By Gen Gondeiro

“Nutrition.” For some of us that word is daunting; it represents giving up things that we love and strikes fear into the hearts (and stomachs) of thousands, even millions of folks across the globe. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to! Getting healthy and happy doesn’t mean giving up everything we love and eating “rabbit food” for the rest of our lives.

Luckily for us, embarking on a healthier lifestyle journey has never been easier. Recipes abound on the internet, free phone apps for food journaling and social support groups have become commonplace, and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and Diabetic Educators are willing to help
us find our way. I was fortunate enough to be able to fire off a few questions to Linda Allen, RDN with Central Montana Medical Clinic in Lewistown for her professional advice on nutrition, how it affects our moods and her thoughts on how to find “fit” for a healthier lifestyle. (We even got a great recipe!)

Most can attest, as Linda has, that the media has “demonized carbohydrates.” She explains, however, that they are a necessity for a healthy diet. Linda clarifies that our brains require “adequate glucose” to function, which primarily comes from carbs as they are a “preferred source of energy.” Even if they are not something we should fear eating, we do need to practice self- control and making better decisions on what we eat in order to acquire these essentials. Linda states we should “nourish our bodies with adequate carbs, preferably from whole foods” such as beans, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, oatmeal, and whole fruits with minimal processed foods. A few ways to take advantage of the Whole Foods movement sweeping communities is to grow a small (or large) garden, or frequent your local Farmers’ Market.

Our moods can also be affected by our food intake. Nutritional Psychiatry is a growing field and directly touches on how what we eat can improve or impair brain function and can create disjointed feelings between our gut and the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and mediate moods. Eating foods that facilitate our needs for omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, or folate can help ward off depression, which is important in Montana. Linda says we “lack sun exposure to our skin during long winter months.” This again is where eating whole foods can benefit us, as they are high in vitamins and minerals that are essential for our bodies to function properly as well as help regulate moods.

Keep in mind that while it is important to try to eat as healthily as possible, it is equally as important to find a balance in what you eat. There’s no reason that a slice of coconut cream pie can’t grace your table and gleam in the heavenly light from the pendant above, just maybe don’t eat the whole pie. Linda touches on this aspect as well, stating that she agrees with Rebecca Scritchfield, author of Body Kindess, stating “[Scritchfield] talks about the importance of allowing ourselves to enjoy those foods that are less than perfect, especially when in the company of others we enjoy.” The word “diet” in itself has negative connotations for many, and Linda speaks to the fact that some folks that are “rigid in their ideas about food . . . beat themselves up” when they “cheat,” which creates a “cycle of self-hatred and depression.” That, as we have seen, is not what food should be about.

Linda, of course, advocates that finding the right nutritional “fit” can be facilitated by specialists like her and explicates that partaking in food journaling, finding social support groups, and using free apps can help in a nutritional lifestyle change.

In many homes, food and dining is about giving to those we care for, it’s a way to invite new people in, and in general, it creates a happy and fun atmosphere for those partaking. Food is an adventure for some, whether they’re learning how to cook for themselves or branching out to new cuisine. It is a necessity, yes, but food can also create joy.

Creamy African Stew

Ingredients:

2 onions, sliced into half rings 1 carrot, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 sweet potatoes cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon sea salt (or salt to taste) 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup all-natural peanut butter (100% peanuts)
1 cup light coconut milk
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups chopped frozen spinach

Directions:

1.Add all the ingredients to a pot and cook over high heat until bubbly, 10-15 minutes.
2.Turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.