Food is Medicine

I’m an emotional eater –  it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling bad or good.  But when I’m depressed I crave sugar & carbs.   I’ve always conveniently blamed my father.   I’m not sure whether he was the one who needed a pick-me-up or he thought I did but he would go out of his way to bring a bit of pleasure into my life in the form of something delectibly sweet.

Dad would drive across town to a special shop that dispensed root beer from a soda fountain and then back at home he’d pile in vanilla ice cream to make floats.  We would sneak out to eat cinnamon rolls and M’M’s peanut chocolate candy. 

Dad lived by specific culinary principles:

  • Cake’s main purpose was to hold up the frosting. 
  • Pepsi was the beverage of choice because water was for bathing, not drinking.
  • The only edible food was brown and white (unless it contained copious amounts of sugar), green food should be reserved for insects or chimpanzees
  • Fruit was only safe to eat if it was in a pie. 

Today there is a an incredible amount of scientific evidence that food is medicine, not just muscle fuel, and the right kind of diet may give the brain more of what it needs to avoid depression, or even to treat it once it’s begun

You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?

Psychiatrists and therapists don’t often ask this question. But a growing body of research over the past decade shows that a healthy diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and unprocessed lean red meat—can prevent depression. And an unhealthy diet—high in processed and refined foods—increases the risk for the disease in everyone, including children and teens.

The findings are spurring the rise of a new field: nutritional psychiatry.

“Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only prevent depression, but could effectively treat it once it’s started.
“Researchers, led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka of Australia’s Deakin University, looked at whether improving the diets of people with major depression would help improve their mood. They chose 67 people with depression for the study, some of whom were already being treated with antidepressants, some with psychotherapy, and some with both. Half of these people were given nutritional counseling from a dietitian, who helped them eat healthier. Half were given one-on-one social support—they were paired with someone to chat or play cards with—which is known to help people with depression.”

“After 12 weeks, the people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support. And the people who improved their diets the most improved the most. (The study was published in January 2017 in BMC Medicine).”

“A second, larger study drew similar conclusions and showed that the boost in mood lasted six months. It was led by researchers at the University of South Australia and published in December 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience.”

“And later this month in Los Angeles at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago will present results from their research that shows that elderly adults who eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less likely to develop depression over time.”

Scientific evidence aside . . .

My dad lived to 93 . . .  it might be prudent to follow his dietary regime.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Food That Helps Battle Depression bElizabeth Bernstein







11 comments on “Food is Medicine

  1. Such an interesting finding that wholesome food relieves depression. Nutritional psychiatry should lead to an uptick in treating depressive people effectively. I know food is fuel but to think of it as medicine elevates it to a new level.


  2. Love your dad’s culinary principles. I enjoy going to buffet restaurants. There are several of them near my house. I make my rounds. You can eat a variety of food, meat, seafood, veggies, fruit, dessert. There is no depression in these restaurants. Some people say they eat to live. My principle is I live to eat. 😃🍰🍲🌮🍗🍤🍜🍣🍝🌽🍍🍅🍆🍑🍉🍇🍌🍐


    • Linda T.
      I had to laugh at your observation “There’s no depression in these restaurants.”! I try to stay away from buffet restaurants . . . as I always eat too much. (Of course that’s no different than eating at home . . .)


  3. Dad liked you better, I don’t recall cinnamon rolls and peanut m&m’s, just his fondness for cherry cordials (cherries in molten liquid inside of chocolate). Aside from that, I’m a “motion-al” eater, if it doesn’t move (too fast), it’s fair game to ingest.

    Makes sense that healthier foods can ward off depression. Unfortunately, many that live in less affluent areas may have depression issues due to the presence of “food deserts” where healthy and affordable grocery options are more scarce.


    • Rick,
      It does seem that there is a “catch 22” –that the more you need something the harder it is to get. That said, I hope you find yourself able to catch those slow moving cherry cordials. Turns out cherries have a lot of health benefits (as does chocolate), so chasing after them, even if they are moving fast, is a good idea.


    • Rick,
      Not sure Dad liked me better – he introduced me to addictive behavior. (The cinnamon roll sneaks were here in California).
      Your point about less affluent areas is a good one.


  4. Very interesting to read that there now will be a field called “nutritional psychiatry”. About time! When I had breast cancer in 2005 I asked my doctor what role diet played and frankly he had no idea, other than to tell me that perhaps soy was a factor…!

    I met Dr. Gabriel Cousens while we were living in Nicaragua and it absolutely changed my life. He has written a few books, one of which is called Conscious Eating and it is all about how food impacts your health. Yes, food is our medicine indeed. I reduced my dairy to minimal, gave up sugar, caffeine and meat and so far so good I seem to be in good health and have not had my cancer return or other illness. He has successfully treated many people with both diabetes and depression with diet (primarily a plant based, live food diet, ie the veggies and fruit are eaten soon after they are grown for primary nutrients.)

    Thank you for this insightful and important post. If only doctors would read it. Most of them, sad to say, are pretty clueless about nutrition in my opinion.



    • Peta, I, too, was delighted to read there is a new field. The paucity of information that most doctors have about what we PUT into our bodies is staggering. There are more doctors jumping onto the dietary bandwagon due to the internet and public broadcasting TV. Unfortunately, most seem to be using it as a marketing platform to sell products and services and it’s hard to sort it all out.

      From all the research I read your foods of choice are the way to go for optimal health. The difficulty I personally experience is that the constant bombardment of food commercials in the media and the overwhelming choice in the supermarkets here in the USA break down my resolve – particularly when I’m not feeling well – and then once my brain gets that dopamine hit from sugar and carbs I’m off and running in the wrong direction. I may need to move in with you in Sri Lanka.


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