Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whole Food Diet Linked to Decreased Anxiety and Depression

One of the mainstays of any naturopathic treatment plan is dietary advice. Though the details may vary, every treatment plan will likely include instruction to pursue a whole foods diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes and naturally fed meats and sustainable fishes for those who choose them. The health benefits include decreased inflammation, healthier cholesterol levels, better digestion, fewer allergies and many others.

Due to the modern Western medical paradigm, even such a simple, common sense intervention as eating food as nature is under study. One such study recently published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry focused on the effect of a whole food diet on mental health. Researchers concluded that “a traditional or whole diet … may help prevent mental illness — specifically, depression and anxiety. Conversely, a Western diet high in refined or processed foods and saturated fats may increase the risk of depression...” This study, conducted at the University of Melbourne in Australia, is unique in linking whole diets to mental health outcomes.

One issue raised by this study is the availability of high quality meat in the United States. Most commercial beef in the U.S. is raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and are fed a corn based diet, resulting in a different fatty acid profile than cattle raised on their natural diet of grass. Corn fed beef is higher in saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids; whereas grass fed beef contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and may be a “good proportion of individuals’ dietary intake” according to Dr. Jacka, author of the study.

Grass fed beef is available in the U.S. In the Portland metro area, grass fed beef is consistently available directly thru ranchers and CSAs and from New Seasons Market and other markets. Be sure to look for 100% grass fed beef – cattle are often “finished” on feedlots for 9-12 weeks, but it only takes 6 weeks to affect the fatty acid profile.

Further reading: Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollens

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