The latest, greatest antidepressant — straight from the supermarket

Believe it or not, scientists have devised an evidence-based rating scale that ranks different types of foods according to their ability to alleviate depression.

This news seems almost too good to be true. And with the number of people currently taking antidepressants in this country, I really hope it gets the attention from psychiatrists it deserves.

At the very least, I know I’ll be taking a closer look… and treating my depressed patients accordingly.

Of course, I’ve always been mindful of the role diet plays in mental health. There’s plenty of evidence at this point that eating habits directly impact brain function — especially when it comes to mood disorders and memory loss.

The only difference is that now the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is actually admitting it. And Columbia University’s Dr. Drew Ramsey is helping to lead the charge.

Dr. Ramsay and his colleagues developed this scale by reviewing all the available scientific literature on eating patterns and mental health. Then they put together a list of “brain essential nutrients” that research suggests are particularly helpful when it comes to combating depression.

Key members of this list include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, fiber, vitamin D, vitamin E, and several B-vitamins, including B1, B9, and B12. Altogether, they provide a range of brain benefits — from protecting neuron membranes to reducing inflammation.

Of course they emphasized plant-based sources of these nutrients first. But they did also include animal sources. There’s really no getting around that when it comes to brain health — or overall health, for that matter (try as many mainstream nutrition “experts” might to deny the benefits of meat and animal products). Yet it’s almost as if they felt like they had to apologize for including animal sources.

I’ll never understand why the bias against meat continues to persist. But I certainly hope this latest development helps to turn the tide. Because recent statistics show that Americans need all the help they can get. And the fact is, certain critical brain nutrients — like vitamin B12 — are almost exclusively found in meat and other animal products.

Of course B12 isn’t the only nutrient Americans aren’t getting enough of. Estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show:

  • 86% of Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin E
  • 75% of people are deficient in folate
  • 73% have insufficient calcium intake
  • 68% of Americans don’t meet the RDA for magnesium
  • 42% of people aren’t getting adequate amounts of zinc
  • 35% don’t get enough vitamin B6

And mainstream medicine insists you don’t need a multivitamin? I beg to differ. But let’s get back to brain food…

Leafy green vegetables contain a number of the brain essential nutrients, so they’re obviously at the top of the list. But so are other, less obvious options. Like organ and game meats, for example. Nuts also rank high on the list — as do fish and shellfish.

If nothing else, let this serve as yet another wake-up call to all the vegans out there. The risk of nutrient deficiencies is real — and high. Especially when it comes to B12, as I mentioned earlier.

In fact, one recent study revealed that more than half of vegans were “frankly deficient.” And believe me, B12 deficiencies aren’t pretty — leading to issues like depression, anemia… and eventually, permanent neurological damage.

The risks don’t end with your own brain health, either. One study of 30 vegan mothers found that their children suffered from developmental delays and cerebral atrophy at rates of 60 and 37 percent, respectively.

At a bare minimum, research shows a strong link between meatless lifestyles and rates of depression, anxiety, and reduced quality of life. If it’s a matter of ethics, that’s one thing. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing something healthy.

But regardless of whether you’re a vegan or not, everyone can benefit from including more foods rich in brain essential nutrients into their diets. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to keep your brain — and your mood — balanced. And it’s much, much safer than drugs.