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Dietician Peri Gershoni of Psynergy Shares Healthy Recipes and Other Thoughts on Nutrition

By: Alexis Zinkerman

Part One of my post on nutrition interviewed Dr. Drew Ramsey about the medical nature of eating healthy. Part two interviews Peri Gershoni, a dietician for Psynergy Programs who is working on her Master’s degree in Dietetics in the UK and writes a blog for Psynergy at http://psynergy.org/blog. Psynergy is a residential treatment program for people with mental illness located in California which empasizes therapy, farm-to-table meals, exercise programs and equine therapy. I asked Peri about what kind of diet people with mental health conditions should follow, for some healthy recipes that everyone can make, as well as tips on how to shop healthy but on a budget.

AZ: What type of diet should people with mental health conditions who are on medications should be eating for maximum healthiness?

PG: To date there is no specific diet for general mental health conditions although recently there is more research into the very interesting field of nutritional psychiatry. 

Research suggests that a diet rich in essential minerals, vitamins and fatty acids such as; omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, folate, B vitamins, Vitamin D, zinc and iron, could have a beneficial effect on depression and keeping mood stable. An example of a diet that is rich in these nutrients is called the Mediterranean diet. At Psynergy , we have built our menus based on this diet’s principles. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and features minimally processed foods. *I recently wrote a blog post briefly explaining this diet 

A number of psychiatric medications have side effects that include changes in appetite and weight. Some medications have a side effect that increases appetite, resulting in weight gain which in turn has a long term detrimental effect on overall health and wellbeing. Because of this, it is imperative that people from this population that are overweight or prone to weight gain make a special effort to make healthy lifestyle changes such as follow a calorie restricted and balanced diet, exercise regularly and monitor their weight. On the other hand, a number of psychiatric medications may have side effects that suppress appetite and result in decreased intake and even starvation and excessive weight loss if not monitored. 

AZ: What are the health dangers this population should be aware of?

PG: Research shows that mental health conditions such as depression, are strong risk factors for chronic illnesses such as diabetes type 2, obesity, heart disease and respiratory disease. 

AZ: What would you recommend for people in this population to be a good breakfast?

PG: What we eat first thing in the morning is as much about mental alertness as it is about providing fuel for the body. 

Cereals, granola and biscuits that are marketed as an ideal breakfast are usually high in sugar and fat. These cause spikes in blood sugar levels which are followed by extreme dips, leaving us feeling hungry, moody and unsatisfied. 

Eating foods that are protein rich (for example: eggs, low fat dairy, meats and oily fish) and complex starches (for example: oats and whole grain bread) are complex and offer prolonged satiety which help maintain our energy levels for a longer period of time. This also keeps our mood and ability to concentrate balanced.

Oats Two Ways: Hot Porridge or Cold Overnight Oats      
Oats are an excellent complex starch that will keep you feeling satisfied and happy.
Adding half a cup of low fat milk will add protein and a creamier texture.

Ingredients: (1 serving)
1/2 cup natural rolled oats
1 cup water
1/2 cup low fat milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 apple, grated 

Method:

Hot porridge:
Add all of the ingredients to a small pot, place on medium heat. Bring to a boil and keep stirring until you get a thick and smoother consistency. Serve in a bowl add a teaspoon of honey and enjoy! 

Cold overnight oats:
Mix all of the ingredients together, pour into a glass jar or a big glass. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fried for at leat 3 hours, or overnight. Enjoy it cold!

AZ: What about lunch? perhaps a recipe? 

PG: Incorporating more plant-based meals into your daily diet will ensure that you are getting the essential nutrients that we derive from plants and while doing so, reducing your intake of other processed foods. These recipes are flavorful and heart-warming as they incorporate spices such as turmeric, paprika, coriander, chilli and cumin. These are easy meals for busy people, because you can throw all the ingredients in a pan and while it cooks you can get on with your to-do list.

TURMERIC, CHICKPEA AND QUINOA CURRY

Ingredients: Serves: 6

1lbs/4-5 medium sized potatoes, halved

3 garlic cloves, crushed

3 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon chilli flakes or powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

15oz can of coconut milk

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 cup quinoa

15oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6oz/1 cup spinach

15oz can of chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper

METHOD:

1. Place the potatoes in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil,  cook for about 25 minutes, until you can easily stick a knife through them. Drain well.

2. Place the potatoes in a large pan and add the garlic, turmeric, coriander, chilli, ginger, coconut milk, tomato purée and tomatoes. Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, then add the quinoa with a cup of just-boiled water (2 cups together).

3. Reduce the heat to a simmer, place the lid on and allow to cook.

4. Over the next 30 minutes, stir every 5 minutes or so to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.

5. Halfway through cooking, add the chickpeas. When there are just 5 minutes left, add the spinach and stir it in until it wilts.

6. Once the quinoa has cooked and is fluffy, not crunchy, it’s ready.

AZ: What about dinner? perhaps a recipe?

PG:

Chinese Chicken and Bok Choy Stir-fry Bowl 

This recipe is a power booster because of the bok choy. The leaves and stalks are full of vitamins A, C, B6, and K as well as potassium, calcium, iron, folate, fiber, and antioxidants. You can also add snow peas, broccoli, and bell peppers. 

Ingredients (serves 5)

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast 

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

1/2 pound bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

3 cups matchstick carrots

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

3/4 cup chicken broth, divided

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Hot cooked rice

Method 

          Cut chicken breast into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Season with pepper and 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt.

          Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok over high. Add the chicken; cook, stirring, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from skillet. 

          Heat remaining oil in skillet. Add bok choy, carrots, onion, ginger, and garlic; cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.

          Whisk together cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of the broth in a bowl; set aside. 

          Stir together orange juice, soy sauce, and remaining broth in a separate bowl. Pour orange juice mixture over vegetable mixture in skillet; bring to a simmer over medium-high. Add the chicken and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt; simmer until meat is just done, 1 to 2 minutes. 

          Add cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute. Serve stir-fry over hot cooked rice.

AZ: How many snacks should one eat per day and what should we snack on?

PG: I would recommend having a 3 main meals and 2-3 healthy snacks per day. Ensuring that you are having a structured meal every 3-4 hours. This will help with weigh management, prevent excessive intake, maintain balanced blood sugar level and keep a healthy meal routine . 

AZ: What is a recipe one can make for lunch or dinner if one does not have a lot of money but still wants to be healthy?

PG:

Ten Tips to eat healthier while keeping in mind the cost:

 

1.Avoid ready meals and take-ways. They are often rich in fat and sugars and may not provide good value for money.

2.Avoid buying snacks such as potato chips, ice creams and sweets regularly.

3.Shop seasonal fruits and vegetables. For instance, oranges and bananas are winter fruits whereas strawberries and peaches are summer fruits. Broccoli and parsnips are winter vegetables whereas and zucchinis (courgettes) and peppers are summer vegetables. Buying fruits and vegetables out of season can be more expensive. (I wrote a blog post on this! at psynergy.org/blog).

4.Buy fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables and meats in small amounts and more often since they go off easily.

5.Buy frozen fruit, veggies, fish and meat- these foods are all just as nutritious as the fresh food and often much cheaper!. They can be stored in your freezer anywhere from 3 months to 1year if stored in the correct temperature and conditions. 

6.Buy dry beans and cereals instead of tinned and processed products. Dry, natural ingredients are often cheaper and healthier. Avoid tinned fruit, pasta etc. 

6.Avoid sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks and fruit juices. Drink water and eat fruit instead.

7.Compare prices in local shops and supermarkets and take advantage of special offers.

8.Use “generic” supermarket brands instead of classic brands. They often contain the same ingredients but are cheaper.

9.Cook and eat together with others and share the costs.

10.Make a shopping list and plan your food budget every week. 

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