Eating the Blues

Can you eat your way out of depression? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cites research that says…maybe. Here’s a link to the article:

The article suggests that gobbling the good old Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit, raw or minimally cooked vegetables, beans and legumes, olive oil, fish and lean sources of protein will not merely blow the blues away, but act as a corrective and make it less likely for depression to bring you down.

On the whole, I like the Med Diet when it was first flogged as a heart disease cure in the 1980s. Back then, a glass of wine was added to the daily repast as a sure-fire health enhancer, and, like most eager dieters, I found that what some people consider to be a glass of wine was not what I preferred. By the time I decided I had quaffed a merely adequate serving, I found myself in a sunny, if slightly soggy, mood that ended in a snooze.

That, and I discovered that cheap wines taste REALLY great with pizza and pasta (or is it the other way around?) and pizza and pasta are about as Med as you can get, even when you make sauces and use cheese with a lower-than-typical fat content. Low-fat sauces and cheeses not only have low-taste, but they make you eat more, bringing on that characteristically Mediterranean gut.

You can’t help but notice it when you visit any Med nation. The swanky Med types may look good on bicycles and scooters, or hiking up the Alps, but, after they reach an uncertain age, they develop the round faces, rounder guts and bigger bums and who didn’t appear to be any healthier than the we calorie-clogged Americans. And, though healthcare maybe theoretically “free” in some Med countries, American healthcare is much better in terms of delivery, technology, physician competence, wait times, outpatient therapies and access to prescription medicine. Last I checked, Med people had just as many problems with heart disease and diabetes as we did.

Add to that the fact that, in the late 1990s, the major study that identified dietary fat as the primary cause of arteriosclerosis was proved to have been based on spurious data. We now know that there is good fat (that shuts off our hunger when we feel “full”), not-so-good fat and really bad fat that contributes to arteriosclerosis, and that our bodies make that really bad fat all by themselves. Statins, which are supposed to interfere with really bad fat production, are now the world’s most common prescription drugs.

Our love of the Med diet coincided with two other major dining trends, the return of Big Meat (prime grade steak houses, fancy burgers) and the reinvention of comfort food: fatty, salty, cheesy, saucy, gooey, greasy, starchy intensely delicious meals that “feel good” going down, before they put you to sleep.

I have often wandered into places reeking of sizzling meet, and, after consuming a pile of artfully cooked protein, and the requisite spuds, I behold my mood…elevated. There really is something to comfort food that the Med diet does not deliver.

Finally, a few days after my wife and I viewed a documentary devoted to regional American pie shops, we found ourselves returning from a funeral and, in a fit of life-affirming consumerism, we enriched the local economy by purchasing a strawberry rhubarb pie, the first taste of which set off in my mouth a spectacular, sugary, butter-crust-crumbling fruit explosion also elevated my mood.

And, no, I did not experience the deflating let-down a few hours later. This pie delivered no mere “sugar high.”  Eating it was a peak experience, a life-affirming feat to counter the all thoughts of diets and deprivation which, far too often, amount to the same thing: you do this because you believe, against all lust and logic, that somehow it will be good for you.

With such memories I returned to the Wall Street Journal article and the study on which it was based. That foods influence our moods is obvious. That some kinds of influence may be better than others is worth exploring.

But, if given a choice between a lean, colorful, oil-and-vinegary Med salad (with slivers of grilled chicken on top), and strawberry rhubarb pie, I would not hesitate to send that study back to the kitchen.





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