Happy Chocolate Easter

Dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cinnamon, olive oil, eggs are good for you.  Sneak in a bit of veggies and you’ve got health food!

Double Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

2 cups zucchini, grated (Grate very fine so your brain doesn’t recognize anything healthy
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour (white, spelt, whole wheat – different flours = different textures)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chi[ps

Add Walnuts, flax seed or chia seeds (optional health foods)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
  2. Grate zucchini. Press with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Fluff with a fork.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together oil, eggs, agave or honey and vanilla. Add zucchini.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir to combine.
  5. Add dry mixture to the wet/zucchini mixture. Stir to combine. Add chocolate chips.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  7. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cook it Up Kitty eating healthy

Your Personal Happiness Quartet

How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”

Endorphin on Electric Guitar, Serotonin on Sax, Dopamine on Drums, Oxytocin on Oboe

Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:

ENDORPHINS 

They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed.  Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.

Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.

SEROTONIN
Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”.  It improves your mood and helps beat depression.  Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.

Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS,  sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be  problematic as well.

DOPAMINE

Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”.   It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control.  Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses.  Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them. 

Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction.  Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.

OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as  childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion.  Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.

7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”

working more for you:

We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat  behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.

1.  Tasting

Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals. 

Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.

Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.

2.  Laughing

Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins.  Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.

3.  Connecting

Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted.  Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments  have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.

4.  Learning

Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you.  With the internet, learning is at your fingertips.  Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity,  travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.

5.  Smelling

The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times.  It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender.  Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.

6.  Sunning & Nature

Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin.  It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood.  Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.

7.  Moving

A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep.  Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve.   You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts.  Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.

Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:  

Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers.  How easy is that!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Grape News! for memory decline

Sharon Bonin-Pratt is an artist, writer and one of the most compassionate people I know.  On her Ink Flare blog she often posts about her journey with her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Shari’s poignant and  personal account has made me all the more aware of research and issues surrounding this punishing disease.

Since we believe that “food is medicine” here’s research that impacts not only Alzheimer’s but all brains.

Grape Friends by Peggy

“Consuming grapes twice a day for six months protected against significant metabolic decline in Alzheimer-related areas of the brain in a study of people with early memory decline. Low metabolic activity in these areas of the brain is a hallmark of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Study results showed a grape-enriched diet protected against the decline of metabolic activity. Additionally, those consuming a grape-enriched diet also exhibited increased metabolism in other areas of the brain that correlated with individual improvements in attention and working memory performance, compared to those on the non-grape diet. Results of the randomized controlled research study, conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, were recently published in Experimental Gerontology.”

“The study examines the impact of grapes as a whole fruit versus isolated compounds and the results suggest that regular intake of grapes may provide a protective effect against early decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Daniel H. Silverman, lead investigator of the study. 

“In the study, subjects with early memory decline were randomly selected to receive either whole grape powder – equivalent to just 2 ¼ cups of grapes per day – or a polyphenol-free placebo powder matched for flavor and appearance. Cognitive performance was measured at baseline and 6 months later. Changes in brain metabolism, assessed by brain PET scans, were also measured at baseline and 6 months later.”

“The results showed that consuming grapes preserved healthy metabolic activity in the regions of the brain that are affected by the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, where metabolic decline takes hold. Subjects who didn’t consume grapes exhibited significant metabolic decline in these critical regions. Additionally, those consuming the grape-enriched diet showed beneficial changes in regional brain metabolism that correlated to improvements in cognition and working memory performance.”

“Grape polyphenols help promote antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Research suggests that grapes may help support brain health by working in multiple ways – from reducing oxidative stress in the brain to promoting healthy blood flow in the brain to helping maintain levels of a key brain chemical that promotes memory to exerting anti-inflammatory effects.”

Read the entire article, click here: Grapes Benefit Brain Health

 

The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

Decades ago, when every one of the ten thousand doctors I saw (ok, so I exaggerate  . . a bit) pronounced me “fit as a fiddle” despite the crushing pain, depression and fatigue I was experiencing. I decided the only explanation was my body was inhabited by alien creatures.  Turns out my diagnosis may have been close to the truth.

“As researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain—it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions—but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood.”

“The enteric nervous system is a mesh-like network of neurons that lines the entire digestive track. It causes the sensation of nervous butterflies or a pit in your stomach that are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in these responses carry information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is. Maybe even more.”

Even crazier is that our second brain is actually only half of us. Inside the digestive system, the enteric nervous system mainly communicates with bacteria. These are completely separate creatures that make up our microbiome, and there are just as many of them inside of us as our own human cells.

“Our gut bacteria have evolved with us since birth. They help digest our food and fight off unfriendly outsiders like viruses and molds. To keep us healthy they need to be healthy and plentiful as well. When they’re not, we feel it: This biomass of bacteria communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system to send messages that influence the way we feel.”

“This could herald good news for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Studies indicate that those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from either malady. And many of us who grew up in too—clean environments, frequently took antibiotics, and ate junk food have a decidedly unhealthy microbiome. So changing one’s diet could well benefit far more than your waistline.”

“If you’ve seen the term “probiotics” recently, this is why. Probiotics are foods that nourish and promote your biome. They’re foods cultured with the strains of healthy bacteria. Yogurt is a cultured food. Unfortunately, many grocery store yogurts are little more than a thickened, sweetened milk product. But yogurt that lists strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis actually contain the healthy bacteria your gut needs. “Prebiotic” foods, meanwhile, support a healthy gut ecosystem in which your bacteria can thrive. Together, prebiotic and probiotic food help keep your second brain full of the vibrant bacterial community it needs to function.”

Some gut-healthy foods – yogurt, sauerkraut & dark chocolate

“How exactly these gut-healthy foods help manage depression is not yet totally clear. The science on the gut-brain connection is still young, especially as it relates to our mood. But studies continue to find promising correlations. There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety.”

Your Microbiome is Invisibly Spewing YOU onto Others!

 (jw)

Article from Huffington Post

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Cook it Up Kitty – What Kitty wants, Kitty gets. 

 Good News for Kitty!

Sugar Increases the “happiness” neurotransmitter serotonin.

This Valentine’s day give your sweetie something sweet.  It’s a good way to quickly lift the mood . . . in the short run*. 

Cooooooookies!

Kitty knows

Eating refined sugars, with white flour, or other processed carbohydrates gives her the fastest serotonin boost. 

Three blue hearts. No one will notice if one is missing.

Kitty doesn’t know 

* In the long run sugar may set up an addictive craving cycle and is not healthy because her  blood sugar drops after a spike which causes her to eat more sugar cookies . . .

Two blue dotted hearts. No one will notice if one is gone.

But for one special day a year Kitty can indulge!

(and . . . read my poem I wrote just for YOU

Frankly Freddie -Valentine’s Day)

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDP Canine Dog Poet

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Happy is as Happy Does and a Hack

Compassion makes you feel better.  I saw this first hand when I worked in an outpatient program with people diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder and major depression.  Many had been hospitalized more than once.

My goal was to help patients manage their illness, so they could stay out of the hospital  and live a more normal life. Besides many of the things the program offered to help them, including medication, I believed if I could help them be happier, have more positives in their lives, some of the stressors they felt would be offset and help them stay well.

Acts of Kindness by Peggy

I had read a research project using compassion exercises and decided to try it. It worked well in the research and I hoped it worked for the patients. Here’s what I did:

Week 1: I asked the patients to spend an hour being really good to themselves, something to pamper themselves. It didn’t matter what they chose as long as they personally enjoyed it.  When they shared everyone expressed liking their experiences and felt happy they participated.

Week 2: The patients were to take the same amount of time – an hour – and do something nice for somebody else, something to brighten someone else’s day.  It didn’t matter who they chose or what they did as long as it was something kind and giving.  When they shared this experience they were even happier!  All reported they felt better doing something nice for somebody else for an hour than doing something for themselves.

Caring for others, having compassion, can make you happier. You don’t have to wait weeks between.  Do something nice for yourself for an hour one day.  The next day do something nice for another person.  It doesn’t even have to be for an hour.  Try it and see for yourself.  And let us know how it goes.

Compassion Hack

According to brain science Buddhist monks are some of the happiest people in the  world.  They are don’t leave their monasteries and do things for others, but meditate on compassion.  Research shows compassion meditation changes the brain and makes it happier!

Don’t have an hour to do something nice for someone else?  Spend 10 – 20 minutes and meditate on compassion . . . Remember – It’s a hack NOT a substitution for the real thing.

 (PW)

SaveSave

If You are Stressed eat every 2 hours!?!!!???

 Warning! This is bad Bad BAD advice.

According to Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist: “If you are under stress, eat every two hours for optimal brain function. Your brain can’t store glucose and so it is important to keep replenishing your stores. This will help you to maintain your focus and ensures a productivity boost.”

“It also ensures that your brain is well fed for any of the decisions it may need to make.”

“She adds that if you have the space to develop your mental resilience, then it can be useful to practice intermittent fasting as it teaches your brain that you can manage small amounts of physical stress, because you are in control of your recovery.”

Eating by Peggy

 When I’m stressed (which is a chronic state with fibromyalgia) I self-medicate on sugar.  Sugar gives me an immediate dopamine boost which then sends my blood sugar crashing which then sends me to my medicine cabinet (the pantry) . . . .

When I read Dr Swart’s advice the pantry was bare (after I ate a package of sugar coated pineapple, 3 prunes, a bowl of Cheerios and a handful of almonds – I’m stocking the cupboards with health food).  

Knowing my two hours would be up in another two hours I made a dash to the store.  A mix of double chocolate brownies (on sale) was only $3.99 and a better bargain than the packaged bakery brownies at $5.99.  Maybe my mental resilience didn’t need practice.

I had already eaten up (pun intended) 45 minutes of my two hour zone by going to the store.  So I was doubly stressed making the double chocolate brownies knowing that two hours would be up before the brownies were done and the only thing left to eat were Cheerios.

Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist who probably is svelte, prefers salt over sugar and her brain is smarter to begin with than mine.  I’ll bet she’s never had to practice “intermittent fasting”

(jw)

SaveSave