says adults can’t have a little recess during their workday?

Many business leaders often discuss the value of adding healthy habits into their daily routines. It could be as simple as setting stretch goals.

Don’t be too hard on yourself; life is demanding. Between jobs, kids and everything else, life can get difficult. Give yourself a break, dieting shouldn’t be about extreme weight loss, it should be about slow and steady implementation of healthier habits that will lead to an over all healthier lifestyle.

 

Sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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5 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness for a chronic diseases that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s surprising how little people and companies knows about the condition, and how to prevent it, and how to incorporate diabetes awareness into in the workplace.

While diabetes costs an individual considerably higher health care fees, it can also cost a company more money to keep, and look after employees with the disease. Not only is diabetes a completely preventable disease, with about 9 out of 10 cases being easily avoided, but there are also some very easy ways to ensure you prevent diabetes effecting you.

Here are 5 simple steps you can take to prevent diabetes:

 1. WATCH YOUR WEIGHT

Although not everyone that develops type 2 diabetes is overweight, the majority are. The more visceral fat (fat around your midsection) you carry, the larger your risk of developing diabetes.

Studies show that losing a small amount of weight can help reduce your risk, and that the more you lose, the more benefits you will experience. Losing just 5kg over several years can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 50%!

There are many options for losing weight, but the easiest one is to simply watch your portion sizes and add more vegetables into your meals. Choosing a way of eating that you can maintain long term is the key to succeeding with weight loss.

2. CUT THE SUGAR

 Did you know that in 2001, sugar represented more than 10% off the calories consumed by Canadians? Imagine what it represents now, in 2017! This sugar can be hard to identify, as the industry uses so many different names for sugar in labels, so be sure to always check your food labels for hidden nasties. The names you’re looking out for are sucrose, dextrose, fructose-enriched corn syrup, glucose-fructose, malt syrup, etc. These are all different ways to say sugar, and the closer these items are to the top of the ingredients list, the more the product contains.

3. ADD SPICES

An easy and interesting way to prevent Type 2 diabetes is to add more spices in to your diet. Spices such as cinnamon can actually improve glucose tolerance and even has the ability to restrict the amount of glycation products that damage the blood vessel linings.

 Other spices that can be instrumental in the prevention of diabetes are seasonings such as black pepper, thyme and turmeric. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory activity helps to reduce the damage caused by a sugar surplus in the cardiovascular system. So instead of using sugar or salt in your meals, opt to use spices and seasonings to add flavour in to your cooking.

4. NOT ALL FATS ARE THE SAME

Fat is not all bad, but there are definitely different types of fat that should be consumed less to prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes. Certain saturated fats are known to promote inflammation, indirectly causing insulin resistance, but the main fat in olive oil actually has an anti-inflammatory action, provided that you’re having it cold and not heating it in a pan.

Don’t avoid fats all together, instead, include fats like nuts, avocado and any omega – 3 fats to keep you healthy.

5. DITCH SMOKING

Apart from the fact that smoking, and even second-hand smoke can be linked to type 2 diabetes, smoking has also been proven to contribute to many health conditions, including heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema. In a study of over 1 million people, smoking was proven to increase your risk of diabetes by a massive 44% in average smokers and 61% in people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day.

Researchers have found that even though people can gain weight after quitting smoking, after a couple of years off of the cigarettes, their risk of diabetes was considerably lower.

As an employer, you play a huge role in the lives of your employees. This presents a great opportunity to promote the awareness of the risks associated with diabetes. By supporting your employees in leading a healthier lifestyle, everyone benefits.

 

Sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards:

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The Benefits of Eating Pumpkin this Fall

Now that the Fall is in full force, pumpkin has made its long awaited comeback, and while you may only be familiar with delectable pumpkin treats such as pumpkin pies and pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin has far more to offer that just its sweet desserts. Its vitamin-rich flesh also has an abundance of health benefits, including better quality sleep, weight loss, and increased vision.

If cooked correctly, pumpkin is actually one of the healthier foods of the season, which is why we’ve noted some amazing health benefits of pumpkin to kick start your obsession this fall.

 

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Weight Loss

Mashed pumpkin has only 50 calories per cup and 3 grams of fiber, whilst pumpkin seeds have about 1.7 grams of fiber per ounce. Fibre helps you to feel fuller for longer which will assist in the prevention of over eating.

 

Increased Vision

Just one cup of pumpkin contains almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Vitamin A improves your vision and has also been found to slow the decline of retinal function in those with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that can eventually lead to blindness. Vitamin A has also been proven to help maintain healthy skin, teeth and bones.

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Better Sleep Quality

Have you ever wondered why you feel so sleepy after a big slice of pumpkin pie at thanksgiving dinner? Well, pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, which is the amino acid that contributes to sleepiness. It also helps the body make serotonin, which assists in feeling a sense of relaxation. So not only will you be sleeping better, you will also experience and improvement in mood.

 

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With pumpkin’s high fibre content, it also helps to protect your heart. A recent Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals found that those who ate a diet high in fibre had a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who ate less fibre.

 

                                                      Boosts your Immune System

boost-immune-systemPumpkin can help you fight off that pesky cold or flu that often comes hand in hand with fall. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 11 milligrams, or nearly 20% of the 60 milligrams the IOM recommends women need daily, whilst men should aim for around 75 milligrams.

 

Want to start leading a healthier life and win FREE rewards? Sign up here to start!

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Trista Chan is a Client Services Associate at Optimity.  She leverages her education in nutrition and experience in corpoate health to guide organizations in building healthy, engaged employees.  Her “me-time” activities include yoga, reading health blogs, cooking….did she mention she likes wellness?  Her passion for all things health-related shines through in both her work and personal life.  

How Optimity Helped Me Lose Weight!

I got in touch with one of our Optimity users over the week and asked how Optimity has played apart in their life. Today I’m joined by Stephanie, who has been an Optimity user since early 2017, to share her user experience.

Hi, I’m Stephanie, and I’m really happy to be able to share my health journey with everyone.  I’m 24 years old and Optimity helped me get healthy during my last year of University! Growing up I’ve always been a little bit “bigger”. It was normal for me to think being overweight was genetics and there was no way around it. So I ate the same food my family was eating, which obviously didn’t help because they were on the heavy spectrum. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I realized that I was heavier than my other friends.

I went through some high and lows throughout my teen year because of my weight, I always felt a little insecure about the way I looked. It also didn’t help that my relationship with food wasn’t all that great. I had tried different dieting techniques, and weight loss programs but would just give up easily and the weight would come back on. I have unhealthy parents and I could see their health deteriorating as they got older with their unhealthy habits.   

I decided it was about time I did something about how I looked, but more importantly, how I felt inside. I didn’t want to get old and regret not trying to improve my overall health when I had the opportunity. I’d tried a lot of fad diets and the newest gadgets and they were great at first, until I would quit or stop using them. My biggest problem was about keeping a sustainable healthy lifestyle, with constant tips and reminders to stay on target with my goals. I was in this for the long run and I needed something that would help me continuously improve my health.

It was about a year ago when I had a friend introduce me to Optimity, I never took it seriously at first, it was just a great tool that provided me with useful notifications to help me build healthier habits and had a huge library of content. It wasn’t until a quarter way through the year that I noticed I developed a lot of new habits and I was actually losing weight! I was sitting in the library one night studying when I got a sudden urge to get a snack, and the old me would have went straight to the vending machine but instead, I walked to the nearby cafeteria to buy myself a yogurt parfait and some water! Who would have thought that I would one day walk right past the vending machine. It was then that I realized all those small quick activities I was doing from the Optimity app actually helped me develop new nutritious habits and help curb my usual unhealthy snack cravings. Thanks Optimity!

Tasneem: Wow! That honestly so amazing I’m so happy for your healthy progress and that Optimity was able to help you on your journey. Can you share some of your top activity packs that really helped you get to where you on now?

Stephanie: Ya for sure! So time was a big issue for me, I was still in school and working at the same time so I really utilized the activity packs that I could have done from anywhere and that were quick. My top 3 activity packs that I would highly recommend is: 60 Second Workout, Eat well, and Energize With food. These 3 are my holy grail activity packs, they made me squeeze in quick workouts literally anywhere, even when I was sitting in one of my lectures, I would do seated leg raises. The last 2 activity packs really helped me improve my relationship with food, I no longer looked at unhealthy food as “bad” it just became high calorie, low nutritious food. This outlook helped me figure out which food worked for me and when.

Tasneem: Thanks so much for all that Stephanie, I’m really happy you’re in a healthier place now and are happy with your experience with Optimity!

 

We’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to share your experience with using Optimity and how it impacted your life, please reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com.

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Not yet a user? Sign up now to join people like Stephanie and the rest of the Optimity Community to start getting healthier and claiming free rewards along the way!