Got A Brain – You Need Traditional Foods!

As we left the farm and moved to the city our way of life changed. The horse was traded in for the automobile, wood stoves were upgraded to the modern electric range, and traditional diets were traded for fast foods. Worldwide we are seeing higher rates of obesity each year, along with increasing health problems. Add to this increasing rates of depression and other mental health disorders. Could it be we traded up for something we should not have?

What Has Changed?

We are different from all the other animals on the earth because we can reason, we have intelligence. Our diet has changed tremendously over the last 50 years and so has our health. Medical groups are now reasoning that our diet can after all influence our physical and mental health. It would seem obvious that given the brain’s dependence upon nutrients for its structure and function that quality nutrition would be of highest importance. In recent years there have been many new studies done about how nutrition and mental health go hand in hand. This area of study is now known as nutritional psychiatry.

Food And Behavior

Women have known that food influences behavior for generations. After all, they waited to give bad news till after their men had eaten dinner. Now we have studies to prove that point.

A  5-year study; Maternal and Early Postnatal Nutrition and Mental Health of Offspring by Age 5 Years: A Prospective Cohort Study, which tracked over 23,000 maternal women and their postnatal children found that women that had unhealthy diets, (processed and refined foods, high-sugar beverages, high-sodium snacks) while pregnant, had children that displayed behavioral and emotional problems. The worse the mother’s diet while pregnant, the more the children displayed external negative emotions, ie. fit throwing, not listening to parents, and mean actions toward other children. The study went deeper and looked at the behavior of the child to age 5. It was noted that if the child continued receiving an unhealthy diet after birth, behaviors were displayed not only externally but also internally, ie. socially withdrawn, depression, fearfulness, and problems with concentration.

Anxiety and depression issues are being shown to have lower frequency when traditional diets are followed strictly.

The Journal Of Physicality published in March of 2010; Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women. This study of over 1,000 women, aged 20-93, showed that a diet of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains was associated with lower odds for major depression and anxiety disorders, 35% less than women that ate a ‘western” diet. A “western” diet of processed meats, pizza, chips, hamburgers, white bread, sugar, flavored milk drinks, and beer was associated with a higher incidence of depression and anxiety disorders.

These studies and others are opening up the idea that food does have an affect on brain function. I know I was told you are what you eat ever since I was a kid. Now it appears that the proof is coming to light. And is it surprising that the majority of people have a diet today that is based often on convenience, and the fact that people have to eat something to just stay alive. Honestly, we already know that fast food and convenience foods are junk. We label these type of foods as, “junk foods.”

Traditional Diets Balance

If we look back in time, we see people ate more traditional diets around 50-60 years ago, and there were far less issues with disease. Heck, when I was a kid there was no place to get medical treatment except for the hospital. Now we have “quick care walk-in clinics” all over town. It would appear as we left the traditional diet, disease increased, as has behavioral and emotional problems in children and adults. A traditional diet is one that contains balanced amounts of vegetables, fruits, fish, good cuts of meat, correct fats, and limited grains.

Traditional Diets Include Fermented Foods

When you start researching traditional diets throughout history you find one common factor in common: Fermented foods.

‘The processes required for fermented foods were present on earth when man appeared on the scene… When we study these foods, we are in fact studying the most intimate relationships between man, microbe and foods.’

Prof. Keith H. Steinkraus, Cornell University, 1993

Paleolithic diets even contained fermented foods. The berries would ripen and microbial ferment right on the plant. When people started to ferment foods with a purpose is hard to nail down. What is interesting is that ancient Neolithic vessels have been chemically analyzed and found that contents yielded residues suggesting intentional fermentation of fruit, rice, or honey beverages, and was the common practice for 10,000 years.

Fermented foods have been in traditional diets for centuries and food and health were interlocked. Take for example sauerkraut. Each culture has it’s variety often made with cabbage as the base with other regional vegetables added.

Fermented foods were common place in the home until the modern 21st century. TV dinners (frozen dinners) were not common practice 50 years ago, but today they run entire isles of the store.

Startling Facts

One of the biggest issues in health today is mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2012 there were 43.7 million adults in the US with AMI (any mental illness). That is almost 20% of the population or 1 in 5 people. It is big money; $11.6 billion was spent on antidepressants in 2010.

Gut Bacteria Influences Brain

Many studies are finding the exact probiotic bacteria that can help with behavior issues.

A study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Dec. 2011, reported that probiotic bacteria (Bifidobacterium longum), was shown to help normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis. Published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Sept 2011, showed that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a direct effect of lowering the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression-related behavior.

What is really neat is that these two probiotics mentioned above are commonly found in fermented foods. Could this be why people of the past did not suffer with as many mental issues as people of today.

Fermented Foods You Can Eat

It sure appears that fermented foods could give you a nice advantage in life. So the next question is what fermented foods can you get hold of. Currently I am aware of only one vegetable product sold nationally that is truly a correct fermented food. Farmhouse Culture has a line of fermented sauerkraut that is done the right-way, and most importantly, no heat processing of any kind so they are truly raw foods.

I do want to mention another product that is popular but misses the mark sadly, Bubbies sauerkraut is heat treated, I called them and confirmed it.

There are a few yogurts that contain live probiotics. When looking at the label, look for keywords such as “contains live cultures” not “made with live cultures.” There is a difference. It is not hard to make your own homemade yogurt. I hear time and time again how much better it tastes when you make your own homemade yogurt, and there are so many things that can be done with that yogurt.

To be guaranteed a quality fermented food product you will have to do it yourself, or get Grandma to do it for you. Yes, there maybe some farmers markets where you can purchase fermented foods, but you will not know the quality for sure.

Lacto-fermenting vegetables at home is an easy process that you can do safely. You just need to get a few items to complete the task. We recommend a fermenting system based on the mason jar, that way no special jars are needed. The lids are adapted to allow the use of an airlock, along with a food safe grommet and gasket to insure an air-tight seal. We offer lacto-fermenting kits with all the work done, ready to use. If you want more guidance there are complete video eCourses that provide step-by-step guidance while being fun to watch.

How Often Do I Eat Fermented Foods

Lots of people approach the eating of fermented foods like they are taking a medical approach to eating. ‘If I eat so many ounces or cups a day it will help “whatever” I am trying to get past or protect against.’ Personally, I try to adapt these foods into my lifestyle, such as eating at least one serving of homemade yogurt daily in a shake or bowl. Next, I have lots of fermented foods in the fridge ready to go, so they can be used as a condiment or side with meals. With this approach I find I eat fermented foods often during the day as meals, with meals or as snacks. It is part of my lifestyle!

The important part of making fermented foods part of your lifestyle is not to become a slave to them by thinking it all falls apart if you miss eating them for a day or two. I always look at the overall picture and ask myself this question, “Am I eating fermented foods more often than I am not?” Let me know what you think about all this gut and food interaction. Does that make sense?

Are you surprised by how much food can influence your mind?


Please Note: This post may contain sponsor, affiliate, and/or referral links.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.

About Jeff

Jeff Pearce is a board certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant and has coached hundreds of people in the Dallas/Fort Worth to help them achieve their health goals. If you would like more information about his services view the Health Consultations section. For those not in the physical area Distance Coaching is an option. A 15 minute "No Cost" informational consult is available, by phone, to chat and answer questions about services. To schedule your no cost informational consultation please contact us .

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