The first list of antidepressant foods restructures the "standard" American diet

The first list of antidepressant food scores restructures the "standard" American diet.

  • Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and oysters top the list of depression-fighting foods.
  • Organ meats are also near the top of nutrient-dense food sources that should be included in your diet.
  • Researchers focus more on what to eat rather than what to remove from the standard diet.

Michael Pollan was onto something when he added two words to conventional wisdom, writing, "You are what what you eat eats." The nutrients your meal consumes becomes part of you as well, whether it's a cow munching on grass or the soil your vegetables grow in. We know eating has an emotional effect, but you cannot separate emotions from psychology as they are the basis of your mental states.

We can extrapolate philosophically, but we can also look at actual studies on the nutrient profile of foods and their relationship to mental states—specifically, in this case, depressive disorders. A recent study, published in World Journal of Psychiatry, investigated 34 nutrients, extracting data as it relates to foods high in at least one of 12 antidepressant nutrients:

  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

Conducted by Laura R LaChance, in the University of Toronto's psychiatry department, and Drew Ramsey, in Columbia's psychiatry department, this team believes this study to be the first to specifically focus on the application of nutrients to depression. They continue:

While many nutrient profiling scales currently exist, created by government agencies, researchers, and the food industry, none focus on mental disorders or brain health. Additionally, no scale is based on nutrients that are supported by scientific literature to be involved in the prevention of and recovery from psychiatric disorders.

There is evidence that the lack of key nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D, result in depressive symptoms. In fact, clinical treatment often involves supplementing one or more of these nutrients. The fact that we can get plenty of vitamin D with just a few minutes in the sun is one indicator that our lifestyle patterns are missing essential components for optimal health.

Given the global rise of depression, changes in diet provide at least one level of prevention and therapy—it is unlikely that diet alone could cause such a spike in rates, though it certainly can play an important contributing factor. Something as simple as altering your food intake could help battle the consequences of these symptoms: low self-esteem, loss of meaning, anxiety, spoiled relationships, and at the extreme, suicide, whose rates have also been increasing.

The foods, along with their Antidepressant Food Score (AFS), are listed below:

According to the mean score by category, vegetables top the list at 48 percent, followed by organ meats (25 percent), fruits (20 percent), and seafood (16 percent). The list concludes with legumes, meats, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy, all coming in below 10 percent. Unlike traditional guidelines, this list does not focus on what not to eat:

A recent review suggests that nutrient profiling scales designed to improve consumer food choices should be based on nutrients known to be beneficial for health as opposed to nutrients to avoid.

They note that recent "common wisdom" suggesting that saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium is bad for health is now in question. Whereas it's rather obvious that carb- and sugar-heavy diets do not work in our favor, the aim of this study is to remind us what we should be putting into our mouths. Without actionable input, telling us to leave certain foods behind without offering replacements makes little sense.

The main problem is that the majority of Americans do not eat foods high in AFS. For example, most of the adult population consumes too few vegetables; one study reveals that only 27.2 percent eat three or more servings per day. Between 80-90 percent do not eat at least two servings of seafood per week. And forget about most Americans eating organ meats.

Which is a shame, given that organ meats are the most nutrient-dense part of an animal. Whereas there is evidence our ancestors ate the organs and left the meat for scavengers, we've reversed that trend—and are paying the cost.

There is no single food source that will end depression. Rather, the authors write, it seems to be a confluence of events that have led to our abandoning essential nutrients, including increased inflammation due to the "standard" American diet and a lack of dietary fiber. With an increased understanding of the microbiome in overall health, we're gaining clarity over just how influential nutrients are for every aspect of our health.

As nutritionist Chris Kresser wrote in 2011, purely vegetarian and vegan diets are problematic given the lack of essential nutrients, such as those cited in the above study. When asked by Joe Rogan what he thought the healthiest diet is, Kresser replied a vegan diet with shellfish; he's also championed organ meats. Of course, a vegan diet could by default not include animal products, but Kresser's suggestion squares well with this recent research.

There is no question that these food sources provide the most nutrient-dense meals possible. Cultural aversions to organ meats is more the result of economics, not nutrition; at some point, eating organs was believed to be "lower class." That, along with technological advancements such as frozen food that is usually championed as progressive, has set into motion the disastrous eating habits we have today, along with the depression that has followed. The link is clear. Forging new links requires another story.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

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Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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