Happiness is hiding in your kitchen and Registered Dietitian Desiree Nielsen tells you where to find it!
What does being part of the Bio-K+ Kultural Evolution mean to you?
For me, the Evolution is about re-connecting to our bodies and cultivating true happiness. Our culture prioritizes busyness and the thinking work our brains do, to the detriment of our physical and spiritual wellbeing. We need to spend more time unplugged in nature and with our loved ones to restore our wellbeing.
Our brain and our digestive tracts are intimately connected - committing to self-care and eating well is so important! It’s one of the reasons why I am such a big advocate for probiotics. Everyday, we are learning more about the relationship between a healthy intestinal gut flora and a healthy body. When I take Bio-K+, I just feel better. While I am still working towards a deeper commitment to self-care, at least I have the food part down ;) When we eat plenty of plant foods, take the time to move our bodies and relax, we can begin to bring our bodies back into balance.
Now, let’s get real, in which cabinet is it hiding? Where is that happiness all foodies claim to have found in their kitchen?
I am pretty sure I keep the happiness stashed in my veggie drawer, next to the kale!
Our relationship with food is intimate and complex - and when we release the idea that food is our enemy, there is such immense joy in connecting to food, working with our hands and creating a beautiful meal. So few of us actually work with our hands anymore. Getting our hands dirty in the kitchen is an opportunity to turn away from the screens that seem to rule our lives and embrace a sense of play and experimentation that is a lot of fun!
So many of my food memories are tied to family, celebrations and travel. Whether it was learning to cook at my grandmother’s side, the first time I tasted kimchi in Korea or my babe’s first (hilarious!) taste of kale…what a gift that simply preparing a meal can help reconnect us to those memories!
It’s common for us to abuse our relationship with food; for example, using food to tamp down emotions or entertain us when we are bored. It’s important to remember that the foods we choose to consume literally become our bodies. Paying attention to our food choices and how those food choices make us feel is an opportunity to bring mindfulness and curiosity back into our lives. When we eat a bag of chips, what does that feel like…in the moment…and afterwards? Do we feel light and relaxed…or anxious and unwell? What about when we eat an apple?
It has taken years for me to cultivate a more honest and aware relationship with food…and there is so much to gain from it. Seeing food for what it is - and not what we project on to it - frees us to enjoy eating more fully. When we embrace the simple joy of well-prepared whole foods, we have the opportunity to reconnect to joy multiple times a day…so enjoy every minute!
In this fast-paced world, how do you find the time to cook?
Most of us do have the time to cook…we just spend it on other activities! Don’t get me wrong: with two kids and a demanding job, I am not spending 90 minutes making dinner ;)
For me, it’s all about preparation and flexibility. The first step is having a cache of quick 20-30 minute recipes or simple meal ideas at the ready. It could be as basic as a greek salad or quick tomato and chickpea pasta. Releasing the idea that you have to make some Masterchef-worthy feast from Monday to Friday will save your sanity.
Creating that recipe cache is as easy as building a Pinterest list. When find a quick recipe that your family loves, save it to your board. Once you have 10-15 ideas there, you’re good. Then, when you are wondering what you are going to make for dinner, just scan your board and select!
You also need to have a stocked kitchen. Sometimes, I haven’t had the mental space to think about dinner until it’s 5PM and the kids are hungry. Doing a good thorough grocery shop once a week is key so that you alway have the basics - veggies, proteins and some grains - to whip up a quick meal. Then, you can give the kids some pre-chopped veg to snack on and whip up a simple pasta in the time it takes to boil water.
There are lots of ways to make the act of cooking easier such as having your groceries delivered, enlisting your kids in age-appropriate food chores or buying some pre-chopped veggies. Reframing your perception of cooking helps too. While most parents don’t have the luxury of quiet time in the kitchen, letting that manual labour become a reset on your busy workday makes committing to it a bit easier.
Prioritizing the time for meal preparation is about prioritizing food in your family’s life. Most of us ensure that we have the time to brush our teeth and get dressed! Food prep should be as fundamental…Facebook can wait.
What are the top 3 or 5 foods you would say impact most your mood?
Supporting mental wellbeing comes from many places: neuro-active compounds in food, the effect a food has on your blood sugar…and the health of your gut. I can’t live without beans…there is no simpler way to add protein to a meal than opening up a can of beans! Beans and lentils are blood sugar balancing, helping you avoid the ‘hangrys' and help improve gut health for more energy. Beans - also known as legumes - also provide minerals which support a more stable mood and energy levels.
Speaking of the gut, keeping the trillions of bacteria that live there happy is a wise move too. While we are far from definitive answers, research has shown a deep connection between bacteria, the gut and mental wellbeing…even showing that certain probiotics can assist with symptoms of depression and anxiety! There have been bacterial strains that have been shown to impact the production of serotonin in the gut and help keep inflammation at bay. That inflammation isn’t just a gut issue; chronic inflammation is connected with mental wellbeing. Ensuring a high fiber, plant-based diet is important to keep the gut happy and inflammation down. So is taking a clinical strength probiotic, such as Bio-K+, as an important part of my gut health regime.
And you can’t talk about good mood food without mentioning chocolate! Cacao contains small amounts of anandamide, a cannabinoid that is typically produced in the human brain, increases feelings of wellbeing when we consume it. Of course, quality is key. Choosing raw cacao is best - try it in a smoothie! When looking for a chocolate bar, look for one with at least 80% cacao solids to help you avoid the sugar high - and crash.
One of your main focus if inflammation and gut health, how is this connected to our everyday well-being?
Inflammation and gut health are intimately tied to our wellbeing. The more I learn about the gut, the more I consider it ground zero for better health. Our immunity, the health of our nervous system and our nutrition are tied to a well-functioning digestive tract. Just think: our digestive tract is responsible for harnessing the nutrients found in food so that we can build and repair our body. Each function - from vision to muscle repair to immunity - requires certain nutrients that only a healthy digestive system can provide. If our diet - or our gut - is off, our daily function is compromised and we won’t feel our best.
What’s more is that chronic inflammation - which stems from an imbalance in our immune response - is underlying many chronic concerns. The challenge is that most people aren’t aware that we are inflamed until disease surfaces. From high cholesterol to digestive issues like IBS, living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is both good prevention and good medicine.
Food choices matter: eating fewer processed foods, less sugar and fewer animal products…and more whole plant foods will help fight chronic inflammation. Phyto-chemicals found in plant foods help cool inflammation directly…and their fibre feed beneficial bacteria that keeps inflammation - and inflammation-causing infection - at bay. The gut is an important battleground in the fight against inflammation; as much as 80% of our immune activity is centred within the gut so keeping it healthy is key!
Managing stress, fostering a healthy community of gut bacteria and eating well will keep you - and your gut - feeling your best.