The Food That Fights Depression

Could eating more of a certain (delicious) food help stave off depression and anxiety? Here’s what you need to know.

Is She Crazy? Nah, She Just Needs a Steak.

Harvard Health Publishing estimates that 1 in 10 adult women in America are taking antidepressants. They’re the pumpkin spice lattes of the drug world – women just love them. Or at least their docs just love prescribing them.

Maybe women are more prone to depression. Or maybe men are just too macho to admit they’re having mental health issues. Or maybe (just maybe) women are being prescribed powerful and often unpredictable drugs to combat what could just be a common nutritional deficiency.

For example, could some depressive symptoms be “treated” with a couple of juicy sirloin steaks every week? The findings of a new study out of Australia point in that direction.

The Study

Researchers at Deakin University had themselves a little theory. They believed red meat might be associated with mental health problems, so they conducted a little study to prove it. Boy, were they surprised.

They gathered up 1000 Aussie Sheilas (women-folk) and evaluated their mental health and red meat consumption. It’s was all very thorough and utterly boring, so let’s skip to the their conclusion: red meat HALVES the risk of depression in women.

The Important Details

The women who didn’t eat red meat were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder. Now, only a few were full-blown vegetarians and some of them didn’t even avoid red meat; they just didn’t eat very much of it. Most of the study participants ate plenty of chicken, fish, pork, and turkey.

Now, remember, this was an Australian study. And Down Under the recommended intake of red meat (beef and lamb) is three to four small servings a week. They used that guideline to establish low, normal, and high red meat intake.

Another consideration: Most Australian beef and lamb is grass-fed. It’s certainly not the same stuff you’re getting in your Taco Hell Burrito Gordito.

The researchers (surprising even themselves) ended up recommending a few servings of lean red meat a week to stave off depression and anxiety. They guessed that the sad, anxious women just weren’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for mental health.

On the flip side, they also suggested that eating too much red meat (more than the Aussie standard of 3-4 servings a week) may also lead to mental health issues, though they didn’t explain why.

Wait! Did They Miss Something?

It’s true that the anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3s may help relieve depression. Grass-fed red meat contains more good-for-ya fatty acids than grain-fed red meat. But is something else going on here? I think so.

What the beef-denying women were also missing was IRON. The symptoms of low iron overlap remarkably with some of the common symptoms of depression.

Regardless of whether it’s inadequate iron or low omega-3s, it’s clear that women need to be eating red meat, up to a few times per week. Just make some of that grass-fed if you can. If that’s not possible, go the supplement route for both iron and omega-3s.

Look, depression can have many causes, and we still don’t understand everything about it. But let’s make damn sure we take care of the nutritional aspects first before we start popping questionable prescription pills.