There are many causes of depression; adverse events in childhood, adult trauma and prolonged losses, and low-grade inflammation in the body. But, a lesser-known cause is not eating according to your body type. People are genetically either carnivores or vegetarians or somewhere in between. Not aligning with your biology is a recipe for mental distress and depression.
If you are tired, lethargic, anxious or prone to panic, are you vegetarian or vegan? Are you hooked on sugar or refined carbs? There is a chance that you are not aligned with your true biologically determined dietary needs. Your “engine” may not function with only vegetarian fuel. While it is true that plant-based diets provide us with the foundation for exceptional mental health, very few people can thrive without some animal-based proteins. The question is how much do you need for your engine? This is the science of mental health nutrition called biochemical individuality , a term defined by Dr. Roger Williams who discovered and named many of the B-Vitamins.
Now, I have taught vegetarian cooking for decades, and I eat vegetables raw and cooked with every meal; however there can be too much of a good thing, and vegetables need to be balanced with animal proteins; eggs, cheese, meat, fowl and fish to support brain function. The brain relies on amino acids from animal proteins to synthesize neurotransmitters, our chemicals of focus and mood without enough, it flags and thus begins depression and anxiety.
In the course of his global travels in traditional societies, Dr. Weston Price , failed to find any traditional culture or society that was entirely vegan, suggesting that veganism is a modern dietary invention. While there is much emotional and spiritual merit in veganism, there is no evidence for any biological merit.
Our brain/mind needs are determined by our cultural and genetic heritage, which developed in the environment where our ancestors evolved. Just because your people moved out from Africa 400 years ago doesn’t mean that your genetically based metabolism is different than your ancestors. If your ancestors migrated from England to the United States 200 years ago, it doesn’t mean that you can necessarily function as a vegetarian. Certainly, this becomes clear when understanding how people of the northern climes, like the Inuit of Greenland and Alaska, evolved with diets high in animal fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. The Spanish brought pigs, cows and wheat to Meso America; before that, indigenous peoples did not eat those foods.
We carry the history of our ancestors, and in particular our parents in our genes, and that determines our metabolism. Veganism is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses because the brain, which is mostly fat, requires high amounts of essential fatty acids for nervous system development. These fats are available only from grass-fed animals, eggs, dairy and nuts. Protein in a vegan diet is limited to plant proteins, found in foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains; however, only a few contain complete proteins. This results in deficits in the essential amino acids, which are required for optimal health. Vegan diets often include large amounts of soy and soy protein isolates, which can have negative effects on thyroid hormones and digestive enzymes. Vegan and vegetarian diets are often high in refined sugar and many vegetarians crave sugar, which contributes to inflammation and anxiety. This is also a sign that the diet may be protein and/or fat deficient. Other vitamins that are commonly missing, or very low in a vegan diet , are vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, and iron. Vitamin D is actually a fat-soluble neurohormone essential for the prevention of depression and pain. The other fat-soluble vitamins, A, E, and K also require saturated fats, found mainly in animal proteins, for absorption.
People who wish to adhere to a vegan diet should be encouraged to do so for very short periods of time. It can be a beneficial period for detoxification but not for long term nourishment. Because veganism is frequently linked to a strong belief system, it is important to inquire about the meaning of veganism: Is it about loving animals and not wanting to eat them?, the environment? and/or spiritual beliefs? In my practice with vegans, I discuss whether there are ways to balance our personal concerns for animal welfare, with the need of the animal-human body for animal-based protein by ritually giving thanks to the animal who has shared its flesh.
If you or your clients are vegetarian or vegan, and have low mood depression or anxiety and you’re willing to try it, I’d suggest an experiment: Try adding animal protein (might even be a simple broth from bones or chicken) into your diet three times daily for just 7 days, and take notes about the improvements in your sleep, mood and focus.
Try This Recipe!
Sweet Vegetable and Meat Stew
This recipe is my “go-to" recipe for making an easy, nourishing, and rich-tasting meal. It can help to relieve depression and anxiety as it helps to acidify and provide brain nutrients. The recipes can be modified as you wish and still taste good. This Stew is a variation on the traditional Jewish Passover stew called Tzimmes.
2 pounds stew meat or inexpensive fatty meat
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into inch coins
2 bay leaves
1/2 lemon, including peel, pitted and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c.juice orange, including peel, pitted and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit* (prunes, pears, apricots, and apples), chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 cups water
1. Cut the meat and carrots into 2-inch pieces and place in the crockpot with 2 cups of water.
Cook for 2 hours on high.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on low for 2 more hours.
3. Serve in bowls.
* Use organic fruit with no sulfites. Make sure you purchase dried fruits without preservatives because the preservatives can be allergenic or exacerbate asthma or breathing difficulties.