www.huffingtonpost.com - August 17th, 2012
In my practice of psychiatric medicine, I spend every day treating patients so that their master mood regulator -- the brain -- will get more of what it needs to be strong, healthy, and happy.
But when I meet new patients, I know that the way most of them eat -- the typical American diet of sugars, refined carbohydrates and industrial vegetable fats -- does no favors for their mental health. The nation's epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes have received plenty of news coverage, but rates of brain disorders like depression and dementia are also skyrocketing, and the American diet is partly to blame.
Why? Because so many of the nutrients that the human brain relies upon for its growth, healing and healthy functioning have been stripped from the food supply by modern food processing and factory farming. As a result, we as a nation are overfed and undernourished. We're also being poisoned. Preservatives, pesticides and plastic packaging have introduced a slew of new chemicals into our systems, which pose additional threats to our brain functions.
Emerging research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition show that people who eat a diet of modern processed foods have increased levels of depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, and a wide variety of other mental and emotional problems. One study found that adolescents with low-quality junk food diets are 79 percent more likely to suffer from depression. Another found that diets high in trans fats found in processed foods raised the risk of depression by 42 percent among adults over the course of approximately six years. And a huge study of women's diets by the Harvard School of Public health concluded that those whose diets contained the greatest number of healthy omega-3 fats (and the lowest levels of unhealthy omega-6s) were significantly less likely to suffer from depression.
So what to do? Extreme diet recommendations these days run the gamut from veganism to low-fat to low-carb. Without even debating their individual merits, they all share the common problem that they are very restrictive and very hard to stick to. As a physician, I know all too well that strict regimens of any kind are almost always doomed to failure and then often leave people feeling worse off than before. That's why the best prescriptions are often those that are simple and easiest to follow. With that thought in mind, here are the five basic rules I give to patients, friends, and family who want to simplify their choices at mealtime and maximize their brain health.