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The Great Physician's Rx for Depression and Anxiety
By Jordan Rubin Joseph Brasco
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Jordan Rubin and Joseph Brasco
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKEY #1
Eat to Live
If you don't think there's a link between food and mood, then why do people call a home-cooked meal with meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and apple pie "comfort food"?
Everyone feels his or her mood lift after Mom cooks a well-rounded meal made from scratch and served with love. Now there's scientific evidence showing that how you feel emotionally is greatly affected, good or bad, by what you choose to chew on and swallow. According to a major report from the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom, depression and anxiety could be due to a poor diet that lacks the essential ingredients to keep the brain healthy.
The report, called "Feeding Minds," said that the brain relies on a mixture of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3 and omega-6, vitamins, and water to work properly. Nutritional deficiency in any of these areas could seriously hamper the body's ability to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin, one of the major neurotransmitters that affects your mood.
Too many depressed individuals think they can enjoy their favorite dessert and feel better about themselves, but that's not the case. "Seeking solace in a handful of chocolate chip cookies is a quick solution, usually regretted by the time we're swiping the crumbs from our mouth," says registered dietician Elizabeth Somers, author of Food & Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best.
The fact of the matter is that choices you make on what to eat set the tone for your physical and mental health. We know that low serotonin levels result in depression, and serotonin has been called the brain's own mood-elevating drug. We also know that the manufacture of serotonin in the brain depends upon how much tryptophan-an amino acid-reaches that part of the body. It doesn't take Albert Einstein to realize that eating foods high in tryptophan would be a good idea if a doctor handed you a prescription for Zoloft.
What are some foods that provide the brain with this important amino acid? Well, bananas, dates, figs, tuna, whole grains, and especially yogurt and turkey are good examples. Foods low in tryptophan would be jelly-filled doughnuts, bacon cheeseburgers, chili fries, candy bars, deep-dish Italian sausage pizza, and chocolate chip ice cream, which pretty much outlines what many Americans eat these days.
If you want to keep your focus sharp, your concentration keen, and your mood up, then eat fresh fruits, whole grains, and fresh fish and meat, which are just some of the natural foods that are part of the Great Physician's prescription first key-"Eat to Live." You take a big step toward beating back depression and anxiety when you do these two things:
1. Eat what God created for food. 2. Eat food in a form that is healthy for the body.
As you will see in this chapter, following these two vital principles will give you a great shot toward living a healthy, vibrant, and upbeat life.
Back to the Source
What are some foods that God created? My friend Rex Russell, M.D., compiled a comprehensive list in his book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living. I'm reprinting them here, along with the scriptural references. As you scan through his list, ask yourself if these sound like foods that Moses and the Israelites would have consumed:
almonds (Gen. 43:11) barley (Judg. 7:13) beans (Ezek. 4:9) bread (1 Sam. 17:17) broth (Judg. 6:19) cakes, and probably not the kind with frosting (2 Sam. 13:8 NKJV) cheese (Job 10:10) cucumbers, onions, leeks, melons, and garlic (Num. 11:5) curds of cow's milk (Deut. 32:14) figs (Num. 13:23)
fish (Matt. 7:10) fowl (1 Kings 4:23) fruit (2 Sam. 16:2) game (Gen. 25:28) goat's milk (Prov. 27:27) grain (Ruth 2:14) grapes (Deut. 23:24) grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets (Lev. 11:22) herbs (Exod. 12:8) honey (Isa. 7:15) and wild honey (Ps. 19:10) lentils (Gen. 25:34) meal (Matt. 13:33 KJV) pistachio nuts (Gen. 43:11) oil (Prov. 21:17) olives (Deut. 28:40) pomegranates (Num. 13:23) quail (Num. 11:32) raisins (2 Sam. 16:1) salt (Job 6:6) sheep (Deut. 14:4) sheep's milk (Deut. 32:14) spices (Gen. 43:11) veal (Gen. 18:7-8) vegetables (Prov. 15:17) vinegar (Num. 6:3)
Have these foods been staples in your diet? Do you have to think hard to remember the last time you bit into a fresh apple, scooped up a handful of raisins, ate a cup of sheep's milk yogurt, or supped on lentil soup? These listed foods are nutritional gold mines and contain no refined or processed carbohydrates and no artificial sweeteners. Since God has given us a bountiful harvest of natural foods to eat, it would take several pages to describe all the fantastic fruits and vibrant vegetables available from His garden. A diet based on whole and natural foods fits within the bull's-eye of eating foods that God created in a form healthy for the body.
I believe God gave us physiologies that crave these foods in their natural state because our bodies are genetically set for certain nutritional requirements by our Creator. Our taste buds, however, have been manipulated by fast-food chains and restaurants that sweeten meats with secret sauces and top everything in sight with melted cheese and bacon. The strategy has worked: we've become a country that loves inexpensive deep-fried, greasy food. For many of us, taste trumps health, which explains why drive-thru chains and sit-down restaurants are doing great business serving cheese-and-egg sandwiches, monster burgers, pail-sized barrels of fried chicken, and stuffed-crust pizza-foods not in a form that God created.
Having an awareness of what you eat is an important first step to dealing with depression and anxiety. As we begin traveling down this road together, I need to help you understand that everything you eat is a protein, a fat, or a carbohydrate-nutrients needed to sustain ongoing serotonin production in the brain. Each of these nutrients can positively or negatively affect how you feel.
Let's take a closer look at these macronutrients.
The First Word on Protein
Proteins, one of the basic components of foods, are the essential building blocks of the body. All proteins are combinations of twenty-two amino acids, which build body organs, muscles, and nerves, to name a few important duties. Among other things, proteins provide for the transport of nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout the body and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs. Protein builds muscle, repairs damaged tissues, and strengthens our immune systems.
Our bodies, however, cannot produce all twenty-two amino acids that we need to live a robust life. Scientists have discovered that eight essential amino acids are missing, meaning that they must come from sources outside the body. Since we need these eight amino acids badly, it just so happens that animal protein-chicken, beef, lamb, dairy, eggs, and so on-is the only complete protein source providing the Big Eight amino acids.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means that it must be obtained through the diet in adequate quantities. If we don't eat enough foods with tryptophan, the body doesn't have the raw materials it needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. The richest dietary sources of tryptophan include poultry, meat, fish and dairy, as I mentioned earlier.
The best meat comes from organically raised, grass-fed cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, and venison-animals that graze on pastureland grasses. Grass-fed meat and free-range poultry are leaner and lower in calories than grain-fed meat. But more importantly for those suffering from depression, these healthy meats deliver the best source of tryptophan to your body.
I don't believe that the best and most healthy sources of animal protein come from your supermarket's meat case. Commercially raised livestock and poultry are routinely fed grain and meal laced with hormones, nitrates, and pesticides-chemicals that have been investigated as possible carcinogenic substances. In this country, cattle routinely chew on feedstuffs with hormones (melengestrol acetate, or MGA) and buffers (sodium bicarbonate). These additives help livestock owners fatten up their herd-which fattens their bottom lines-but these practices don't provide you with the most nutritious meat.
The same goes for free-range, pasture-fed poultry, which is the antithesis of modern methods of chicken production. These days, commercially raised chickens are brutally de-beaked, raised in long, windowless sheds, cooped up without fresh air, and fed from hoppers dispensing food pellets and water. Talk about depressing! These chickens live miserable lives until they're plump enough to slaughter, as compared to their country cousins, who are allowed to roam around and hunt and peck for their food.
Here's another reason why you should be eating organic meat instead of commercial cuts. We know that the brain also needs two types of essential fatty acids, (EFAs), omega-3 and omega-6, for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Both of these EFAs are bountiful in leafy plants consumed by roaming animals. The fat in wild game and grass-fed animals contains roughly seven times more omega-3 fatty acids than animals raised for commercial meat.
Fish are also well known for being excellent sources of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Salmon and other cold-water fish contain high levels of these beneficial EFAs, which may hold the key to naturally easing depression, as confirmed by this ABC News report:
Studies have shown that in countries where large amounts of fish are consumed, rates of depression are low as compared with countries where little fish is consumed. This has led researchers to examine whether omega-3 fats found in fish are responsible for the decreased evidence of depression ... and some psychiatrists are now recommending that their depressed patients increase their consumption of these fatty acids."
I think that's a great idea. To take in the best omega-3 essential fatty acids, you should shop for fish with scales and fins caught in the wild from oceans and rivers and not "feedlot salmon" raised on fish farms, which don't compare to their cold-water cousins in terms of taste or nutritional value. The salmon from fish farms spend several years lazily circling concrete tanks, fattening up on pellets of salmon chow, not streaking through the ocean eating small marine life as they're supposed to. While it's great to see more people eating the tender meat of farm-raised Atlantic salmon-albeit colored with orange dye-it's never going to nutritionally match what comes from the wild.
Wild-caught fish is an absolutely incredible food and should be consumed liberally. Look for "Alaskan" or "wild-caught" on the label at your local fish market or health food store. Be aware that you can now find delicious high omega-3, low mercury canned tuna, which has nearly twice the omega-3 fats per serving of wild-caught salmon. (For more information, visit www.BiblicalHealth Institute.com and click on the GPRx Resource Guide.)
The Skinny on Fats
Fats are needed by the body for serotonin production as well. In other words, fats are good for those battling depression.
You may be scratching your head and saying to yourself, I thought fats were bad for you. I don't blame you for feeling that way. Fats have gotten a bad rap ever since a pair of influential books were released in the 1990s. The Pritikin Principle by Nathan Pritikin and The Ornish Diet by Dean Ornish, M.D., backed up by zillions of follow-up stories and articles in the mainstream media, delivered the message that fat is something that you absolutely, positively have to avoid. Pritikin and Ornish preached the gospel of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, and they found millions of adherents, especially women believing they would be as thin as a Parisian supermodel if they dipped low-fat cookies into no-fat (or skim) milk. Then there was that woman with spiked platinum hair named Susan Powter who pleaded with TV viewers to "stop the insanity" because "it's fat that's making you fat!"
Girls in my high school nodded in agreement and gobbled up anything with the magic words "fat-free" or "reduced fat" on the packaging: cheese, crackers, cookies, yogurt, and ice cream. They studied salad-dressing labels as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they were obsessed with fat grams. I knew classmates who became borderline anorexic because of their fat phobia.
Although they put up nice fronts in the hallways, I bet that deep down they felt dispirited and despondent. When the body doesn't receive enough fat in the diet, less serotonin is produced, which only exacerbates feelings of depression and anxiety.
"Those who possess enough will power to remain fat-free for any length of time develop a variety of health problems including low energy, difficulty in concentration, depression, weight gain, and mineral deficiencies," wrote Mary Enig, Ph.D., and Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions (emphasis added).
In my view, low-fat diets fail to distinguish between the so-called "good fats" in food (including olive and flaxseed oils, tropical oils such as coconut oil, and fish oils) and the "bad fats" (hydrogenated and processed oils found in margarine and most packaged goods). We need certain fats in our diet to provide a concentrated source of energy and source material for neurotransmitters in the brain, cell membranes, and various hormones. Fats also provide satiety; without them, we would be hungry within minutes of finishing a meal.
The problem with the standard American diet is that people eat too many of the wrong foods containing the wrong fats and not enough of the right foods with the right fats. The wrong fats are mainly hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats found in processed foods, as well as oils high in omega-6 fats such as soy, cottonseed, safflower, and corn oil, which fill cupboards and refrigerators in homes from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats are part of sugarcoated flakes for breakfast, a glazed doughnut at break time, fried corn chips and chocolate chip cookies for lunch, and breaded fried chicken nuggets for dinner.
When it comes to eating the right fats, I'm referring to a wide range of foods, including salmon, lamb, and goat meat; dairy products derived from goat's milk, sheep's milk, and cow's milk from grass-fed animals; and flaxseeds, walnuts, olives, macadamia nuts, and avocados. As for cooking, the top two fats and oils on my list are extra virgin coconut and olive oils, which are beneficial to the body's overall health. I urge you to cook with extra virgin coconut oil, which is a near-miracle food that few people have ever heard of. The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are absorbed quickly by the tissues and converted to energy, which will give anyone battling a blue mood a lift.
Coconut oil is packed with antioxidants and reduces the body's need for vitamin E. You can tell which oil is better by comparing how fast canola oil or safflower oil becomes rancid when sitting at room temperature. Coconut oil shows no signs of rancidity even after a year at room temperature.
When moms heat up or fry food these days, however, they usually pour safflower, corn, or soybean oil (any of which may be partially hydrogenated) into the pan. In the process of hydrogenation, hydrogen gas is injected into the oil under high pressure to make the oil solid at room temperature, which prevents the oil from becoming rancid too quickly. Adulterating the oil carries a price, since the hydrogenation process produces trans-fatty acids, also known as trans fat.
Trans fat has recently become a household phrase since the Food and Drug Administration, beginning in 2006, required new Nutritional Facts labels on all foods to include information stating the amount of trans fat in that particular food. Trans fats are artery-clogging fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen to make them solid at room temperature-a process known as hydrogenation.
Excerpted from The Great Physician's Rx for Depression and Anxiety by Jordan Rubin Joseph Brasco Copyright © 2007 by Jordan Rubin and Joseph Brasco . Excerpted by permission.
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