How many people do you know who are on a diet? How many people do you know who are on anti-depressants? Is there a link?
Without question there is a link between food and mood which any mother of a 4 year old with a handful of M&M's can tell you. She can also describe her own sugar fueled mood swings. But beyond those daily ups and downs, food has a powerful effect on how we feel emotionally over longer terms and if we consistently eat poorly we will suffer from low energy, lack stamina, have brain fog and just feel awful. So awful that we may be tempted to find a pill for relief.
You are what you eat. Most people understand that if they eat highly processed, sugar filled, nutrient depleted "dead" foods, they will feel dead. However, many health conscious dieters don't realize that in striving for an ideal weight and depriving themselves of fresh, whole foods in favor of imitation "diet foods," they may be setting themselves up for a bout of depression.
Julia Ross, a clinical psychologist and an expert on the treatment of eating disorders and addictions, sees a connection between the skyrocketing rates of depression and the diet obsession in this country. She notes that we are 100 times more depressed than we were in 1900 and that fully 50% of Americans over the age of 14 are experiencing "significant debilitating depression and/or anxiety." You should find that shocking.
At the same time, she says, our diets have deteriorated to the point of "epidemic malnutrition." Processed foods did not become widespread until after World War II in the 1950's. Statistics show that in 1965, after the processed food industry had been going strong for about 10 years, the average U.S. woman was deficient in 3 nutrients, and by 1990 that deficiency had risen to 13 nutrients. Part of the problem can be traced back to the Twiggy phenomenon starting in the 1960's that led women to slash fat and calories from their diets. Compounding the problem was the introduction in the 1970's of high fructose corn syrup and similar sweeteners that are twice as sweet as sucrose and twice as addictive. This combination led to women wanting to starve themselves for the waif look but unable to resist hi-carb processed foods containing addictive high fructose corn syrup that made them fat.
The first sign of malnutrition may not be physical hunger, but what Ross, author of The Mood Cure, calls "false moods." Some people become irritable or quick to anger, sometimes even becoming violent. Other people exhibit signs of depression, becoming apathetic or having no energy, become shaky, teary and unable to deal with stress. Still others are overwhelmed by anxiety.
Diet is essential to correcting mood disorders, especially protein, which is brain food. However, protein has come under attack in recent years particularly protein from animal sources. Many are quick to say "Oh, I don't eat red meat anymore." However, for many people, protein, and especially animal protein, can make them feel strong, alert, confident and powerful. And as people eliminate or cut back on animal protein, many fail to find a replacement vegetarian protein source and end up just increasing carbohydrates, often the processed version. To stabilize mood, Ross recommends that everyone get at least 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal as compared to 18 to 20 recommended by many diets.
How do you avoid falling into the trap of these false moods? Start with a whole foods diet that sustains stable blood sugar for the longest time possible. This means striving for three square meals a day rather than grazing or eating small amounts throughout the day. It also means including saturated fats, high quality protein and lots of fresh vegetables in your diet. After that, some people will be able to add whole grains but others may not, depending on individual sensitivities. It also means avoiding sugar and processed foods, especially carbohydrates.
For people who are already depressed, malnourished and addicted to processed foods and sugar, taking amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and other nutritional supplements to decrease cravings for sugar and high starch foods, may be helpful to maintain a wholesome diet without giving in to cravings.
For those suffering from low moods, depression, anxiety and stress, a natural solution and first line of defense should be a nutrient rich high quality diet, before resorting to anti-depressants and their toxic effects.