Evolutionary Psychiatry

The hunt for evolutionary solutions to contemporary mental health problems.

Brain Food

Good fuel for a busy working brain

 I believe that much of the chronic disease of Western civilization (including mental illness) is caused by differences between the diet and lifestyle we lived for much of our evolutionary history, and the radically different diet and lifestyle we experience today.  A more detailed introduction to that concept can be found on my blog here

To that end, I advocate a style of eating that is based on whole, nutrient-rich, non-industrial foods. The diet also focuses on avoiding (for the most part) what the Evolutionary Medicine crowd would consider to be food toxins, including most grains (unless carefully prepared), seed oils, an excess of fructose, non-fermented soy products, and other legumes (including peanuts).  My friend Dr. Kurt Harris has a fantastic manifesto describing the scientific and experiential reasoning of this sort of diet in his post, Paleo 2.0.

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Some of my articles describe why specific elements of an Evolutionary Medicine-friendly, micronutrient-rich and low toxicity diet could be important for mental health, including Your Brain on Omega 3, Zombieland, Sad Monkeys, and Diet and Violence.  But one big question that comes up often is - wow, you don't eat grains, legumes, soy, vegetable oil, or industrially processed food - what do you eat?

Yesterday I picked up my first share of my local vegetable farm's CSA. I purchased all my vegetables for the season back in November, and every week from now through the end of October, my family gets a new box of food from White Barn Farm.  At the farmer's market there we can also pick up local eggs from pastured chickens and local meats.  We never know what will be in the box - but we know that all the vegetables will be fresh and amazing.  In addition, I buy grassfed beef in bulk from Paidom ranch in Texas - a ranch recommended by a childhood friend.  Others buy from US Wellness or Texas Grassfed Beef.  I typically get fruit from the grocery store and fish and special seasonings (such as seaweed flakes and mineral-rich Celtic salt) and fats for cooking (pasture butter, ghee, and coconut oil) from Whole Foods.*  I get a bit of grassfed beef liver from various sources - including gifts from friends!  The basic idea is to eat food that is close to what nature intended - so eat chickens and eggs from chickens that eat what birds have been eating for a long time (grubs and whatever they can get picking through the yard), and eat ruminants (such as lamb or beef) that eat grass.  Buying quality food can be expensive (though if you don't buy lots of chips and cereal and you don't eat out all that much, it's not really that expensive) - so I choose to buy in bulk.

Last night, then, I had a lot of vegetables to deal with and a hungry family to feed.  So I made a clafouti (based roughly on this recipe from Mark's Daily Apple).

1) Preheat oven to 350, butter a 9 inch cake pan

2) Chop up some veggies - what you have on hand.  I used one green garlic, 3 turnips, 3 radishes, half of a tomato we had leftover, and a large handful of kale chopped fine.  

3) In a separate bowl, beat 7-8 eggs and a cup of coconut milk (or heavy cream - I used coconut milk).  To this mix I added 2 tbs of curry powder, come Celtic salt, and pepper.  

4) Cube a stick or so of butter into smallish pieces, mix in with the veggies, and put the veggies in the buttered pan.  Pour the egg and coconut milk mixture over the veggies, and cook in the oven for 45-60 minutes.

If you don't have eggs but you do have meat or white rice, you can make a simple curry - cook the veggies, add the coconut milk and curry powder, and pour it over the cooked meat or rice (I do eat white rice, which I consider to be low in the toxins common in grains, such as lectins and phytates.  It's also inexpensive and the kids love it.)  The clafouti keeps well and the family likes it a lot, so it will be used for many meals over the next couple of days.  It was served with a salad of young mustard greens, green garlic, and tomatoes (most of that from the CSA box) -  for salad dressing we typically use olive oil and balsamic vinegar (most commercial salad dressings are chock full of industrial seed oils).

This morning I sauteed some pasture butter with a baby leek and spinach from the CSA box, capers, and mustard, and put a poached egg on top with salt and pepper.  Took 10 minutes, including chopping and washing the spinach and leek.  

While this sampling of my diet is a bit egg-centric and lower in carbohydrates than usual, I hope it starts to demonstrate how a diet free from so much modern industrial food can be delicious and simple.  I don't pay attention to macronutrient ratios (meaning how much fat or carbohydrate or protein I eat), but focus instead on eating whole, nutrient-rich food.  I'll be back to my more regular programming of scientific articles next week!

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*I get no discounts or favors from these companies for naming them here on my blog, though I have asked my farmers if I could visit and do an article in the next coming months so I can get a better understanding of their agriculture methods and how they make their food nutrient-rich and build the fertility and topsoil of family land using environmentally-friendly (and human-friendly) means.

Copyright Emily Deans, M.D.

Emily Deans, M.D., is a psychiatrist with a practice in Massachusetts.

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