It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I’m not a fan of psychiatry. Psychiatric drugs are some of the most over-prescribed, useless, and even dangerous pills on the planet. And psychiatry seems determined to turn every little personality quirk and character trait into a “disorder” that needs medication. So what I’m about to say probably will surprise you. It might even shock you. So hold onto your seat. Are you ready?
Here it is: Psychiatry just did something fantastic. At this year’s annual meeting of the American Psychiatric association, researchers presented a study that is so spot-on, so absolutely right, so downright sane that I had to read the news twice to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. If anyone in the profession pays attention to this—which sadly, they probably won’t—it could begin to change the way mainstream medicine looks at some kinds of mental illness.
What did this amazing study say? Simply this: That the right foods can prevent or even treat depression.
Of course you and I already knew that. What you eat affects every aspect of your health, mental and physical. But to have a serious psychiatric researcher present this idea in a public meeting is just unheard of. And even more surprisingly, the APA isn’t shooting the idea down.
Now that’s shocking.
The study basically looked at all the existing research covering depression and nutrition. The authors came up with a list of what they call “brain essential nutrients” or BENs. From this, they created what they dubbed the Brain Food Scale score which they used to judge which foods were best for depression. These are the nutrients that seem to play the biggest role in depression. Here are the most essential and some of the foods that are highest in them:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid. This means two things: we can’t live without them, and our bodies can’t make them as they do most other fatty acids. Instead we must get them from our diets. Unfortunately, most of us don’t get nearly enough of this vital nutrient. Not only does it prevent depression, lack of it leads to inflammation and ups your risk of heart disease. It may even play a role in developing Alzheimer’s.
Good sources of omega 3s include:
- Chia seeds.
- Wild-caught salmon.
Along with its depression-fighting capabilities, some research suggests that vitamin E may slow the progress of Alzheimer’s by slowing down the rate at which brain cells die.
Foods high in vitamin E include:
- Swiss chard.
- Wheat germ oil (only buy organic—others are probably GMO.)
- Sunflower oil.
Folate is one of the B-complex vitamins, B-9. Among other things, we need it to make and repair DNA. It also helps our bodies use vitamin B-12 and amino acids, and a lack of folate can contribute not only to depression but to anemia, poor immunity, and even birth defects. It’s estimated that 75% of the population doesn’t get the RDA of folate, which is the bare minimum we need to keep from developing deficiency disease.
Foods high in folate include:
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Pinto beans.
Most of us were taught that we needed to drink milk each day in order to get enough calcium. And while it’s true that dairy products really are a good source of calcium, there are other foods that are actually much higher in this mineral. Some leafy greens, in particular, have a very high calcium content; however, many are also high in oxalic acid, which makes it difficult for your body to absorb.
Good sources of calcium your body can actually use include:
- Bok choy (Chinese cabbage).
- Canned sardines, salmon, or other fish with the bones intact.
- Dairy products.
- Chia seeds.
Your body needs this mineral for a variety of functions including proper nerve function and neurotransmitter release, which may explain why lack of it contributes to depression. Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure. It’s also necessary for proper absorption of calcium, so make sure you include magnesium-rich foods in the same meal as calcium-rich ones. It’s estimated that anywhere from 68% to 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium.
Foods high in magnesium include:
- Swiss chard.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Black beans.
Another trace mineral, zinc is also important to a wide range of body processes from producing testosterone to keeping your immune system healthy. Like the other nutrients in this list, zinc also appears to be important for preventing and treating depression. Our bodies don’t store zinc very well, so it’s important to get enough each day. And while there are vegetable sources with high zinc content, we don’t absorb it as well as zinc obtained from animal products.
Foods high in zinc include:
- Beef—which is also high in depression-fighting vitamin B-12.
- Crab or lobster.
- Swiss cheese.
- Kidney beans.
One of the known symptoms of vitamin B-6 deficiency is depression, but even mildly low levels can affect your mood. Lack of B-6 can also sap your energy and cause morning sickness in pregnant women. Inadequate B-6 intake may even increase the risk of stroke.
Foods high in vitamin B-6 include:
- Salmon (preferably wild-caught).
- Grass-fed beef.
- Spinach (cooked)
- Sweet potatoes.
- And, surprisingly—garlic.
Although lack of iron in your diet is most commonly associated with anemia, the researchers identified it as a nutrient vital to protecting against depression. The best sources of iron come from animal products, but it’s possible to get enough iron from plant foods. Cooking in cast iron can also add iron to your diet. If you’re trying to get your iron from plant foods or your cookware, make sure to eat or drink something containing vitamin C at the same meal to help you absorb it.
Good iron sources include:
- Beef or chicken liver.
- Clams, mussels, or oysters.
- Cooked beans.
- Pumpkin, sesame, or squash seeds.
B-12 is primarily found in animal foods, and vegetarians may have a difficult time getting enough of this important brain nutrient. There are B-12 supplements available, but they are not as well-absorbed as B-6 obtained directly from food.
Good sources of vitamin B-12 include:
- Beef liver.
- Grass-fed beef.
- Cottage cheese.
- Salmon (preferably wild-caught.)
Last but not least is vitamin D. Milk labels may boast that they’re “vitamin D fortified,” and they are…but the type of vitamin D used to “fortify” dairy products should be a choice of last resort. Vitamin D is something our bodies actually produce—but we need sunlight in order to do that. To make sure you’re getting the vitamin D you need, you need daily sun exposure during the sunniest part of the day. Ten to fifteen minutes of direct sun on exposed arms and legs should be sufficient for most people.