Mental illnesses are the biggest cause of disabilities worldwide. In fact, depression alone ranks as one of the top five leading causes for disability. Antidepressants are now the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the U.S. with—according a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics—nearly 13% of Americans are taking these drugs.
Despite reputable nonprofits like Mental Health America (MHA) and government research on this epidemic, rates of depression and antidepressant use continue to rise at astonishing levels. With more awareness and research, we’d expect to see the trend to reverse. So, what’s the deal? More stressful and sedentary lifestyles, more environmental toxins, or less stigmatization of mental illness? Well, while we aren’t here to put the blame on any one single cause, we do believe that prevention of any disease is key. And that includes diet—something that is often overlooked in the treatment of mental illnesses like depression.
The MHA publishes guidelines for a diet that supports mental health on their website:
“A healthy diet includes a full range of vegetables, fruits, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans), fish, whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats, breads, etc.), nuts, avocados and olive oil to support a healthy brain. Sweet and fatty foods should be special treats, not the staples of your diet.”
Without discrediting the extensive work this organization has done since it was founded over a century ago, I was surprised to find no specific opinion on any meat products besides fish. They do note the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, and vitamin D for mental health and list beef, lamb, poultry, and eggs as good sources of some of these nutrients.
My two most severe bouts of depression were also times when I was eating a vegetarian diet. When I added meat back in (out of desperation), I felt better almost instantly. My sleep and mood improved within 24 hours. Since then, I’ve been intrigued by the role that pastured and grass-fed meats can play in a mood-supporting diet. Many agree that the complete amino acid profiles and b-vitamins found in animal products can be highly beneficial to mood. The high-quality protein alone serves as an important macronutrient that helps keep our blood sugar stable and our bodies nourished.
One of my personal heroes, Kelly Brogan, M.D., is a holistic psychiatrist who has dedicated her life to helping women get off antidepressants. She writes:
“In a study entitled Red Meat Consumption and Mood and Anxiety Disorders, they looked at a sample from a cohort of 1,046 women aged 20-93 and found that those who ate less than 3-4 servings of beef or lamb a week were TWICE as likely to be diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety.”
After years of clinical experience herself, Dr. Brogan now requires all of her female patients who want to get off antidepressants to eat pastured red meat (including beef, lamb, and pork) at least three to five times per week. She says she has had astounding results since using this in her practice. In fact, she has found that her patients’ conditions have only improved with the inclusion of red meat. Dr. Brogan also notes the importance of conscious consumerism and having a sacred relationship with one’s food. She has found that a paleo template (void of legumes, grains, and dairy) coupled with an awareness of food sourcing and integration reconnects patients to their sense of intuitive eating. From there, many begin to heal and crave the foods their bodies needs, which always includes some sources of grass-fed red meat.
Professor Felice Jacka, Ph.D., who led the aforementioned study by Deakin University, notes that the diet of the ruminants one eats is key:
"We know that red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are important to mental and physical health. This is because cattle and sheep in Australia are largely grass-fed. In many other countries, the cattle are kept in feedlots and fed grains, rather than grass. This results in a much less healthy meat with more saturated fat and fewer healthy fats."
As a former vegan/vegetarian, I understand that the idea of eating beef, lamb, and even pork for healing can be a huge paradigm shift. If eating bacon as a part of an intense healing protocol sounds crazy, I urge you to not discount until you’ve tried it.
I still recognize that we are absorbing the energy of ANY food we eat (plant or animal), so prioritizing the quality of meat is paramount for this approach to work. Personally, I’ve found that the inclusion of grass-fed and organic meats brings me a consistent groundedness and energy that was rare in my vegetarian days.
The current medical model is discounting the power of food in general, and especially certain unfairly demonized foods like red meat. If inclusion of grass-fed meat can help people reduce or avoid antidepressant use, it’s certainly worth consideration.
The information in this publication is not medical advice, and should not be treated as such. Please consult your doctor before making any diet, lifestyle, or medication changes.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/
U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed
Psych Central: https://pychcentral.com