This is a great topic for me to blog on! I have to say, I'm ashamed I didn't think of it myself (a friend suggested it via email)... but I think it's especially pertanent with the season.
Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of information linking diet with depression. There is however, one fairly well-known nutrient that plays a role in preventing (or not preventing) depression, depending on its occurance in our diet: Omega-3 fatty acid.
I actually had one of my students tell me that her therapist required his patients to take supplemental flaxseed oil before he would see them for depression. Flaxseed contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other single source. That's just how big a difference it made in his clients. Huh.
Which makes sense, seeing as we're talking about the brain, which is made of mostly fat. That's right, we're all fatheads.
If our brain - which is comprised mostly of fat - is missing a certain essential fat (essential means it must come from the diet; the body cannot manufacture it alone), it seems obvious that there'd be an unfortunate outcome, like depression. This could be called a "chemical imbalance", but I hesitate to call it that, because we mostly associate chemical imbalances with something innate and unchangeable except by medication. But what a relief, to know that there is a chemical imbalance literally in our brain that we can easily undo.
So yes, flaxseed (ground) or flaxseed oil is a potent source of Omega-3's. But so are nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. All of 'em. Fatty plant foods like olive oil (extra virgin), canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are particularly high - as flaxseed is a seed, but again, literally all plant foods contain Omega-3, so the more you consume a plant-based diet, the less likely your brain is to be short on Omega-3.
Of course fish is also a source, but the irony is the same fish that contain the most Omega-3's are also highest in mercury and PCB's. Those toxins also affect the brain, but in a bad way, so fish would definately not be a good food for fighting depression. Fish oil capsules neither.
A special seasonal recipe by request:
Super Moist Pumpkin Bread
Submitted by Donna Walkush
prep time: 20 minutes | cooking time: 1 hr 15 minutes | makes (2) 8
The bread gets its name Super Moist from the addition of an unusual ingredient: coconut milk!
This bread is so good that most people (even vegans) don't believe that it's vegan.
(2) 8" x 4" loaf pans
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup flaked coconut
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8" x 4" loaf pans.
2. Spread walnuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and coconut milk, and mix until all of the flour is absorbed. Fold in the flaked coconut and toasted walnuts. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
4. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes in the preheated oven or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, and cover loaves tightly with foil. Allow to steam for 10 minutes. Remove foil, and turn out onto a cooling rack. Tent loosely with the foil, and allow to cool completely.
So I was at my friend's house last week - an educated, intelligent friend - who was bemoaning that her 2-year-old son ate so few "protein foods"... I asked what he did eat, knowing how health-conscious she is. "Oh, he eats tons of fruit and (whole grain) bread. He could just eat that all day." My response, "then what is the problem?"
Can I just say, yet again, that protein is the SINGLE HARDEST NUTRIENT TO DEVELOP A DEFICIENCY IN? Yes, it really is.
I actually was talking to a woman a few months ago, whose husband had recently taken a nutrition class for his nursing degree, and apparently the professor repeated the above statement (protein deficiency is almost impossible to develop) at every single class meeting. Why? She felt, as do I and many other nutritionists, that she had to drill this fact into peoples' heads. Perhaps because we were all raised to think protein deficiency is an actual problem...
I used to believe that too. I mean, I learned in undergraduate nutrition courses that it's quite difficult to not consume enough protein, even if you're a vegetarian or vegan. But in the back of my mind I was sure that people living in poor countries, who had few options when it came to food, were deficient in protein.
When I enrolled in graduate school that fallacy was thrown out altogether. You see, my specialization in nutrition at this point was World Hunger and Food Policy, so I got to learn all about those very people I deemed protein deficient. And guess what? For even the poorest people on earth, those who are consuming enough calories (more or less), are all consuming enough protein. It is only in those experiencing a severe food shortage, or famine, that have protein deficiency - and every other nutrient deficiency for that matter. It's called "protein-calorie deficiency" for just that reason. Yep, it's just that rare.
So if you haven't figured it out yet, those 9 essential amino acids (our bodies can't produce these) are NOT needed at the same meal, or even in the same day, but within the same week. Good luck not consuming those amino acids in one week. You're going to be very hungry.
So no meal "combining" for vegetarians. Just not necessary.
And forget that notion that eggs are a "perfect" protein. Yes, they have all those 9 amino acids, but so does tofu - and you don't need them altogether either way (just in case you don't like tofu).
So everybody, like, just chill out, okay?
For all you nutrition-fans: I'll be speaking again at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (in the learning center, on Alhambra) on Wednesday, Nov. 28th at 6:30pm. It's free, but please do call the Co-op to register ahead of time. I'll be speaking on "Preventing and Reversing Diabetes". If you know someone struggling with diabetes or pre-diabetes, pass it on.
Simple Split Pea Soup (my recipe)
It's that time of year again! I love soup season! Get some yummy bread and make this meal a few nights this week.
5 cups dried split peas (I recommend soaking in water overnight to de-gas)
5 bay leaves
32 oz vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
one onion, chopped
1 bunch carrots, chopped
Through everything together, add as much water as you want, depending on how thick/watery you like your soup, and boil, stirring often, then simmer until peas are soft. Make sure to not add salt until after the peas are cooked, otherwise it will slow down the cooking process.
Labels: simple split pea soup recipe
First, I want to tell you all about my new favorite non-dairy treat: Sharon's coconut sorbet. Our friends brought it over the other night (from Trader Joe's, although most likely avail. elsewhere), and it is to die for. Honestly, I was initially skeptical: sorbets tend to be too light and airy for me. But this particular type is made from coconut milk and cream, which SO rich, it's hard to believe it not real ice cream. So there you go.
Now, I realize since I've blogged so much about not giving children dairy, I need to clarify some important "controversies" about soy milk.
I hear so many intelligent mothers telling me they don't give their children soy milk (or soy products) because they've heard about all the estrogen soy contains. Although I've covered this topic elsewhere, I believe it deserves revisiting.
Here's the science... Yes, soy does contain high levels of compounds called isoflavones, which act as phytoestrogens, or "plant" estrogens, but these are entirely different than real estrogen hormones because they can only be beneficial.
When our real estrogen levels are too high, isoflavones (or soy "estrogen") block the receptor sites on our cells, keeping real estrogen out of our cells, and thereby lowering the body's estrogen levels and protecting against all those nasty things linked - or supposedly linked - to too much estrogen: reproductive cancer, early pubescence in children, feminine traits in young boys...
At the other side of the spectrum, when our body's real estrogen levels are too low, putting us at risk of other things (bone loss or impaired bone development, heart disease), those plant estrogens now mimic real estrogen, bringing our estrogen levels up to what is healthy.
In other words, plant estrogens from soy - and indeed, from many other fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes - regulate estrogen levels naturally. There is no "dark side" to these estrogens, no matter what ridiculous stories the dairy industry has conjured up.
And just in case you want some examples of real-life healthy children who were raised on soy milk, not only is there my almost 4-year old daughter (and lots of her friends), but many other children I've met who are now grown. One is a young man named Jeff, who is now 20, and is 100% masculine. He was a star basketball player in high school, for example. He was allergic to cow milk as a child, and therefore drank only soy. So unlike the images the milk industry has tried to evoke in the heads of mothers.
Finally, remember that phytoestrogens are found in all whole plant foods, such as broccoli and apples. Do children who eat more fruit and vegetables enter puberty earlier, or show symptoms of hormone imbalance? Food for thought.
Okay, so if you have been reading the paper lately (the Sacramento Bee in particular - but I imagine lots of other papers are publishing it too), there was an article yesterday on how people who are a tad overweight actually have a likelihood of living longer than their skinny counterparts.
Well, besides the fact that this study (from the Journal of American Medical Association) didn't tell us about "confounding factors" for skinny people - like methamphetamines or other street drugs, smoking or eating disorders - I must admit, I was skeptical.
In fact, so skeptical was I, I didn't even consider it as blog material.
But then today I read about another study, recently published in the British Medical Journal. This study links cancer to body weight, with an increasing BMI (Body Mass Index) associated with a significant increase in risk for 10 out of 17 types of cancer. Also, this study found the risk of death from cancer increased the higher the BMI for most cancers. In other words, the more overweight a person is, the greater likelihood of cancer, and death from cancer.
Now I know what I just wrote is a bummer, and I apologize. It's bad enough to be overweight, let alone hear that your cancer/death risk is higher. But as I've said before: I'd rather upset you out now than have you be much more upset later in a doctor's office.
And here's the thing: the whole point of this blog is not to inform you as much as help you to eat healthy. I've posted so much about weight loss that you could write a book (actually, I've written everything that is in my actual book). But in case you'd like a quick synopsis for how to lose weight...
1) Eat a high-fiber, or plant-based, diet
2) Eat your calories, don't drink them
3) Eat small, frequent meals/snacks - or no less than 3x a day
4) Savor your food: taste & enjoy every bite
5) Eat only when you're hungry, stop when no longer hungry
Sorry I've been slacking on the recipes lately. Here's one of my favorite seasonal recipes for eating - and enjoying - greens. I always double this recipe!
African Pineapple Peanut Stew - from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves
1 TBSP veg oil
1 bunch greens (Kale, Chard, Spinach, whatever)
2 cups (20 oz) undrained canned crushed pineapple
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 TBSP Tabasco or other hot sauce
salt to taste
In a covered saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in the oil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned. While the onions saute, wash the greens. Cut greens into approx. 1" thick slices.
Add the pineapple and its juice to the onions and bring to a simmer. Stir in the greens, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until just tender. Mix in the peanut butter and hot sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Since I'm on the subject of child nutrition, let's talk about dairy products. I've said almost everything on this subject before (see Dairy is Scary posts), but not specifically in regards to children.
First, let's talk phlegm. When I ask my students (who are all very well educated adults) what phlegm is, I am always amazed how few people know what this all-too-common disturbance is. Well, it's the same stuff mucus is made of, and that's white blood cells. When your sinuses are full of mucus or phlegm, you have one of two things: an infection (you knew that), or an immune response to what your body believes is a foreign invader - or "antigen".
Children who drink cow milk are frequently full of phlegm.
Cow, or bovine, proteins set off immune responses in all of us, but are especially noticable in children. That mucus causes unnecessary coughing - especially at night, runny noses, respiratory problems and ear infections. Think about it: if your ears, which are part of the sinus system, are filled with extra mucus, you are much more prone to an infection, since an invading bacteria or virus has a perfectly hospitable climate in which to reproduce. Also, since the immune system is busy attacking something it perceives to be dangerous, the body is "immune-compromised", and has less resources to fight a real pathogen. And that's what is happening in our children.
On the other hand, it is extremely rare for children who do not drink milk to develop ear infections. Take my daughter, who is almost 4. She's never had cow milk, and neither has she had an ear infection. I, on the other hand, associate my childhood with chronic ear infections, as do many other adults. And yes, I drank lots of milk.
Cow milk is also the #1 reason for childhood anemia in our country, since bovine proteins cause blood loss in the intestines (yes, they really do, look it up), in addition to calcium in milk competing with iron stores in the body.
And of course, these principles would even apply to organic milk, since we're talking about bovine proteins and calcium in milk - which are across the board.